How to Dress when you are 5 Feet Tall or under

Are you under 5 feet tall? 4’11”? 4’8″? Whether you are exactly 5 feet or a few inches shorter, this post is dedicated to you.  In my Petite Dressing store, I get customers’ inquiries from women who are under 5 feet tall and I hear their frustrations of how hard it is find anything to fit them.

I am 5’2″ and that is already hard enough for me.  In fact, anyone under 5’4″ is facing challenges because fashion industry makes  standard sizing to fit women 5’5″ and above.

If you are 5’4″ (sometimes 5’3″), you are the borderline of petite size and standard size.  If you are under 5’3″, then you most likely need petite size.

That means your challenge doubles, because petite size measurements for most brands are made according to proportion of models 5’4″ (sometimes 5’3″) tall.  Think about it this way: a petite woman under 5 feet tall is at least 4 inches shorter than the normal petite size, so you can imagine how different the fit should be.  To me, petite girls under 5 feet tall should have another “extra petite” sizing to fit them properly!

While we cannot create a brand overnight to fit the petite women who are 4’11 and shorter, here is our suggestions on how to style if you are under 5 feet tall.

Elongating your frame

For us petite girls, because of our smaller frames, we tend to have not just shorter legs, but also shorter arms and shorter neck.  This means our goal should be to elongate them through proper styling.

How do you achieve that?  Before we talk about the specific tips and tricks, you just need to remember one thing: vertical lines lengthen.

When you crate a vertical line in your body, it draws eyes up and down, which creates the illusion of length and make you appear longer and taller.

One piece outfit such as petite dresses (especially petite maxi dresses) and petite jumpsuit is your best friend, because they create a continuous vertical line.

In order to double the elongating effect, I suggest you wear them with heels.

This is Nicole Richie in a H shape maxi length dress. Can you tell she is only 5 feet tall?

formal dress for petite women
Photo: Nicole Richie, Shutterstock

Proportion is king.

Whether someone looks tall or short is a relative concept.

If someone just sees a photo of you and you are not standing next to someone taller than you, there is no way for other people to tell you are short from the picture.  What they will do, however, is to assume if you are tall or short based on your body proportion, i.e. how long your legs are relative to your torso.

What that means is, in picture, proportion is everything.  We cannot change our height, obviously, but there is a lot we can do to improve our proportion and look tall.

Like Nicole Richie, there are some very lucky petite women who are blessed with very easy to style proportions, i.e. their legs are long relative to their height (read my post about leg ratio). They are considered the long legged petites.  Are you one of them?  If you are, then you are really lucky!  If you are not, don’t worry- most of us fall in to the normal range.  That’s what this article is here for.

Now, let’s look at how to create the best proportion through smart styling.

If you are under 5 feet, the way to improve your proportion is to focus on making your bottom (legs) to look longer and top (torso) to look shorter.

The easiest way to achieve that is by wearing a crop length top and long bottom.

Your bottom could be long pants, or long skirts.  Ideally, you top should look like 1/3 and your bottom should look like 2/3.  That is the best ratio, the so called “Golden Mean” ratio, which is most pleasant to human eyes.  This is Vanessa Hudgens, one of our favorite petite celebrities.  She is 5’1″ and she is a master of dressing for the best proportion!

short celebrity style
Photo: Shutterstock

Mix color of pants with your shoes

If you are wearing pants, matching the color of your shoes with your pants will make your legs appear longer.

This applies to stockings in winter times.  Wearing stockings that match or are close to the color of your skirt or dress and wearing shoes or boots of the same color will make you look instantly taller.

If you are wearing a dress with bare legs, then nude heels (or pumps that looks closest to the color of you skin) do an amazing job to extend your legs. If a petite girls could only own one pair of shoes, it should be nude pumps ! If you have fair skin, nude pumps literally just look like an extension of your legs.

This sounds counter intuitive, because many people think maxi dresses are hard to pull off by short girls.

Yes and no.

Yes because petite girls (especially if you are under 5 feet tall) have a shorter frame, so it is easy to look swamped by all the fabrics of long dresses.

No because they are definitely a short girl’s friend.  Remember I talked about how important it is crate a vertical line?

what to wear if you are 5 feet tall
Photo: Shutterstock

Maxi dresses create a continuous column of color, like all dresses do. Better yet, it extends all the way to almost the bottom of your feet. So, visually, it can make you look taller and make your petite frame look longer.

There are many things that a short girl should pay attention to when wearing a maxi, and I have another blog post dedicated to that “How to Wear Petite Maxi Dresses ” as well as “Where to Shop for Maxi Dresses for Short Girls“.

Long story short, the key for short girls to avoid looking swamped by the maxi dress is to go with solid colors or small prints.

Wearing petite maxi dresses with flats are totally fine.  But, if you want the most lengthening effect, you should wear them with heels.  This is one of the occasions when you can wear platform heels or wedges all you want.  Because the dress is so long that it covers the heels, so no one can tell if your shoes are bulky or not.

Best shoes for women under 5 feet

For short girls with petite feet, high heel pumps are a wardrobe necessity without a doubt.

The best pumps for petite girls should have low vamp.  What are low vamp?  Without getting into technical aspect of the definition, have you seen those shoes which show a little bit of toe cleavage?  Yes, that’s what I am talking about.

5 feet tall
Photo: Unsplash

The lower the vamp, the less covered your feet are thus the longer your legs look.

Many premier shoe brands really have mastered this kind of design, which is why you get the impression that more expensive shoes make your legs look better!

That doesn’t mean you have to spend $600 on a pair of Louboutins if you want to get a pair of low vamp shoes.

Be careful with platform shoes

If you are under 5 feet tall, it seems like the easiest way to add several inches instantly is to throw on a pair of platform shoes.  It sounds like a no brainer to most people, including myself (when I was in my 20s).

Does that really work?

No, not if the platform is too thick.  Why is that?

I talked about how looking tall vs short is all relative based on proportions.  This in essence is just a visual game of playing tricks with human eyes.

If the platform is so thick that the bottom of your shoes look bulky, they actually make your legs look shorter.  That takes away from the actual 5 inches the shoes have added to your height. So, what’s the point of wearing them?

how to dress if you are 5 feet and under
Photo: Unsplash

Don’t get me wrong- I think there are occasions when you do need platform shoes for various reasons.

For example, on my wedding day, I was wearing platform shoes so that I could look taller in pictures.  And, most of all, they gave me the comfort to stand on heels all day and dance at night!

So, you CAN wear platform heels, but just avoid those super bulky ones.

Best necklines

V neck and off the shoulder are universally flattering to short girls under 5 feet tall.

Deep V neck works on pretty much petite women of any height and any body type.  The space they create around your  neck essentially makes your neck appear longer and make your proportion look better.

Off the shoulder is another design that has taken the center stage of fashion in the last few years.  If you happen to be pear shape, off the shoulder is heaven sent for you.  Because pear shape women tend to have sloping shoulders and wider bottoms, which can be perfectly balanced out by the horizontal line created by the off-the-shoulder.

Where to Shop Extra Short Jeans and Pants

I have mentioned in the beginning how hard it is to shop for clothing if you are under 5 feet tall.  I cannot stress enough your best bet is to shop petite brands instead of regular department.  For dresses, skirts and tops, you may be able to find what fits you.  The hardest is probably jeans or pants, because you need extra short inseam length.  Therefore, I have put together another post to gather all the brands where you can find extra short petite jeans.

In Petite Dressing boutique, we also carry pants and jeans for short women of your height.  If your inseam is 24″ to 25″, you can wear them without hemming or rolling up.  See petite blogger Sammie Litten wearing the off-the-shoulder top and jeans from Petite Dressing. She is 4 feet 8 inches tall and loved every piece from us.

This is petite blogger Marisa, who is 5 feet tall, when we were discussing our collaboration, she picked out the distressed jeans with scissor hem details.  She was worried that if the inseam doesn’t fit, she would have to send it to tailor and she would lose all the hem details! The jeans turned out to be perfect for her and it fits like a glove!

Invest in a good tailor

I am a big believer that petite women should try to find petite sizes that are made for shorter women and rely less on tailors.  The reason is certain things on the clothes cannot be altered, or, they could be ridiculously expensive if you have them altered.  Examples include if the shoulders are too wide or if the bodice of the dress fits you awkwardly.  Changing those aspects of the clothing is like re-constructing the garment- even if the tailor can do it, the price will be really high and it’s not really worth it.

how to dress if you are under 5 feet tall
Photo: Shutterstock

That said, there are certain things that tailors can easily change, and having a reliable tailor that you can always go to is an important backup choice.  That is especially true when you are under 5 feet tall, because chances are even the petite size clothing you purchase may not fit you.  If you can find a good local tailor you can trust, that will give you a lot more options.

There are not that many retailers or brands who carry pants or jeans of extra short inseam you can wear and I have gathered that information under “Recommended Brands”.  If, 24 inch inseam is still too long for you, you can easily send them to your tailor or even dry cleaner and hem them to fit your height.

Celebs under 5 feet tall

Having a style icon, or role model, helps you to understand how other petite girls of similar height dress and get inspiration.  You may not need to copy their looks, but they will show you what works and perhaps what doesn’t.

My personal favorite for petite women under 5 feet is Russian It girl Mira Duma.  I don’t know exactly how tall she is as it is not listed anywhere officially, but she could be 4’10 or 4’11.

short celebrity style
Photo: Shutterstock

I recommend her because of how versatile her style is.  No matter what your personal style is, you can find some of her looks for inspiration.  If you like polished feminine looks, she has plenty of glam outfits you can copy.  If you like neutral looks, she is the master of pantsuits.  If you like causal style, you will find her wearing t-shirts and jeans.

Be confident in your own skin

Ok, this isn’t really styling tips, but it is probably more important than any styling tip in the world.  Nothing makes a woman more beautiful than confidence.

Sammie we mentioned earlier is 4’8″, an aspiring actress and blogger living in LA.  She mentioned on her Youtube channel how sometimes people would be come up to her and make fun of her height right in her face. And, she is not talking about what happened in high school. This could happen in a restaurant or at the airport…

Has that happened to you before?  If so, how has that affected you?

Sure, I can understand anyone would feel annoyed if that happened to them.  No one likes to be made fun of their size or body shape or weight.  But, you can choose to let that go and not let that put you in a bad mood.

Nothing is sexier than a woman comfortable in her own skin.  You are enough the way you are and you don’t have to look like anyone else.  When you come to accept yourself as you are, then nothing can stop you from being confident and beautiful.

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