Short people often get the short end of the stick when it comes to being understood and served by the fashion industry. Short or petite doesn’t necessarily mean slim, and it doesn’t need to mean short on style either. Petite bodies come in a variety of sizes, but they all struggle with the same problems when it comes to finding well-fitted, attractive clothing. This article has helpful tips on how to dress for petite women (and female identifying people).

Your overall height may not be the only reason you fall into the petite category. Some general signs that you would be included under the “short” label include:

  • A height of 5’4” or less
  • An inseam of 27” or shorter (measured from the seam of the crotch to the bottom of your leg)
  • Normal length straps slip off your shoulders
  • Sleeves are often too long
  • Knees, pockets, or shoulder pads do not fall in the right place

When dressing a petite body, the primary goal is to elongate the frame to give the illusion of balanced height. Whether you have short legs or a short torso, there are looks that will give the appearance of a few extra inches, and also help your clothing to look more tailored and well fitted to your body.

Read on to learn about fashion trends you should embrace if you’re short – and a few you should avoid.

The Marcelle Vest by Tammi Anne Barker

Shirts: When dressing the top portion of your body, the goal is to make the torso look longer. V-necks and off the shoulder looks are great choices. Many fashionistas recommend a crop top that hits your waist, but that might not be suitable for all occasions. We recommend going with fitted tops wherever possible, but loose fitting styles can be ok depending on the length and fabric.

Avoid: Skip boxy bodices and horizontal patterns that draw the eyes out instead of up and down. Also avoid long shirts and tunics that can make your legs (and even your torso) disappear. If you do plan to go for the leggings and long top look, aim for your shirt to cover no more than 2/3rd of your body.

Anywhere is Away dress by Samshek

Dresses: As far as hemlines go, if you’re short, you want to pay attention to how your legs appear or disappear based on the hemline. Many fashion stylists recommend above-the-knee length or shorter styles. If you want a longer dress, pick a variable high-low hemline that shows off your legs without disguising them completely.

What to Avoid: Ditch the shirt dress and other formless styles, no matter the length. You don’t want to appear as if you are drowning in your clothing.

Pants: Want the best jeans for your shape? Go for high waisted slim or skinny fit to make your legs look long. (Yes we said it: skinny jeans forever!) If you’re looking for dress pants, pleated styles paired with pointed heels will maximize the length of your legs. Flared legs and wide bottoms are okay with heels and higher waists.

Avoid: If you have short legs, coordinate your pants to match your top instead of contrasting your look. This will make your upper and lower body seem more proportionate in length. Skip the cropped styles and capris, as these can make your legs look truncated.

Jackets: Jackets are a fall season staple, and a beloved office accessory. Luckily there are lots of styles that look great on petites. A long knee-length jacket with rounded shoulders will draw the eye from the shoulder to the knees, while a cropped jacket accentuates the legs.

Avoid: The key to wearing a jacket on a shorter body is to not overwhelm your frame. Boxy shoulders and too-long sleeves are common pitfalls, and mid-length styles can make your torso appear short. Our best advice for jacket wearers? Buy custom, or have your favorite styles tailored to your unique shape. Go for a sculptured look whenever you can.

Photo by Camila Damasio on Unsplash

Shoes: High heels are a common sense staple when you want to add inches to your height, but if you want to go the extra mile, the classic pump is your best bet to make your legs look longer and more shapely. Even better if you choose a style with a pointed or v-shaped toe to draw the eyes down. 

Avoid: There’s no reason to ditch your sneakers or slip-ons for a casual look, but skip the platforms and chunky heels that can make your legs seem shorter. And if you like boots, keep them short. Knee high or mid calf boots can intersect the leg at the wrong place.

When shopping for ready-to-wear clothing, the word petite or short can mean a lot of things. Even if the inseam fits, the legs may be too long, or the otherwise perfect jacket may have less than perfect sleeves.

When you invest in quality clothing, having a tailor available to refit those problem areas can save you a lot of time. Even better, shopping made-to-measure means you avoid having to pick through the racks, searching for the styles that flatter your form. Instead of trial and error, or battling the strange proportions of some petite designs, you have something especially made to fit your unique body.