Chalk it up to being lazy, but we’re tired of trying to figure out how to dress for our petite stature (at Love, Emoem we’re 5-foot and 5-foot-4, respectively). So we quizzed equally petite stylist Joan Balda (my twinsie at 5-foot) for her tips on looking chic when you’re under the height average (which BTW, is anything under 5-foot-4).
One of Joan’s go-to, petite items that made us go, hmm? A jumpsuit. “It gives a nice, continuous line that helps elongate the body,” she says. I was wary until on a whim, I pressed the buy button for a TNA Pentameter Jumpsuit from Artizia.
It arrived and of course, it was too long. But I decided to commit so I followed Joan’s next tip: Get it tailored. I had three inches professionally taken off (it had an elasticized hem so it wasn’t something I could attempt on my own). Four days later I wore the jumpsuit and received so many, “I love your jumpsuit,” comments that I was chuffed about the chance I took with my wardrobe, and didn’t resent the extra cost. The best part? It’s comfy, versatile and easy to wear (I can seriously get dressed in 2 minutes!)
The lesson I learned is to make the effort in the beginning (and yes, it’s slightly annoying), but the payoff at the end is worth it. So along with getting yourself a jumpsuit, here are Joan’s top 5 tips for petite dressing.
1. Proportion is paramount. “I can’t stress enough how important the right proportions are. You should be aware of how things fall on your body such as a hem, waistline, sleeves and neckline. The wrong length or shape of any of these can throw off your proportions and make you look messy, or god forbid, stumpy. You’re aiming for a long and lean silhouette. Look for skirts such as a mini, fit and flare—they help elongate your legs, or just below the ankle) or pants that are slim and straight or slightly tapered. You also want to define your waist and draw the eyes upward so look for separates with a high waist. You can also accessorize with a skinny belt for further emphasis or tuck in your shirt/top.
This doesn’t mean you can’t wear a long skirt or long dress. Just make sure that it doesn’t hit you at mid-calf, which can cut off the look of your silhouette. For example, if you love cropped pants, try to find ones that stop slightly above the ankle.
Now that being petite still means you have to dress according to your shape, whether it be pear, hourglass, triangle or apple. The challenge is to understand your body shape first and then work with what you have.”
2. Use prints with caution. “Print on print is great, but when you’re petite you have to consider print size. For example, a large cabbage flower design will be too overwhelming on a smaller frame and can look clown-y. Instead, downscale the print so it looks proportionate to your body. If you opt for a dramatic print or pattern just pair it with a top or bottom that is simple in colour, shape and style in order to balance out your outfit.”
3. Invest in tailoring. “It’s easy to look like you’re playing dress up if clothes don’t fit you properly. When I was younger there weren’t a lot of petite-specific options. Now I can shop in stores like Banana Republic and J.Crew which have petite collections, but I never want to limit myself. When I do buy ‘regular’ sized clothes, I usually have to tailor them in some way. And yes, it takes effort and may end up costing you more for that one item, but you’ll be grateful in the end when it fits you properly. I get a seamstress to tailor any investment-type items like black pants, a white shirt or blazer. If something fits, you’ll end up wearing them for longer, and buy less clothes so it all equals out in the end. If you are buying ‘regular’ clothes, look at where the shoulder, waist, hip and knees hit your body. If it’s too big, it’ll be obvious.”
BELOW: After listening to Joan’s tips, here are some style finds that have us clicking the buy button.
4. Fabrics are key. “Simple, tailored pieces are great, but of course you don’t have to stick to these items. Wear volume but keep it floaty and lightweight, especially if it’s a maxi length. Moveable fabrics like chiffon, rayon or tencel will have better drape factor and give the illusion of longer legs. Stiff fabrics all the way to the floor will look heavy on your frame.”
6. Boxy shapes are not your friend. “Anything in a shape of a square is terrible. I’ve even tried those boxy sweatshirts and it didn’t translate properly. It threw off my proportions and looked like I’d lost my waist. For petites I think it’s important that you always see a waist. Even if you’re wearing a coat, waist-tie styles are most flattering. Or if you’re insisting on a trendy, oversized coat, wear it open to help break up the boxy shape, or find one that is mini skirt length. Another trick is to keep the silhouette underneath slim and wear monochromatic tones.”
7. Watch your lines. “Think about how many lines you’re creating when you get dressed. For example, are you wearing a belt, top, cardigan, skirt and boots?…You’ve just created 5 horizontal points that chop up your silhouette. We’re looking for the longest and leanest line, which is why monochromatic dressing is so flattering for petites. Instead, focus on creating the longest body line possible, like a one-piece such as a jumpsuit or a maxi-length dress. And, if you feel that it’s going to look junior, pair it with a sophisticated blouse and a kitten heel for a more grown-up vibe.”