How to dress if you’re petite (style advice for short women)

Apr 10, 2024

If you’re petite, chances are you want to dress in a way that flatters your figure and makes you look taller. Fashion is already a struggle for us, with fewer options to choose from. So having to also worry about whether things will flatter your shorter frame can take all the fun out of things.

Luckily, we’ve got some really smart and simple tips that all petite women can follow to make your figure look its best.

What is petite?

In fashion terms, the word ‘petite’ means any woman who’s below 5’4” (163cm) or 5’3” (160cm) in height – the cut-off will be different depending on the store. It’s often (incorrectly) used to mean slim or small in size, but petite women aren’t necessarily slim; it only refers to height, and petite clothing is adjusted accordingly.

What to wear if you’re short

If you’re short, or petite (we’ll use these terms interchangeably), the aim of your clothing is to make you look well-proportioned. That means avoiding looking shorter by wearing wide or boxy items, and anything that makes our torso or legs look short.

There’s nothing bad – at all – about being short, but by creating the illusion of a balanced and well-proportioned figure, you’ll flatter your figure and look the best you can.

Let’s look at how to do it.

 

The best tops for petites

It makes sense to start at the top, and the best ones for petites are going to elongate you. The best way to do this is to show a little skin by choosing the right neckline.

The V-neckline, plunge neckline, and wide, rounded scoop neckline are all great options for petites. These create the illusion of space, as well as drawing the eye downward, making you appear taller.

It goes without saying that you want to avoid anything very wide or boxy – adding width will make you appear shorter. Instead, choose more fitted tops – and this is true whether you’re slim or not. Baggy tops, whatever your size, create the illusion that you’re even bigger.

This goes for jumpers, too. The worst type of jumper for petite women is one that’s long, thick, and oversized. Choose jumpers that are a slightly slimmer fit, that end at the waist or high on the hip.

That’s because length is as important as width with tops. Anything long will make you look shorter for a couple of reasons. Firstly, it cuts off your legs and makes them look shorter. And secondly, tops that end lower down, at your hip, emphasise the widest point on your body.

Try choosing tops and jumpers that end at your waist or high hip and see if you don’t notice the difference in your proportions, particularly if teamed with a high-rise trouser. Let’s talk about those next.

The best jeans and trousers for petites

The same basic principle carries for trousers as with tops: wider = shorter. If you choose wider styles, they’ll make you look proportionately shorter overall. Which means that, if you have short legs, you’re going to look best in a slimmer fit.

Our favourite fit for trousers and jeans is slim, high waisted, and just grazing the ankle:

The slim fit helps your legs appear as long as they can.

The high waist extends your legs upwards, giving the illusion they’re longer.

The just-ankle-length fit, contrarily, is actually very flattering if you’re petite. It shows a bit of skin, and the slimmest part of your leg. Very long trousers, unless teamed with a colour-matched covered shoe, can emphasise what you lack in height.

There are a couple of exceptions.

If you’re very short in the torso, and longer in the leg – even if you’re petite – the high waist may not be the best style for you as it will accentuate the imbalance in your proportions. In your case, we’d recommend a mid-rise trouser or jean, which ends at your high hip rather than your waist.

Can petites wear mom jeans?

Petite women can wear anything they want, and we wouldn’t want to give the impression that any of these are hard and fast rules. But the honest truth is that wider-fit jeans, like mom jeans, will never be the most flattering fit on you if you’re shorter, because anything that adds to your width makes you look shorter. If your legs are already short, you’re going to look best – better proportioned, that is – in a slimmer fit.

The one caveat to this is if you are very short in the torso and proportionately longer in the leg – even if you’re short overall in height. That’s because a wider leg jean will even you out a bit more overall, particularly if they’re high waisted.

But if you really love your mom jeans, don’t stop wearing them, particularly as they’re such a comfortable, easy (and on-trend) fit.

 

The best dresses for petites

Let’s move onto the best dresses for petites – as slightly more complicated fit as they have to balance you well overall.

All our recommendations for necklines with tops stand for petite dresses – V-neck and wide, scoop neck are especially flattering, but they’re not hard-and-fast rules and the effect of the whole piece needs to be taken into account.

The waist fit is very important on a dress. As a petite woman, it’s important that you have waist definition so that dresses don’t overwhelm you. You should either choose dresses with a fitted waist, or ones with a tie waist (wrap dresses or belted shirt dresses, for example). Otherwise you could belt your dress yourself.

Another really flattering waist style if you’re short is the empire. This is a waist seam that sits high, a little under the bust, and flows smoothly down from there. It’s very elongating for this reason – and on-trend at the moment, too.

Silhouette is really important with petite dresses if you want to look well-proportioned. That means nothing too wide or bulky. A dress with a full skirt is going to add width to you rather

Fabrics are important with dresses. Unless the dress you’re wearing is very fitted, make sure you choose light and flowing fabrics with movement. Thick and heavy fabrics will weigh you down – not the elegant, statuesque look we’re after.

 petite mini skirts

Which length is best for petites – mini, midi, or maxi?

If you’re petite, you can wear all these lengths. Mini dresses and skirts show your legs, which is flattering for your proportions. And maxi dresses can be flattering, as long as you choose one that isn’t too long or with too many fabric folds, as this could overwhelm your frame.

However, contrary to much you will read, the midi really is the best length for petites. In fact, it’s such a flattering length that we’ve dedicated an entire article to it here.

The best shoes for petites

We’ll state the obvious here and say that heels are the best way to elongate your frame if you’re petite. But you don’t have to wear heels and even if you do there are still a few sound pointers to make sure they’re as flattering as possible:

Nude shoes (brown or beige to match your skin) are the best choice if your outfit shows some of your leg. By blending with your skin, it creates the illusion of adding a few inches to your height.

Delicate styles tend to be more flattering because they don’t emphasise width. Compare a neat court to a chunky boot – on a short woman, the chunky boot is going to make you look shorter.

Shoes that cut you off at the ankle are less flattering on petite women, unless it’s paired with a same-colour trouser – in the case of an ankle boot and jeans, for example. This is also true for sandals with ankle straps, unless they are the tie-style that extends further up your leg. A hard strap across the slimmest part of your leg, the ankle, segments your leg visually and makes you look shorter.

Can petites wear prints?

You might read that prints aren’t a great choice for petites but that isn’t true. Prints are great for short women – it’s the scale you need to be aware of, and it’s down to visual illusions again.

Large prints can overwhelm you if you’re short, whereas a small print can make you look taller. It’s all to do with how much of the print you can see on your body. A larger pint makes you seem smaller in comparison. If you’re concerned about what’s most flattering, go for a print that’s a slightly smaller scale.

A note about accessories

The same theory holds for accessories, too. If you wear big chunky necklaces or carry a huge handbag, it will dwarf you to an extent. Compare that to a smaller bag and a daintier necklace, and everything’s going to look much more in proportion.

A note about tailoring

You might have gathered this already from this article, but the basic rule for a flattering shape – whatever your height – is clothes that fit well. And one of the best ways to do this is to tailor clothes.

It’s important that petite women have more good, well-fitting, ready-to-wear brands available, which is why we put so much effort into the fit of our clothes. But that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t tailor certain garments on occasion – and that stands whatever your height.

Tailoring is a brilliant option for classic pieces that are well-made, versatile, and staples for years to come. Think smart, classic dresses, trousers, jeans, coats and jackets. Pieces you’ll look after and wear again and again. In these cases, tailoring is an investment and well worth the spend.

Top tips for flattering petite style

1. Choose fitted tops to avoid looking boxy and shorter

2. Slim-fit jeans and trousers will always make your legs look longest

3. V-neck and wide scoop necklines are really flattering on you

4. If you’re short in the torso, choose a mid-rise trouser, if you’re short in the leg, choose a high rise.

5. The empire waist is particularly flattering if you’re short, but make sure you always cinch your waist in dresses

6. Nude heels are a great choice to make your legs look longer

7. The midi length is one of the most flattering for you – read more about why here

8. Choose smaller prints and accessories to avoid dwarfing your frame

9. Don’t be afraid to tailor classic pieces for effortless, timeless style

10. Ultimately, don’t feel constrained by rules, but do try some of our tips and start noticing what you look and feel good in