How to dress a short torso

I can honestly say that many of my clients, regardless of their height, have short torsos. More commonly you’ll hear it referred to short waisted. I am included in this group of fabulous women. If you’re still unsure of what this means, basically the length from your shoulders to your natural waist is shorter than average. If you’re short torso’d, you usually know it.

Clothes can often be difficult to fit. For example, when you try on a pull over sweater, you get bunching in the torso; it’s especially evident from the back. Another garment that can be hard to get to fit right is dresses. A lot of dresses will have a fitted waist. If your torso is short, again you’ll get bunching or bagging.  Or you may have the urge to pull up on the shoulders and exclaim, “There, now it’s perfect…if my shoulders were just 2 inches higher!”  (Yes, I do it sometimes.)

Don’t despair! I have an option you might not have thought of. First, even if you are average height, consider checking out the petite department for tops and dresses. I went shopping Saturday and found a great Tahari cardigan…in the petite department! I’m 5’6”, and believe it or not, the sweater is still a tiny bit long. I have a hard time believing this sweater is really going to fit many true petites.  I almost wonder if it was mis-marked.  The sleeves come right to my wrist bones, which might be a tiny bit short, and would definitely be too short if it were a jacket. In reality, long sleeves kind of bug me, and these will most likely get pushed up. Overall, I feel like I hit the jackpot!

As I mentioned earlier, be sure to check out petite dresses. I bought my best fitting dress ever from the Nordstrom petite department in California, eleven years ago when I was getting married. The dress appeared to be made for me! Petite dresses will be shorter in the torso. They’ll be shorter in the skirt as well. I often prefer my skirts a bit above the knee. If the dress is too short for you, you may have the option of letting the hem down, making it a perfect fit for you!

If you’re short waisted or short torso’d, I can’t promise that petites will fit you every time, especially if you are averaged height, but it’s certainly worth checking out to save you what can be a costly alteration.

Before You Go…

Before you go..Download The Ultimate #SHOPYOURSHAPE Guide

At Last, a complete resource with all the stores with sizes and proportions to fit your unique shape!

No matter what your body type, in this guide, you'll find more shops and sites than you ever knew existed... that cater to just your size, height and shape!

20 comments on “How to dress a short torso

  1. great tips! i am short-waisted as well…although very tall…so if i’m looking for a top or sweater that doesn’t have long sleeves…i can usually find a perfect fit in the petites…but if it has long sleeves…i’m usually out of luck as they are too short…same with dresses…

    i had to laugh at the dress comment…the only way dresses fit for me is “after” i’ve pulled the shoulder up about 2″…alterations can fix that right up!

  2. Thanks for your comment, Elena. I actually haven’t bought too many petite items, as the arm holes are usually a little small, but then I have big shoulders, so that may be why. Well, sure I can get that alteration done, but that’s my test to see how it will look. I would really have to love the dress before I’d buy it and alter it. I spent a fortune on alterations on that red dress that is in the Elements of Image facebook profile pic, but it is so cute! I hope I haven’t changed sizes too much this winter!

  3. This is a really good article and not just for those that are “short waisted.” I’m 5’6″ and have a long torso as well as extremely long arms but in misses, I’m a size 2. I have found it extremely difficult to find 2’s in the misses departments and have resorted to buying items in the petit department. I obviously can’t wear a petit pair of pants or tops, but I can often times get petit skirts to work because of how they fall at the waist. I’m a fan of shorter skirts so it works out perfect. This article just goes to show that the size on the tag doesn’t always mean anything…explore the different departments and you’ll be surprised at what may fit. Thanks for sharing.

  4. You bring up some great points, Sloan. I should also point out to readers that many times the sizing isn’t the same in petites as it is in missy. For example, sometimes if you wear a 2 in missy, you might wear a 4P in petites. Petite sizes can also be a solution if a 4 missy is too big and a 2 missy is to small. A 2p might be perfect. Experiment with sizes.

  5. So this is a great site! At 58 my tummy is starting to poke out and I have filled out a bit. I am 5’ 5” and weigh 125 but now I know I am short waisted! From my head to waist is 24” but my inseam is 31”. My arms are really short so Ina,ways do better with petite tops. My question is how to dress my bottom half to draw attention to my long legs and minimize my belly bump and short torso!

    1. Hi Susan,
      Sorry for the delay in my answer. Now you know that you should leave your tops untucked, that will help minimize your tummy. Also make sure you’re not wearing your tops too tight. Check out this post, to learn more about dressing for your body type. You should find a few tips on how to flatter your legs. Plus you may just want to type “body type” in the search on the right hand side of the page and all of the posts should come up.

  6. I also have trouble with pants on a short torso. I need the length in the leg that comes with regular size pants so I can’t go with a petite on the bottom, but the regular waist often ends up way too high unless there is a ‘low rise’ option. I hope low rise never goes out of style?

    1. Amy, sorry for such a late reply! I am finding high rise jeans are prevailing-ugh! I did have a client recently who has the same body type as you–we tried on a variety of pants and found some to fit well. A good tailor can lower the waistline of a pair of pants, so that’s an option too.

  7. I am 63, 5’5″, 140lbs and built like an adolescent boy -no waist, slim hips -but with with big boobs. I have the worst time with finding leggings that I don’t have to roll up at the top because if I don’t, the elastic is nearly empire waist . Either way, the pants just slide down until the crotch is at mid thigh. I am constantly adjusting in Zumba and yoga – and even in resistance training.

    Now the trend is high rise leggings. I wonder if these would stay up better? I can try some on, of course, but once I wear them to the gym to see if they stay up, I won’t be able to return them. Has anyone with a short torso and long legs tried wearing high waisted leggings during exercise? Or does anyone know of a brand that sells low waisted exercise leggings?

    1. I think the high rise leggings stay up a little better. Try Athleta. I just bought my first pair of yoga pants/leggings there and was told that if worn once and washed, I could bring them back if they didn’t work out. I’m under the impression that Scheels has a liberal return policy as does REI.

  8. The other thing I would add is that if you have a tummy or are top heavy, don’t wear tops with big or bold patterns. Solid colors, vertical pinstripes, or tops that are paneled minimize the thick torso look. Rather, draw the eye towards the long legs with bolder patterns.

  9. I love finding articles featuring short waisted women! What a dilemma we have. I fit a 2P-4P on the top. Therefore, petite sized tops, dresses, jackets are great. The bottom half of me sports a 32” inseam and I’m only 5’3! Talk about long legs! Which I believe is better than short ones; but finding small sized pants that actually have inseam choices is difficult. CK makes the best pants for this very reason. I can buy a size 4 with 32” inseam! NYDJ also makes longer inseam pants for small sizes.
    Any other suggestions I would love to have?!

    1. Wow, Maggie! You do have long legs! Have you ever tried Tall sizes? I wonder if they would be too long in the rise for you? I know that Lafayette 148 sells unhemmed pants that you can have shortened to the length you need. I once had a very tall client who loved them. You know, if you like wide legged cropped pants, they could work for you. I’ve been finding they’re just a little long for all of my clients, so they might be perfect for you. (The designers are trying to push us into high waters, but a bit shorter is better.) Glad you liked the post!

  10. I loved reading this thread, just to know there are others with the same dilemma. I’ve always felt like I had a defect! Swim suits, athletic tops and formal gowns have always caused me anguish even though I’m slim and love clothes. I envy people who can tie a sweater around their waist. The crop top and high waist trend is killing me! Right now I’m at a beach resort wishing I could wear a sarong and bikini top without looking like a portion of me is missing!

    1. Hi Tess!
      I’m glad this is helpful! You DO NOT have a defect!! It sounds like you might be able to wear petites in tops. I haven’t had a client who has needed a petite swim suit or athletic top, but I’m sure they exist. For a formal gown, I have a client who has had good luck with BCBG. Crop tops are actually a blessing bc now all tops have gotten shorter instead of the really long top trend that was around for so long. I couldn’t find a t or tank that didn’t end up looking like a tunic top. Be sure to look around the site for other posts on dressing if you’re short waisted.

  11. I’m 5 foot 61 years old and have had a problem finding clothes that fit me because I’m short torsos. When high waisted jeans came into play they came up around my rib cage under my bra. My ribcage literally is an inch to an inch and a half from my hip bone which makes finding clothes for me very hard. My legs from my foot to where my legs Bend I’m 33 and 1/2 in my torso is 29 and a half I would love to have those three inches in my waist line

  12. I am 4′ 11″ I have had a awful time finding clothes, not mention the picking are slim. I walk into petite sections in the stores and become so depressed a and walk out. The section is next to nothing. I am about 10 pounds overweight and weight 130

    1. Hi Cathy,

      White House Black Market has petites, albeit they’re mostly on line. If you go into a store, they can help you with sizing…you can try things on, and get an idea of whether you like it. Returns are easy.

      Banana Republic has petites as does Anthropology. If you’re looking for more trendy clothing, try ASOS,

      I totally agree with you that there’s a lack when it comes to petite sizing in brick and mortar stores, but with a little more effort (I know…not fair) you will be able to find plenty of options.

      If you would like any help, feel free to schedule a consultation with me…just click on the red box toward the top of the page.

  13. FYI, I am 73 and very short waisted with long legs. I shop online for all my tops and bathing suits. I shop at: Lands End (great petite bathing suits!), LL. Bean, Talbots, Coldwater Creek, Drapers and Damon, Eileen Fischer, Appleseeds, and Eddie Bauer., etc. Search online for “petite bathing suits” (or dresses, sweaters, raincoat, etc) and you will be surprised.

    LLBean has free shipping. Most of the others offer free shipping if you spend a certain amount. Once you learn which store works for you, it gets much easier.

    The department stores carry very limited petites.

    1. Thanks for your comment! Yes, there are so many more choices for petite clothing online than in brick and mortar stores. And unfortunately it’s becoming the case across all sizes.

Leave a Reply to Najia Cancel reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.