If you care about petite style, I’m sure you have heard of plenty of rules of what you should and should not wear. Are you the kind of petite girl who follows the petite style rules and does everything by the book? Or are you one of those girls who makes up their own?
Quite honestly, when I first started the journey of finding my own style, I was the former.
First of all, don’t get me wrong. I am not a big fan of restrictions myself. If you call something a rule, the first and most likely reaction from me is probably to rebel. Are you the same? I mean, who doesn’t want to be that free willed cool girl, right?
That said, I do understand not everything is going to look great on me just because they look great on a 5’8″ tall model.
That is why I wanted to know what the rules are first. Then,
Break the Petite Style Rules Smartly
Over the years, through my own experiences as well as closely watching styles of petite celebrities and bloggers, I discovered the secrets of breaking some of those rules.
Fashion is one of the most important means for us to express our individuality. If we all follow the rules, then the world is just a big cookie-cutting place, and we all look similar. How boring is that?
Fashion just totally loses its point, if that is the case. I have put together this article so that you can get a flavor of how to break some of the petite style rules, and make your fashion the style of your own. (I am 5’2″ and wearing the Helen Petite Dress).
Rule 1. Short Girls can only Wear Short Skirts
I don’t remember how many times I have read about petite style advice that short women should not wear anything below the knees. Many stylist blogs (including some of my favorites) feel strongly that petite style equals short, and the reason is short girls will only look shorter if they wear long style.
While it is quite true that mini skirts and mini dresses are universally flattering to petite women, they are not the only style you can wear and look good. The way to break this rule is to go to the opposite- wear maxi dresses or maxi skirts.
I am talking about dresses and skirts that reach (almost) your ankles. Is it surprising to you they are very flattering to petite women?
I list them as one of the Top 6 Wardrobe Staples for Stylish Petite Women. If you wonder why, here is the reason: petite women need length in their style in order to look taller. Maxi dresses and skirts create that long column of colors which vertically lengthens and thus makes petite girls look taller.
Now, does that mean you can just put on any maxi dress or maxi skirt and they will look great on you?
No, because not all maxi are created equally.
Head over to those posts to learn more about the full hacks to wear maxi as a short fashionista, but here’s a few important ones for starters:
- Maxi dresses with empire waist line or high waist line are most flattering to short girls.
- Getting the right length for your maxi dress is critical. They cannot be too long that there is a risk of you stumbling on it and fall
- Wear them with the right shoes.
Rule 2. Stay Away from Midi Dresses
Okay, I admit even I myself have mentioned in various blog posts that midi length is the hardest petite style to pull off.
The reason is simple- it ends at an awkward length at your calves between your knees and your ankles, so there is a big risk that your legs could look cut off.
How to break this rule if you are really into midi dresses or skirts?
First, wear midi dresses with a see through (such as lace) bottom.
I have seen this on a couple of petite style bloggers and petite celebrities, and it looks good on them. Why is so?
It is because the see through style distracts people from the horizontal line formed around your calves, thus people will not easily notice your legs look cut-off. Seeing the skin of your legs will in fact make your proportion look better and legs look longer.
Second, wear midi dresses with slits, either side slit or front slit.
The slits show your legs when you walk or sit down. What does is to make your legs look longer, as they are no longer fully covered by the fabrics of midi dresses.
Third, wear midi dresses with asymmetrical hems
When you wear dresses with asymmetrical hems, suddenly that horizontal line, which might have otherwise look your legs look shorter, disappear. Instead, the asymmetry creates new perspective of your proportion and interesting dimension.
Rule 3. Short Girls Can't Pull off Wide Leg Pants
First, let’s try to understand where this is coming from.
The reason wide leg pants are not a recommended petite style is that they could give the perception of width instead of length, thus making you look shorter. Read more about What to Avoid if you have Short Legs.
Now that you understand the issue is with the width, then it’s easy to understand how to counterbalance it.
That is, with length! The way to break this rule is to go with full length wide leg pants. I suggest you go 1-2 inches longer than your normal inseam.
“Wait a second”, you might ask, “How am I supposed to look good if my pants are draping on the floor?”
The secret weapon is the good old high heels. For petites to rock wide leg pants, you must pair it with a pair of high heels, and the best with pointy toes. You should make sure the pants are long enough to cover 2/3 of your heels, that way you will look taller and people cannot tell if the length comes from you or from your heels.
As for the ankle length wide leg pants that are very much on trend? They might look great on run way models, or occasionally your favorite instagramers, but that doesn’t mean they look good on you.
I have another post on “How to Wear Petite Palazzo Pants if you are Short”, where you can find all the tips and tricks.
Rule 4. Petites can't Wear Big Bold Prints
I admit that I wanted to break this rule for my own personal purpose. At least, partially. I myself am a die hard fan of prints, especially when it comes to sun dresses and short skirts. Over the years, I have collected a whole wardrobe of Diane Von Fursternburg wrap dresses in all kinds of prints. Most of them bold and big prints.
So, when I hear the style rule that petite women are not supposed to wear big bold patterns, I knew I must find ways around it.
It is true petite women have small frames to work with, which can be easily overwhelmed by big prints. So, how to make it work?
First, proportion, proportion and proportion. That is the one word petite women should always keep in mind, and it worked in my case when I paid attention to it.
If you go with prints in proportion to your height and weight, you look perfectly fine. Ideally, prints should be smaller than your fist. If you go larger that that, they might overwhelm your petite body frame and make you look swamped.
Second, balance prints with solids. For example, if you are wearing a blouse with big and bold patterns, then pair it with a well fitted neutral color skirt or pants from the same color scheme as the main color of the pattern. This will balance it out and give you the benefit of monochromatic dressing.
Third, if you love larger floral prints, wear dresses in continuous pattern of those prints. Dresses create a column of continuous color, and thus create the illusion of height, which is very flattering to shorter women.
Read more about how to wear prints inspired by petite celebrity style Reese Witherspoon.
Rule #5 Petites should Only Wear Coats above the Knee
I am sure you have read on various style blogs that petite women are best advised to wear coats and jackets that do not go over your knees. That is all legitimate petite fashion advice. It is obvious that when the coat is short enough, your legs seem to be longer and that will make you look taller.
Now, the most debated topic when it comes to choosing the coats for petites. What is the ideal length for petite women?
Have you seen the winter uniform of some Asian airlines? The stewardesses wear black or navy coats over their skirt suit, and the coats reach their mid-calf. From a distance, you cannot tell they are petite, because the H shape coat creates one column of color, the vertical line, which is most flattering to petite body frame.
Same concept as maxi dresses, wearing long coats can create a column of color that really elongates short girls. The key is to use a belt to define your waistline- and ideally, above your natural waistline, so that your legs can look a lot longer than they are. See 5 feet tall Mira Duma illustrates this look!
Of course, that doesn’t mean you can throw on any maxi coats and expect them to look flattering on you. This rule can be broken, but you need to do it carefully
I have another post on “11 Must-know Tips to Find Best Coats for Petites“, which talks about everything you want to know about petite coats. I also wrote a post specifically about “7 Steps to Find Perfect Trench Coats for Petites“. In those two posts, I share with you specifics on how to rock maxi coats.
Here’s a few advice for starters, based on my own experiences and observations of other petite women.
Maxi coats should be long, but not baggy. The two are totally different. If you are going for the length, you have to make sure the cut is slender and it is well tailored.
Does that mean puffer maxi coats are out? No! The secret is to first make sure they are well fitted puffer coats, and then use a belt to emphasize your curves.
In fact, two of my winter faves are puffer coats from Dawn Levy, which I purchased 5 years ago. When it’s 30 degrees out in NYC winter, I rely on these coats for my daily walking commute. They are 45 inches long, reaching my ankle, which is why they proves maxi warmth to protect me from the stormy and windy weather. What I love above them is they are perfectly fitted with belts to emphasize my waist.
Maxi coats normally do not go well with flats or sneakers on a short person. Petite maxi coats work best with heels at least 2 inches high.
If you have to walk a long time like me, wear them with tall wedge boots or over-the-knee boots. Ideally, color of the boots should be tonal with your bottom. That is, if you are wearing sweater and jeans, wear tall boots of dark color. If you are wearing winter dress with stockings, match the color of your boots.
Wedge boots or OTK boots provide you the comfort, without compromising the style.
It is tempting to throw all rules out of the window and break free totally. But, before you do so, it is worth understanding where the rules are coming from, and then find some good ways to break them.
After all, not all of us are blessed with model like proportions, so we can’t just throw on anything and expect to look fabulous.
What are the rules you have found not serving you, and what are some of the smart ways you broke them?
Chi is 5’2″ founder of Petite Dressing, an online petite clothing store dedicated to women under 5’4″. Petite Dressing blog is here to help you understand yourself, such as your petite body type, and look your best ever. If you are new, start here. Connect with me today by sending an email to firstname.lastname@example.org.