Does figuring out how to dress a petite frame seem daunting? That’s likely because most stores don’t cater to your size needs.
One shopping trip and you know that most women’s clothing serves “straight sizes”.
(Even though 40% of women in the US are under 5’5” and 70% wear a size 14 or larger.)
So how do you dress professionally when you’re petite?
We’ve got you covered. I’ve worked in the fashion industry for over 25 years and I’ve seen it all. From building up fashion brands to working one on one with clients, I know how to approach clothing without wasting time.
These are the same tools I use when styling my Next Level Wardrobe clients and are sure to change how you approach petite clothing.
But first, let’s do a refresher on what petite sizing is exactly.
What is Considered Petite?
In the fashion world, the technical definition of petite is clothing designed for those under 5’4”.
This goes back to the 1940s when designer Hannah Troy, collected the measurements of female military volunteers. She noticed trends in their height and proportions, inspiring her to create this new size category.
That’s why petite clothing doesn’t just mean the manufacturer took a couple of inches of the inseam.
It means that everything on the garment is proportionally smaller. This includes raising the base of an armhole to fit smaller arms, shortening waists, and adjusting seam placements. In short, these pieces follow a different pattern than straight sizes.
That said, the petite section should act as a starting point when thinking of how to dress a petite body. Don’t think of it as your fashion journey’s final destination.
What I mean is, your height alone shouldn’t decide what you wear.
You can be 5’3” and still find clothing in straight size departments. Or you might be 5’6” and find that the proportions on some petite garments are just right. Ultimately, trying as many options as possible is the only way to discover what works for you.
The more brands and sizes you try on, the more you’ll find to wear- it’s not a one brand fits all situation (unfortunately!). Now let’s get into how to style yourself professionally.
How to Style a Petite Body Type for the Office
The number one thing to keep in mind when styling a petite body type for work is fit.
You can wear any silhouette or style that follows your office dress code so long as it’s tailored to YOU.
Take layering pieces for example. I personally love structured layers, especially on petite bodies. They give you that powerful CEO appearance with ease. Look for blazers that define your waist and end around the top of your hips.
The same guidelines apply to tops and blouses.
For another subtle yet effective way to avoid frumpiness, take a look at Reese’s outfit above. She tucks in her shirt to appear put-together without worrying about her shirt being too long. If you’re unsure when to tuck, check out NLW’s rule of thumb here.
Speaking of too-long clothing, let’s talk about oversized clothing. This trend is everywhere right now. But unless you want to look like you’re swimming in your clothes, this is a skip for petite clients.
In terms of pants, don’t limit yourself. Slim-fit, straight, skinny, wide-leg— you can wear it all. As long as it’s tailored.
I know everyone wants to wear clothing straight off the rack. But the reality is that most people (not just petite shoppers) need a couple of basic alterations. A practical approach to how to dress a petite frame professionally is to hire a tailor.
To get the most out of this investment, focus on creating a capsule wardrobe. Purchase high-quality workwear pieces in core colors like black, grey, navy, and white. Just by getting those select garments tailored, you now have a strong foundation to build endless outfits.
How to Style a Petite Body Type for the Office
Stumped by what to wear if you’re petite and curvy? Here’s the truth. At the end of the day, there aren’t hard and fast style rules to follow based on your body type. You can dress professionally when plus sized, petite, or both.
The key is understanding your fit challenges and how to solve them. For example, if you need garments with more room around your bust and hips, consider stretch fabrications. Like cotton blended with spandex or linen infused with elastane.
Or say you preferred structured looks like cotton button-downs, but you always end up with gapping. No problem.
If you can’t find your ideal fit in store, purchase the option that fits the biggest part of your body. Then, have a tailor take in the rest.
Not to sound like a broken record, but it’s all about fit.
The one thing I would add for workwear, is to consider what message you want your clothes to convey.
Take a peek at Mindy Kaling’s outfit.
This is a perfect example of how to dress professionally if you’re petite. A monochromatic look is always a powerful CEO style option. Her color choice of a bold chartreuse matches her personal brand as well.
Mindy is known for her playful comedy, unapologetic femininity, and strong voice.This look says all that as soon as she enters the room. BTW, we at NLW are loving Mindy’s recent style transformation- read our thoughts here.
With Next Level Wardrobe’s plus-size styling and image consulting services, we take all these factors into account. Our team works with you to overcome fit challenges, eliminate stressful shopping, and to find clothing that elevates your brand.
Where to Shop for Petite Professional Clothing
Instead of pondering what to wear if you’re petite and curvy or just petite, let’s focus on where to shop.
First things first: Remember what we mentioned at the top of this article. You don’t have to limit yourself strictly to petite or petite curvy clothing lines. Just because a brand doesn’t have that specific group sizing doesn’t mean you can’t find great options.
Veronica Beard, for example, doesn’t offer true petite options. But they do have suits and work separates in a variety of colors, inseams, and styles. (They carry plus sizes as well)
Nadaam Cashmere is excellent for sustainably-minded sweaters and if your office follows a workleisure dress code, Athleta has you covered.
Secondly, I suggest starting at a department store so you can access many brands under one roof.
Bloomingdales or Nordstrom are particularly helpful options as they have in-house styling services and alterations departments as well.
If you’re looking for where to shop for petite professional clothing at a lower price point, consider Aritzia. The Canadian brand offers a variety of essentials like neutral trousers and tees along with true office wear like blazers.
Ready to take your petite professional wardrobe to new heights? Apply for our women’s virtual styling services to work with a fashion expert who knows how to dress a petite frame professionally.
Cassandra Sethi is a NYC Personal Stylist and Image Consultant. After working over 15 years in the Fashion Industry, most recently as a Senior Buyer for Equinox, she created her business, Next Level Wardrobe – a luxury personal shopping service for successful professionals.
Next Level Wardrobe has been featured in Wall Street Journal, Today and CNN. See here.