Looking for the best petite cocktail dresses? If you have a special occasion coming up and need to dress up, you’re exactly where you need to be! Of course, dresses are a favorite style choice for petite women for their ease and flattery benefits. In fact, we suggest petite women make dresses one of the foundations of their wardrobe because they’re such a great option for petites. Even if you wear dresses in your daily life there are certain occasions that call for a more formal dress, like a cocktail dress.

The truth is styling a petite cocktail dress is harder than many expect. There are a few key attributes to consider when selecting a cocktail dress to ensure that the one you wear is flattering AND appropriate for the occasion. Not to mention that not all dresses are created equally, especially for the petite woman.

petite wedding guest dresses
Reese Witherspoon, 5’2″ (Getty Images)

If you get an invitation to an event that calls for ‘cocktail attire’ you’re going to want to go straight for the petite cocktail dress section at petite clothing stores. Don’t waste your time and frustration trying on dresses that aren’t petite size. You’ve probably tried to shop in the other sections plenty of times, but why keep doing that to yourself? Fortunately there are plenty of brands and stores that offer a wide selection of petite cocktail dresses for you to choose from.

Because there aren’t hard rules about what makes something cocktail appropriate there’s a lot of grey area around cocktail dresses like what they even are, when to wear them, and how to choose the right petite cocktail dress. Sound familiar? You’re in good hands because we’re clearing all the air and confusion for you so you can be a petite cocktail dress professional after reading our tips.

1 What is a cocktail dress?

Essentially a cocktail dress is a special occasion dress. A cocktail dress is formal, but not quite as formal as a full gown. In other words a cocktail dress falls into a semi-formal dress category. Much like any other dress style and category there are a lot of different petite cocktail dress styles available.

cocktail dresses for petites
Lucy Liu, 5’2″ (Getty Images)

It’s not every day you get invited to a semi-formal event that calls for cocktail attire, so it’s a great time to have some fun with your dress choice and choose something you’re really excited to wear. Get dressed up and hit the town like the fashionista you are! Most often you will find cocktail dresses are shorter in length, but we will be getting into the best length choices for petite cocktail dresses in just a bit.

petite Lace Dress
Eliza J Petite $168
petite Cocktail dresses
Harper Rose Petite $168

2 When you should wear a cocktail dress

Cocktail dresses aren’t a dress style you would wear for brunch with your girlfriends or a baby shower but rather an event that calls for a semi-formal dress code. Think of events like a wedding, holiday party or a gala for cocktail attire.

A good rule of thumb is to determine what men are expected to wear to an event, if men are to wear a suit with a tie then a cocktail dress is going to be appropriate for the occasion. Some experts suggest considering what you believe the host will be wearing to the event as a guide as well. Most often if you’re invited to a special occasion type of event the invitation will specify the dress code.

HARPER ROSE Fold Collar Sheath, Main, color, BLUE
Harper Rose Petite $138
petite Fit & Flare Dress
Eliza J Petite $188

If you are wondering what to wear to a wedding, most women consider cocktail dresses as top choice of petite dresses for weddings. The cocktail dress code isn’t as formal as black tie, it’s a ‘step down’ for lack of better term – hence ‘semi-formal.’

3 The proper length of a petite cocktail dress

We mentioned above that most cocktail dresses are shorter in length, as far as formal dresses go. Chances are when you think of formal occasions you think of floor length dresses and gowns. Since cocktail dresses are meant for semi-formal occasions the length is shorter to accommodate the setting.

As a petite woman choosing the best dress, regardless of the occasion, highly depends on the length of the dress you choose. We find the best petite cocktail dresses are just above the knee in length. This length is ideal for a petite woman primarily because it adds a bit of height/length to your shape as a whole. If you are wondering how to look taller, this is the best length for women with short legs. We suggest to avoid a petite cocktail dress that rests just below the knee in length. It may seem like a slight difference in length but it makes a huge difference in elongating your shape as a petite.

ELIZA J Sleeveless Lace Fit & Flare Dress, Main, color, BLUE
Eliza J Petite $188
petite lace dresses
Charles Henry Petite $108

That being said there are a number of petite cocktail dresses that have a high-low hemline, even as a petite woman you can definitely style those options as long as the high length is above the knee.

petite High/Low Halter Dress
Eliza J Petite $148
petite High/Low Midi Dress
Eliza J Petite $138

4 Opt for a cocktail dress with the right silhouette

When you’re petite some dress silhouettes can overwhelm your shape. In addition to choosing the right length for your petite cocktail dress, silhouette comes in as a close second (although they’re really even in our book). We suggest staying away from cocktail dresses that are really boxy and shapeless. These silhouettes don’t flatter your petite frame and obviously, you want something that flatters you!

Instead, we highly suggest sticking to petite cocktail dresses that offer structure and shape that fit closer to your body. The key is that you can see where your body is in the dress. Personally, we love petite cocktail dresses that highlight the waistline.

petite Lace Dress
Eliza J Petite $188
petite Sleeveless Lace Sheath Dress,
Vince Camuto Petite $128

When your waist is emphasized in a dress it’s instantly slimming and gives the illusion of longer legs – a petite woman’s dream! Fit and flare, wrap fit and empire style dresses are some of our favorite silhouettes for petite cocktail dresses. This means you don’t need to only stick with bodycon cocktail dresses, just as long as we see YOU in the dress. You should be wearing the dress, not the other way around.

petite ER ROSE Bell Sleeve Bateau Neck Sheath Dress
Harper Rose Petite $148
petite Fit & Flare Dress, Main, color, NAVY
Eliza J Petite $128

5 Choose a sophisticated fabric

By now it’s pretty clear that cocktail attire is on the formal side of the dress codes. While there aren’t a ton of hard rules when it comes to dressing appropriately for a cocktail attire occasion it’s important that you honor the fact that it’s a semi-formal occasion. Even though your petite cocktail dress isn’t black tie ready, you shouldn’t show up to the event dressed TOO casually. One of the attributes that can vastly change the aesthetic of a cocktail dress, and it’s appropriateness level, is the fabric.

petite cocktail dresses
Kim Kardashian, 5’3″ (Getty Images)

This means you will want to skip the cotton sundress-like fabric that you can wear to the beach or lunch with your friends and instead opt for a petite cocktail dress that’s made of a sophisticated fabric. Not sure what classifies as a sophisticated fabric? Think fabrics like silk, chiffon, lace, sequins….you get the point. Even though you are petite you can have fun with different petite cocktail dress fabrics, as long as the fabric isn’t too heavy or overwhelming for your petite shape.

petite Fit & Flare Dress
Vince Camuto Petite $138
petite A-Line Dress
Komarov Petite $308

6 Wear accessories, proportionally

Accessories can overwhelm a petite frame just as much as a boxy petite cocktail dress can. That being said, you should always wear accessories that are proportional to your shape. In other words stay away from any accessory that’s really large in scale. When you wear big accessories they give the illusion that they are taking over your entire petite shape and can make you appear shorter than you are – it’s true! Instead choose smaller scale accessories.

necklace for petites
Kendra Scott $60
necklaces for petites
Dana Rebecca $275

Now when it comes to accessories petite cocktail dresses it largely depends upon the neckline and overall style of the dress. Our tip is to make sure that you aren’t over accessorizing yourself. In addition to the accessories themselves being too big and overwhelming you, many women tend to over do it with accessories for special occasions. And we have to tell you, ladies, over accessorizing yourself can just be WAY too much. Take a cue from the iconic Coco Chanel and take one thing off before you leave the house with your completed look.

We also have a separate post on “7 Smart Ways to Style Accessories for Women of Petite Height“.

jewelry for short women
Photo: Unsplash.com

7 Complete your cocktail attire with heels

Here’s the deal with cocktail attire…heels are the best shoe option. We realize you may not ALWAYS want to wear heels but when you’re completing your petite cocktail dress look heels are going to be the best shoe option for you. We don’t have to tell you, as a petite, that heels instantly give your shape length (for obvious reasons). Sure there are plenty of other shoe options that are dressy but when an event calls for a semi-formal dress code like a cocktail dress do yourself a favor and stick to high heels for your shoes.

petite Sandal
Coach $295
IMAGINE BY VINCE CAMUTO Floral Strappy Sandal, Main, color, PURE WHITE SATIN
Imagine by Vince Camuto $99

That being said there are a couple things to take into consideration when choosing the right shoes for your cocktail dress. First, you want to choose a shoe that’s going to create the illusion of an elongated leg line. There are a few high heel styles that can do this like a pointed toe pump, open toed strappy sandal, and/or a nude high heel – just to name a few.

Read our post on “Best and Worst Shoes for Petite Feet“.

shoes for petites
Michael Michael Kors $99
heels for small feet
Valentino $995

Finding the best petite cocktail dresses can be quite a journey and does depend upon your personal style preferences, budget and the so many other things. Petite women are like all other women and have different body shapes, comfort levels and preferences. We suggest taking your time to look for a petite cocktail dress that ultimately makes you feel confident – that’s the #1 priority!

Take these tips with you on your journey to find the perfect petite cocktail dress but make sure that you are also focusing on dresses that highlight your personality, personal style and you ENJOY wearing. Make adjustments to the tips as you need and find the ultimate cocktail dress for your upcoming occasions!