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” ).

Everything you need for dressing when you are petite

In principle, these guidelines, which are now updated for this winter and fall season, 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.

This is the ultimate guide for dressing when you are short or petite. Here you will find

  • 25 tips on how to dress to make yourself look longer, leaner and slimmer as well as what not to wear.
  • a capsule wardrobe and style guide for petite women after 40
  • The best stores to shop in if you are petite
  • stylish petite celebrities to give you some extra inspiration

How to dress for winter and fall if you are petite

How to dress for winter and fall if you are petite |

It can actually be trickier in a way, but also easier to dress when you are petite and the weather turns cooler.

Let me explain why.

Sweaters can have a boxy look to them and can be a chunky material, which can have the effect of “halving” your body and making your look shorter.

But you can choose long cardigans to create the effect in tip #10. Or add extra long layers as in tip #11.

In summer, you can wear a dress in one-color which is an easy way to elongate your body without needing any extra warmth.

But, you can still get the same effect with a sweater dress, for example, or a little black dress for the party season.

Venetia (above) chooses a shirt dress with vertical stripes.

Steal her look with this similar shirtdress and booties.

How to dress when you are petite – what to think about

Petite doesn’t necessarily mean small and slim. It simply means that you are 5′ 4” or below.

You can be any size, which makes it even more important to keep your outfits in the right proportion.

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

  1. Appear longer, taller and leaner
  2. Create a flattering silhouette (using the rule of thirds, so you don’t split your body in half)
  3. Avoid boxiness which will only make you look wider rather than taller.

Most short women will want to appear taller and leaner.

You may also want to take a look at how to look taller and slimmer.

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

1. 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.

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.

How to dress when you are petite |

Lyn, The Accidental Icon (above) elongates her figure with an all white outfit.

Check out this similar dress, sheer cover-up and mules to recreate her look.

2. Petite dresses: Wear a dress!

Dresses will look great on many short women, as they automatically create 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 as the tailored silhouette avoids unwanted bulk.

The end result is a lean look that makes the wearer appear taller. Polish off the look with slingback kitten heels, for a little-added height.

Harper Rose embellished sheath dress |

Harper Rose embellished sheath dress

3. Petite clothing: 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.

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

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

Make sure not to have both wide on top and below. A belted dress in one color is perfect for petites.

1901 belted dress |

1901 belted dress

4. Wear heels with your petite outfits

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.

ECCO sandal |

ECCO 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.

5. Wear accessories in proportion

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

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.

6. Be smart with belts

how to dress when you're petite - 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.

Karen (above) looks like she has legs for days. She belts her skirt high at the waist and chooses a belt in the same color.

Check out this white collared shirt that you can top off with a boxy top, skirt, belt, tights and booties.

7. Vertical patterns are your friend

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

Horizontal stripes are best avoided.

Grayson stripe shirt |

Grayson stripe shirt

A jumpsuit with vertical stripes is the ultimate lengthening piece.

Only velvet stripe jumpsuit |

Only velvet stripe jumpsuit

1901 stripe shirtdress |

1901 stripe shirtdress

8. Find your ideal skirt length

how to dress when you're petite - find 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.

Donna (above) wears a skirt which sits just above her knee.

Recreate her look with this similar sweater, pencil skirt, tights and boots.

You may also like: what is the right skirt length for women over 40

9. Wear shoes that keep your heels free

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

10. 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!

Bobeau high/low cardigan |

Bobeau high/low cardigan

11. 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.

1901 tie waist shirtdress |

1901 tie waist shirtdress

12. Create vertical lines with a sleeveless vest

how to dress when you're petite - wear sleeveless vests |

I added one of my own outfits. 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.

Check out this similar long red vest and harem jumpsuit from Amazon.

13. Wear v-line tops to further elongate your look

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

Tommy Hilfiger v-neck sweater |

Tommy Hilfiger v-neck sweater

14. 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.

15. 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.

how to dress when you're petite - tops end in the hips or above |

Kylie (above) chooses tops which end at her hips.

Here is a printed peasant top you may want to try out and pair it with these jean-ish leggings, fur coat and booties to steal her look.

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

16. Pay attention to boot length

how to dress when you're petite - 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.

Nancy (above) opts for boots ending just below her knee.

Recreate her look with this similar dress, cardigan and boots.

For more tips also see our article on how to look taller and slimmer

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

17. 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.

18. Get a good bra

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

Spanx Bra-lellujah wireless bra |

Spanx Bra-lellujah wireless bra

19. Embrace high waisted pants and skirts

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.

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.

Spanx skinny pants |

Spanx skinny pants

20. Avoid boxiness

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

21. Be careful with tucking pants into your boots

how to dress when you're petite - wear same boot and pants color |

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.

Brenda (above) shows how you can wear cropped pants if you are petite by opting for boots in the same color.

Check out this similar red sweater, cardigan, wide leg pants and boots.

22. Test what the right belt width is for you

how to dress when you're petite - narrow belts |

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

Anita (above) opts for a denim shirt dress.

Get this similar denim dress, belt and boots to steal her look

23. 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.

24. Avoid double breasted

As a general rule, avoid a double breasted style, as these will add width rather than length.

Via Spiga single breasted trench coat |

Via Spiga single breasted trench coat

25. 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

capsule wardrobe for petites

Here you will find all you need for your capsule wardrobe this winter and fall.

tops if you are petite

Look out for tops with a v-neck and those which have vertical stripes.

tops for the petites |

Bobeau side tie wrap topRails tie waist blouseChelsea 28 side tie topMarks & Spencer longline shirt

sweaters & cardigans

As we are heading into winter and fall (depending on where you are in the world) you will need warm layers.

Opt for v-neck sweaters and long-line cardigans and vests.

sweaters and cardigans for the petites |

BP. longline open cardiganLewit rib sweaterRebecca Minkoff crop sweaterOodji sleeveless cardigan

Trendy petite clothing: coats & jackets

When looking for coats this season, try coats and jackets which have a v-neck, which are open-front or single-breasted.

jackets and coats for the petites |

Caslon drape knit blazer1901 sweater blazerMarks & Spencer belted wrap coatBoden ruby coat

Clothes for short women: pants and jeans

If you choose wide-legged pants, you can wear them long with a pair of heels underneath to make your legs look longer.

pants and jeans for the petites |

Boss wool pantsNYDK knit trousersHudson Jeans bootcut jeansHalogen paperbag waist pants

petite dresses for women as well as skirts & jumpsuits

Dresses and jumpsuits are your best friend if you are petite because wearing an outfit in one-color can have an elongating effect.

dresses, jumpsuit and skirts for the petites |

Vince Camuto belted dressEliza J fit & flare sweater dressEliza J wrap jumpsuitGibson bias cut skirt

shoes to go with your petite fashion choices

Two easy ways to add a bit of height are to wear heels and/or to wear shoes with a pointed toe.

The other top tip is to either wear neutral shoes in your skin tone if you have bare legs, or to match your boots or shoes to your tights or your pants. This will create an elongating effect.

Avoid ankle straps.

shoes for the petites |

Etienne Aigner flatBella Vita stretch bootieBlondo waterproof bootieVionic sneaker

accessories to wear with your stylish petite clothing

As mentioned above, don’t go too big with your accessories, particularly if you are slim.

accessories for the petites |

Thacker ring clutchFrances Valentine mini satchelFrye skinny beltChan Luu charm necklaceJules Smith drop earringsFrye fedoraEcho silk scarf

There are plenty of ways you could wear the clothes, shoes and accessories above, but here are 9 outfits to get you started.

Read our ultimate guide to creating a capsule wardrobe that works best for you.

a capsule wardrobe for the petites |

Famous petite 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?

Petite women obviously come in all sizes. There are some fantastic options for petite plus size women. Dresses with ruching and v-necks are particularly flattering.

plus size dresses for the petites |

City Chic wrap dressEliza J cap sleeve sheath dressKaren Kane wrap dressEloquii twist front dress

how to dress when you are short and plus size |

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.

Cassie (above) wears contrasting colors with her skirt and top, but she adds long lines with her open-front coat.

Get this similar black sweater, coat, pleated skirt and booties.

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

Petite clothing stores: Where to shop when you are petite?

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

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 on how to dress when you are short in this short video

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

Continue reading:

  1. How To Look Taller And Slimmer
  2. How To Choose The Perfect Little Black Dress For Your Body Type
  3. How To Dress When You Are Tall And Where To Buy The Best Clothes For Tall Women

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how to dress when you are short |

Feature image by Lyn, The Accidental Icon

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