In previous articles, I discussed how to determine body shape and dress for your vertical body type.

Today let’s go into detail on how to dress when you are short or petite, ie., below the average height of 1.65 m (5’4” ).

In principle, these guidelines will work for anyone who is short in height, or for those who want to appear longer or leaner in their appearance.

These guidelines also work well for those whose upper body is almost the same length as their lower body. In that case, the aim is to make the lower body appear longer.

When you are short in height you will usually have the following objectives with your dressing:

  1. Appear longer
  2. Create a flattering silhouette (using the rule of thirds, so you don’t split your body in half)
  3. Avoid boxinesshow to dress when you are petite | fashion over 40 | style | fashion |

Outfit 1: Cigarette jeans White blazer – White tank topLoafer flats – Pendant necklaceGold clutch

Outfit 2: Pencil skirtGold hoopsStriped sweaterPeep toe bootiesCrossbody bag

Outfit 3: Pink topSkinny jeansChain wristletAnkle strap pumpsTeardrop earring

Most short women will want to appear taller and leaner.

This is relatively easy to achieve if you stick to the following guidelines:

Stick to monochrome outfits or outfits with few color variations.

You would look perfect in simple shift dresses, with little color accents here and there.

Wear a dress!

Dresses will look great on many short women, as they automatically created the much desired 2/3 – 1/3 look. If you opt for a tight, slim silhouette then this will make you look even taller.

A knee length sheath dress is a great option for a petite frame, the tailored silhouette avoids unwanted bulk. The end result is a lean look that appears taller. Polish off the look with slingback kitten heels, for a little-added height.

Knee Length Dress for petite women | fashion over 40 | style | fashion |

Fit & flare DressWhite cropped cardiganSlingback pumpNavy minaudière – Wrap bracelet

Get the right fit

Getting clothes with the right fit and size is even more important for short women. Ill-fitting clothes will add extra bulk.

Wear heels

An obvious way to gain height is to wear a heel. However, don’t go overboard with these. Getting heels that are too high will make you look out of proportion.

Paul Green slingback sandal |

Paul Green slingback sandal

For examples on how I wear those and a full list of comfortable shoes, also check my article on the best arch support shoes.

Wear accessories in proportion

Go easy on the oversized accessories as these may overwhelm you.

Be smart with belts

For many petites your legs will be relatively short.

To make those appear longer you can wear the same color belt as your pants or skirt.

Vertical patterns are your friend

Vertical patterns will always elongate and would be especially good for your pants or skirt.

A jumpsuit with vertical stripes is the ultimate lengthening piece1

Horizontal stripes are best avoided.

Jumpsuit with vertical stripes | 40plusstyle.comStripe jumpsuit

Stripe shirtdress | 40plusstyle.comStripe shirtdress

Find your ideal skirt length

Although a short dress can be very effective for short people when they are young, I would advise against them over 40.

Instead, opt for styles that fall just below or on top of the knee. A high waisted skirt or pants would make your legs appear longer.

You may also like: What is the right skirt length

Wear shoes that keep your heels free

Avoid straps around the ankle and instead opt for shoes that elongate.

Create vertical lines in your outfit

Create nice vertical lines with open straight jackets and cardigans.

A great look is to have a cardigan or jacket the same length as your dress.

Long straight cardigans or sleeveless vests are perfect for petites!

long straight cardigan |

Long cardigan

Create a vertical line with a buttoned shirt dress

Buttoned shirt dresses that stop just above or on top of the knee will create a nice vertical line as well.

Most wrap dresses work really well for petites too.

The shirt dress below could be worn on its own or as a tunic over skinny pants or leggings. It comes  in regular and petite sizes.

shirt dress for petites | 40plusstyle.comEileen Fisher shirt dress

Create vertical lines with a sleeveless vest

I added one of my own outfits as the feature image. Even though I’m not petite this could have been worn by a petite women.

The column of color (the black) creates a lengthening vertical line for the red vest.

Wear v-line tops to further elongate your look

These open up the neck line and create additional vertical lines.

Be careful with cropped pants

Avoid short trousers and pants that stop at the ankle. Best to wear pants with straight pipes or wide legged ones with heels, preferably high waisted.

If you do wear cropped pants be sure to wear a shorter top to give you a nice 2/3 – 1/3 silhouette.

To read more about the rule of thirds, check out our article on how to wear cropped pants.

Make sure that your tops stop at the hipline or above

Longer tops may cut you in half and you will not achieve the golden ratio or rule of thirds (see above). They will also make your legs appear even shorter.

However, you can wear longer tunics over skinny pants or leggings. make sure they are about 2/3 from shoulder to shoe.

Pay attention to boot length

Choose boots that stop just below the knee and avoid boots that end on the mid part of your shins.

For more tips also see our article: How to look taller and slimmer

good silhouettes for petites | fashion over 40 | style | fashion |

All these looks show how sticking to a similar color palette can give a lengthening effect.

Outfit 1: Bootcut jeansWrap topBlack bootiesTeardrop earringsArk handbag

Outfit 2: Navy dressGold bagNude sandalsStone drop earrings

Outfit 3: White belted dressDrop earringsTop handle bagBlack pumps

We already discussed the importance of creating a great silhouette and paying attention to the rule of thirds. Here are a few more tips.

Avoid wearing very contrasting tops

This will draw more attention to the fact that your upper body is almost the same length as your lower body.

Monochromatic looks are your friend!

Monochromatic looks create a vertical image and instantly create the illusion of height.

Dark colors are a great choice to create this illusion as dark colors make the wearer look thinner furthering the perception of height but essentially this will work for any color.

Black outfit for petite women | fashion over 40 | style | fashion |

In this look:

Tweed jacketWhite blouseBlue jeansBow pumpsTote bag

Get a good bra

You want to create as much space between your waist and your bust line as possible.

Embrace high waisted pants and skirts

They will make your legs appear longer. Wide pants with tucked in tops work really well. If you can’t tuck in your top because you want to hide your belly consider getting an asymmetrical top.

stylish looks for petite women | fashion over 40 | style | fashion |

Outfit 1: Fit & flare dressCrossbody bagPendant necklace – Slingback pumps

Outfit 2: Black knit topHigh waist jeansCalfskin leather beltString tote bagAnkle strap sandals

Outfit 3: Sheath DressLeather SandalSling bag  – Multistrand pendant necklace

Avoid boxiness

You want to create fluid lines in your looks and create a 1/3 – 2/3 silhouette whenever possible.

Fitted clothes are usually better for you

Avoid oversized clothes (even if they are on trend).

If you do wear oversized clothes, make sure to create a good silhouette and that the balanced between fitted and oversize is correct.

Make sure not to have both wide on top and below.

High waisted pants can lengthen your leg line

High waist pants paired with heels work together to create a long vertical image. Worn with a short top, the outfit creates the illusion of height.High Waist pants for petite women |

In this capsule:

High waist slim pantsCrop topSuede muleGold clutch – Oval Link necklace

Be careful with tucking pants into your boots

Best not to tuck in your pants into your boots as it will break up the lengthening line. Or keep the rest of the outfit in the same color as that will create a 2/3 – 2/3 effect.

You can also select the boots in the same color as your pants.

Test what the right belt width is for you

Belts are often best kept narrow, unless you belt it very high up your waist, or it is the same color as your pants.

Choose accessories that are in proportion with your face and the rest of your body

The bigger you are the bigger your accessories can be.

Choose a handbag that fits your physique. In many cases, oversized handbags are not your best choice.Skinny Jeans for petite women | fashion over 40 | style | fashion |

High waist skinny jeansWrap top Leopard print bootie Leather circle clutchY-necklace

Choose the right size for tops and bottoms

Your size is not necessarily ‘petite’ top and bottom, so you may need a bigger size on top or vice versa.

Fit is everything!

If you can’t find clothes that fit properly, find a good tailor.

You may also like: how to fit a blazer

Famous short women looking gorgeous

If you ever felt that being shorter than average stands in your way of looking absolutely fabulous, think again!

Here are some very famous and fabulous women under 1.65m (5’4”) looking stunning. I chose these women for their style and their choice of dressing that in many cases follow the guidelines above.

These women tend to dress to appear longer. If you like to see great style by women that are even shorter, have a look at the list of celebrities under 1.60 listed below.


stylish petite celebrities | fashion over 40 | style | fashion |

Madonna is a spectacular woman (over 50 already) short on height. She is 5’3” (1.63  meters) high.

She increasingly favors tight dresses just below the knee which she has no problem pulling off with her svelte figure. I also like her in high waisted wide dresses, where she uses the trusted v-line to elongate the look.

Victoria Beckham

Victoria Beckham style | fashion over 40 | style | fashion |

Victoria Beckham measures 1.63 (5’3”) meters.

Above are some perfect examples of how to dress for lengthening. High waisted, pants, tight fit, use of the v-line.

She goes quite wide with the shoulder on the red dress, which can be risky, but gets away with it, as she combines it with a v-neck and a very lean silhouette for the bottom part. I love all these looks.

Sarah Jessica Parker

Sarah Jessica Parker's style | fashion over 40 | style | fashion |

Sarah Jessica Parker is 5’2.75” (1.59 meters) and has really embraced the high heel shoes as her weapon of choice to appear longer.

Now 46, she increasingly uses mid-length dresses which I think suit her the best. In the first look, she took a risk with the big flower on top and the big bag is certainly to be avoided. When wearing wider styles, she keeps the top tight, opts for an empress waist or uses a v-line.

Other celebrities below 1.60

For more inspiration on how to dress your short physique, check out other celebrities who measure under 1.60:

  • Mary Kate Olsen who is 5’0″ (152 cm),
  • Rachel Bilson who is 5’1.5″ (156 cm),
  • Hayden Panettiere who is 5’0.25″ (153 cm),
  • Nicole Richie who is 5’1″ (155 cm),
  • Kristen Bell who is 5’1″ (155 cm),
  • Shakira who is 5’2″ (155 cm),
  • Eva Longoria who is about 5’2″ (153 cm),
  • Fergie, who is 5’1.75″ (157 cm) and A
  • lyssa Milano, who is about 5’1.5″ (156 cm).

Featured petites at 40+Style

How about when you are plus size and short / petite?

Dresses for plus size petites | fashion over 40 | style | fashion |

Printed wrap maxi dressFloral print cap sleeve sheath dress  – Wrap jersey dress – Printed sheath dress

In principle, all the above guidelines apply. However, you may want to prefer empress waist dresses instead of form-fitting dresses or shirt dresses.

Make sure that you wear nicely fitted tops above and that you use all the vertical tricks described above that will make you look both taller and slimmer.

You can also look at the guidelines for the apple shape body type and combine that with the guidelines above.

Where to shop when you are petite?

Many shops now have special sections for petites. Here are just a few.

  • Nordstrom: one of the best online shops with multiple brands has a special section for petites
  • Eileen Fisher: high quality fabrics and  great design
  • Loft: comfortable and affordable clothing
  • Banana Republic: good quality clothing that covers all basics
  • Eddie Bauer: offers great outdoor wear

More outfit examples

stylish petite celebrities | fashion over 40 | style | fashion |

I hope these guidelines will be useful to you. Remember though that they are not written in stone.

I feel that petites can wear almost anything so long as you create the right balance within your outfit and create a great silhouette.

Ruth shares a few tips for petites in this short video

If you are petite and have some tips that I did not cover here, please let me know!

how to dress when you are petite |

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