The Best Fashion for Petites
"I'm on a first-name basis with my tailor."
- Stick to simple, snug-fitting clothes: say no to flowy skirts, big sweaters; yes to this modified trench from Banana Republic's petite line.
- Get petite sizes, not misses'; with alterations you lose the trench's great sleeve details, and it's difficult for a tailor to fix too-big shoulders.
- Wide-legged pants won't stunt shorter women if the volume is balanced by heels and a defined shape on top.
Uniforms don't come in petite sizes, so Nivar has hers taken in.
- Pinstripes look professional and give an enhanced vertical line.
- Switch to evening simply by removing the jacket.
- "Petite sizes aren't just smaller than misses'; they're proportioned differently, with shorter neck-to-waist and waist-to-hip measurements," says Kim Williams Dahlman, author of The Petite Handbook
"I see the Olsen twins with things that look like suitcases. I'm not for that!" says Dahlman.
- Keep bags in proportion. Get a scaled down version, such as a large clutch.
- A blazer that hits at the high hip is flattering; pass up anything boxy (looks squat) or shrunken (looks faddish).
- The trousers—fitted on top, widening below the knee—suggest fuller styles that might be trendy without being too big.
"I'm broad on top, so petite clothes aren't necessarily for me. They're geared to women with no bust or shoulders."
- The petite market shamefully lacks large sizes. Some knits are exceptions: relaxed but not huge.
- Stretch your legs by matching shoes, hose, and skirt. "Opaque tights are a perfect trend for petites," says Dahlman.
"When I find pants that fit my butt, I'm swimming in them everywhere else."
- Express's special shorter-leg version of jeans are ready to wear.
- Dark-wash denim always elongates the leg more effectively than the lighter kind; it's dressier and more versatile, too.
- A good crop? No such thing if you're petite: It "chops" you at the calf or ankle. For a sleek, continuous line, the hemline should cover the top of your heel.
- A high-belted top makes legs look longer, as do the heels—but for comfort's sake, "maybe I'd do pointy flats instead," says Matlin.
In France, Adadine's native country, petite isn't a special category (European sizes are already smaller).
- In the U.S., "Petite women have made great strides in denim," Dahlman says. Witness these upscale boot-cuts.
- Sophie gets away with horizontal stripes because she's slight.
- Flats aren't illegal, but the pared-down proportions of ballerinas are more in sync with a small frame than a big, clunky sneaker.
A stress-free transition from workday to party is the point of Acadine's multitasking sheath.
- Monochromatic dressing—one shade, head to toe—is always flattering. "Anytime you chop up your body with color, it's not going to be good," says Dahlman.
- Luscious charmeuse fabric makes it dressy; interestingly textured python accessories steer it in a casual direction—and you can always add a jacket for the office.
- Such a classic shape would look just as good with lower shoes.
"I can still get away with regular items that run small."
- The classic wrap dress is very friendly, says Dahlman, "because it paints a vertical line on your body."
- Wear a camisole to provide age-appropriate coverage of the V neck.
- Size up prints by holding your fist against the fabric. If the pattern is the same scale or smaller, okay. If it's bigger, it will overwhelm you.
Attorney and Writer
29, 5'3 1/2"
"I have to tweak every outfit to make it work," says Cook. Not this gown, which disproves wisdom that short women shouldn't do floor-length.
- Empire waists raise the focus to bust level, so your torso and legs suddenly seem much longer—that's one reason this dress works.
- It helps that the fabric is sinuous rather than bouffant; plus, the drape from the bust to her shoes makes a vertical statement.
43, 5'1" ("When I stand up straight")
"I wear heels if need be, but I live in flats."
- Attention-getting jewelry (like these triple pendants) is fine for petites if it's worn with simple clothing.
- "I like Brooks Brothers boys' department and Children's Place—where I just got a $29 jacket."
- A good bra can make anything work. Jessica had a postpregnancy refitting and says it's made "a huge difference" in how her clothes look.
- "I own a lot of pants, but if I could just wear jeans, I would. One of my favorite pairs was labeled 'cropped,' but on me they're full-length."
Fashion Director for Fox News
50s, 4'11 3/4"
"Jackets and pants are the hardest because you really want them to fit well. If they don't, it destroys the look."
- "I like short jackets over long tops to hide the waistband of pants. A tucked-in shirt cuts you in the middle."
- Gwen nixes wide-legged pants even if they're in fashion ("They make me look short").
- "Long skirts will swallow you." Instead of midcalf, her hemlines are midknee.
- Avoid ankle-strap shoes or short boots, Gwen cautions; they break the leg line.
- Tailoring can't fix everything: "If a garment is too big in the shoulders, forget about it."
Designer, Women's Collection
at Michael Kors
28, 5'2 1/2"
"Find a great tailor. My arms and legs are short and my waist is slim so I always get things altered. Once it's done, my clothes look custom-made."
- Double-duty 101: "A long tunic, belted, is fabulous as a short dress."
- "Too much fabric will overpower your figure." Think balance: Volume on top means slim on the bottom, and vice versa.
- "Once you find pants you love, buy two pairs, one hemmed for heels and the other for flats."
- "I have a very small foot, so I buy kids' socks and save a fortune."
More O style:
Designer, with her own line
49, 5'2 3/4"
"It's a myth that petites can't wear intense color or graphic patterns. It's just got to be done on a figure-flattering shape."
- Show some part of the body so you don't get lost in your clothes." This trapeze dress is short enough to give lots of leg.
- "As long as you don't look like you're going to fall over, you can pull off a big bag. But you need heels to offset it."
- "I believe in three-quarter sleeves—you don't want to look as if you're wearing your father's jacket."
- Vintage can be a great resource. Lisa loves '60s designers: "I think they cut things smaller then."
Flattering style strategies for women 5'4" and under
The best labels for petites
How to dress for every shape and size