How to Dress a Petite Figure

Petites come in all different shapes and sizes, but our tips are universally flattering.

petite body shape
Post by Trunk Club
October 7, 2019

Slipping into a perfectly fitting outfit that highlights all of your favorite features is a surefire way to exude confidence. But when you’re petite, finding the right clothes can be a challenge. Along with dressing for your body shape, your height and proportions matter, too. To help you navigate your wardrobe, we’ll explain what it means to be petite, how to shop for pieces that fit, and how to find regular-size clothing that works for you.

petite frame

What is a petite frame?

Determining if you’re petite has everything to do with height and proportion, and nothing to do with weight. (Petites come in all different body shapes and sizes.) Here are some characteristics that indicate you fall in this category:

• You’re 5’3” or under.

• Your inseam is 27 inches or less for non-cropped styles.

• Regular sleeves and straps are often too long on you.

• Pockets, shoulders, or knees on garments fall in the wrong places.

Keep in mind, your overall height isn’t always an indicator—a person with a shorter inseam could fall into petite sizing on bottom, but wear a regular size on top (or vice versa). 

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3 tips to dress for your petite figure

1. Elongate

Certain styles will lengthen your look and emphasize certain parts of your body more than others. We’ll show you what we mean, below.

2. Know your shape

Are you an apple, pear, rectangle, hourglass, or inverted triangle? Petites come in all different shapes, so knowing yours will help guide your decisions.

3. Expect alterations

Make friends with a local tailor. Not everything you fall in love with will be available in a petite size, so you’ll often have to finesse the fit.


A little more about tailoring

Once you have a tailor, it’s important to know the things that you can and can’t change about a garment. Here are a few examples:

• You can’t move arm holes or shoulder seams, but you can change the sleeve length.
• Altering a garment extensively can compromise its style or silhouette. This is especially true for pants with a flared leg or tops with statement sleeves.
• You can’t change the seat of your pants, but you can hem the legs and take in the waist.
• It’s easier to take away fabric than to add it, so buy items to fit the largest part of you and have the rest taken in.

Side note: We offer tailoring services at our six Trunk Club locations as well as every Nordstrom store. For more info about pricing and locations, click here.

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What to wear if you have a petite frame

Now that we’ve established a baseline, let’s get specific. When shopping your favorite petite brands, here are the best tops, jackets, pants, dresses, and accessories to look for.


Best tops for petite women

A few of our favorite ways to draw attention to your top half. Brands we love with petite sizing: Eileen Fisher, Vince., J.Crew 

Light-colored tops

1. Light-colored
Play with lighter shades to make more of a style statement.

Three-quarter sleeve tops

2. Three-quarter sleeve
Ironically, these can make your arms look longer than long sleeves can.

Off-the-shoulder

3. Off-the-shoulder
This style opens up space between your chest and neck for an elongating effect.

Best jackets for petite women

Look for styles that don’t overwhelm your frame, and remember: sleeve length can always be altered. Brands we love with petite sizing: Topshop, Caslon, Vince Camuto

Cropped

1. Cropped
Anything that hits right at the waist will visually extend your legs.

Knee-length

2. Knee-length
This style creates a long line from your shoulders to your knees.

Wrap style top

3. Wrap
Because wrap styles are universally flattering on everyone.

Best pants for petite women

We’ve got a few tips and tricks for finding the right fit. Brands we love with petite sizing: BOSS, Nic+Zoe, Wit & Wisdom

High-waisted

1. High-waisted
A no-brainer for making your bottom half look crazy long.

Slim or skinny

2. Slim or skinny
Paired with a pointed-toe shoe, they elongate legs in an instant.

Wide-leg

3. Wide-leg
Especially in a cropped style, these are particularly flattering.

Best dresses and skirts for petite women

We aim to create movement and height with these picks. Brands we love with petite sizing: Gibson, Eliza J, Halogen 

Circle

1. Circle
Sweet and flirty, this easy-to-wear style looks especially great in a bold print.

Midi

2. Midi
Try this length instead of a maxi. Bonus for vertical lines like these pleats and colorblocking.

High-low

3. High-low
The cut shows off a little bit of your legs to save you from drowning in fabric.

Best accessories for petite women

Here’s how to make a big impact on a smaller frame. Brands we love: Sam Edelman, Kendra Scott, BP. 

High heels

1. High heels
Just a little boost will do the trick—they don’t need to be towering..

Pointy-toe shoes

2. Pointy-toe shoes
Choose this style over a rounded toe, as it makes your legs appear longer.

Statement earrings

3. Statement earrings
They’re a small part of the outfit, but they pack a punch.

Best regular-size styles for petite women

Have a brand you love that doesn’t make petites? All is not lost.

Cropped tops

1. Cropped tops
If you have a shorter torso, these may fit similarly to a petite-size top.

Skirts

2. Skirts
Dresses likely won’t be proportional, but try skirts that hit at or just below the knee.

Ankle-length pants

3. Ankle-length pants
Cropped on everyone else, but the perfect length on your frame.

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3 outfit ideas for a petite frame

General tips are great to have in your back pocket when shopping, but seeing them in action makes them easier to visualize. Check out three outfits we’ve built from the items suggested above that look great on a petite figure.

Everyday outfit

Like we said, if you can’t find anything you like in the petite section—or if there isn’t a petite section at all—look at cropped styles. When paired with wide-leg pants, it’s a dreamy combination. The square neckline of this top opens up your chest, too, which is a prime opportunity to add a splash of color with statement earrings.

Sophisticated workwear

The first thing you might notice about this look is the monochrome palette. An uninterrupted light shade makes a petite woman appear taller, especially in high-waisted pants that hug just above your natural waistline. The legline is further elongated here with a pair of pointy-toe nude pumps. To stay with a monochrome theme, save any pops of color for the earrings or bag.

Out on the town

Look at these pleats—doesn’t she look at least 12 feet tall? Okay, maybe not quite, but the vertical lines on this midi skirt work wonders on a petite frame. For even more length, a beige pointed-toe heel is exactly the right choice. The heel doesn’t have to be sky high, either. Just a small lift is all you need, and the narrow toe will do the rest of the work.

Want to know more?

We’ve compiled answers to some FAQs about dressing a petite frame. Click the questions below for more style advice.

  • Can I cuff or hem jeans to make them petite?
    • Cuffing or hemming your jeans will keep them from hitting the floor, definitely. However, it will not change the length of the rise or seat of your pants—so if your jeans aren’t fitting in those areas, try a brand that makes petite sizes, like Wit & Wisdom, Kut from the Kloth, or Joe’s Jeans.
  • Can I pull off oversized clothing if I’m petite?
    • Oversized clothing may overwhelm a petite frame, but there are ways to make it work if you love this style. Try adding balance by mixing an oversized shirt with skinny jeans or wide-leg pants with a fitted top.
  • What if I don’t like wearing high heels?
    • If you’re a petite woman, there’s nothing that says you need to suffer through six-inch heels every day. We love a pointed-toe flat, which elongates legs without the need for a heel. Wear what’s flattering for your body frame and what makes you comfortable.
  • Is petite sizing only for thin ladies?
    • Petite sizing does not mean “small”—your weight actually has nothing to do with it! Only your proportions. We carry petite tops in size XXS–XL, petite pants in size 00P–18P, and petite dresses in size 00P–16P.
  • Can I wear petite sizing if I’m taller than 5’3”?
    • You may be taller than 5’3” and need petite-size clothing if you have a shorter torso or legs.
  • What else should I know about dressing a petite frame?
    • The tips on this page are universal for all petite women, but also consider your body shape. Are you an apple, pear, hourglass, rectangle, or inverted triangle? Read more on our dedicated pages.

Want more style tips? Visit our body shape pages and find out which looks work best for your frame. To get a Trunk full of looks styled just for your shape, talk to a stylist today.

At Trunk Club, our stylists help people build their best wardrobes by discovering what fits their body, their budget, and their personal style.