I received a very intriguing Facebook post a few weeks ago from a woman asking for assistance with clothing that would work (pun-intended) for her petite 4’10″ frame. No matter what our body type, it is incredibly difficult at times finding workwear that fits our frames, that is comfortable, and fits our dress code while exuding our personal sense of style. Therein lies a very difficult equation to master. To our inquirer on Facebook, however, it just is a process of finding the designer and/or brand that works for your body – and perhaps finding a tailor that helps perfect that fit and avoids causing you to look like an intern…or worse, a child.
When finding petite business clothes, start with the basic shops. Ann Taylor has succeeded in an incredible re-branding effort not just styling up their advertisements, but really styling up their clothing. They’re a great stop for very nice blouses and layering pieces. Plus they have a very impressive Petites section.
Speaking of Petites sections, make sure that where you shop they have a section specific to petite sizing. I previously mentioned Ann Taylor, but also check out Banana Republic and various department stores such as Macy’s, Nordstrom’s and Bloomingdale’s. Department stores also have tailors on staff so if you need a pant cuffed or a dress hemmed, you have on-site assistance. I also highly recommend Brooks Brothers. Not only do they have a quality Petites section, but they have tailors on staff and specialize in the fantastic-quality and well-fit work ensemble. Every item I’ve purchased from Brooks Brothers lasts forever, fits perfectly, and continuously receives a plethora of compliments. You’ll receive a similar experience if you go to almost any designer boutique or custom clothier. You pick the style and item, and they fit it to your body. It may be quite expensive to have your entire work wardrobe custom-made, but having one fantastic custom suit on hand wouldn’t hurt either.
For general guidelines, let’s go through the basics. First off, look for blouses that are longer in the torso and don’t cut you off right at the waist, which can create the illusion of a boxy torso. You’re already petite, you don’t want to look like you’re being cut in half. Try to find something that’s tucked or darted at the waist. You can also create this affect by adding a belt or tucking your blouse into your slacks or skirt. If you tuck in, make sure your pant- or skirt-waist line hits you just under the belly button. You can also wear higher-waisted pants and skirts that reach above the belly button, but then wear a cardigan or blazer with it so your torso doesn’t appear stunted.
A similar bit of feedback goes for suits as well. Avoid boxy suit jackets that end right at the waistline. Opt for longer cuts (of course not too long – stick with something that ends right at the hip) and make sure that if the jacket collar is shaped in a ‘v’, the neckline doesn’t go too low in front as it’ll then just look too big on you. The neckline should hit midway between the belly button and the bustline if it’s a single-button blazer. If it’s a two-or three-button blazer, make sure the top button is just below the bustline. Feel free to play with different styles such as military or pea coat, just be wary as these styles may easily overwhelm you.
For skirts and dresses, stick with a hemline that ends right above your knee. It’s difficult to pull off any longer (unless the skirt/dress is ankle-length) as it may make your legs look shorter than they are. Now, if you find a dress/skirt that you absolutely love but the hemline is slightly too long – buy it anyway and get it tailored! As a petite frame, you should definitely become fast friends with a tailor if you aren’t already, as you will most likely need to get many items hemmed and fitted to flatter your shape.
As for footwear, wear heels. You can wear flats on the weekends, but at the office, nothing will give you more of a professional edge than a pair of nice quality pumps. You can find incredibly comfortable pumps to compliment any work style you bring forward. My favorite designers for fashionable and comfortable footwear are Biviel or Sam Edelman. Also check out Kenneth Cole 925 or the Cole Haan Air footwear options.
A common pitfall many petite women fall into is that they don’t dress their age. You may not be one of them, but if you find yourself dressing like you should be going to an elementary school tea party versus a company brainstorming meeting, it’s time to put on the big girl pumps. Beware of short sleeves, ruffles, white lace, and anything else that screams ‘youth’. You may be petite, but you are not a push-over.