The fashion world deems you petite if you’re 5’4” or under. Keep in mind, “petite” only refers to length or height. Petite clothes come in all sizes! And petite women come in all shapes! But to get your clothes to fit, flatter and make you feel amazing, there’s another aspect to consider, your vertical balance.
Vertical balance! What’s that? (You may be asking…) Vertical balance refers to whether you’re short waisted (or you have a short torso,) long waisted (your torso is long,) or your torso and legs are balanced. If you’re not sure, check out this post to determine your vertical balance.
After being a wardrobe consultant for over 15 years, I’ve had far more clients (both missy and petite,) who are short waisted than long waisted. In this post, we’ll talk about the best ways for you to dress if you’re petite and short waisted.
One thing to know—and celebrate—is that having a short waist and long legs makes you look TALLER than you really are!! That’s right…I said taller, so I urge you to love your long legs even if you wish they were longer.
Also… You’ll look taller and slimmer by balancing your vertical proportions. If your legs are long and your torso is short, you can appear top heavy and potentially thick looking through your middle. By elongating the appearance of your torso, you look less bulky, evenly proportioned, and much slimmer.
Since your upper body is considerably shorter than your lower half, your goal is to create the illusion of having a longer torso. At the same time, since you’re petite, you probably don’t want to make your legs look any shorter in the process.
Here are some easy style tips to help you reach the balance you’re looking for. Some you may know, but hopefully you’ll find some new tricks as well!
9 Petite Dressing Tips if You’re Short Waisted
1.) Look for V-neck tops. V-necks create a long line (that points downward like an arrow,) giving you the illusion of having a much longer torso. I find medium width V’s the very most flattering, but all V’s are fab!
If you’re not a fan of deep V’s, feel free to wear a shallow V and add a long pendant necklace that will act as a V. I especially like layering a shorter necklace with a long one to keep some interest near your face in addition to lengthening your torso.
And if you’re someone who gets cold and would prefer to cover up, or you simply don’t like V-necks, that long pendant necklace will still help lengthen your torso. The optical illusion isn’t quite as strong, but it still works!
2.) Try for mid-rise pants and jeans. Low-rises will definitely lengthen your torso the most, but you run the risk of making your legs look short in exchange.
Mid-rise pants and jeans ideally hit just around your belly button or a little below. (Being short waisted myself, I also find mid-rise pants to be the most comfortable style.)
Now what if you have trouble finding mid-rise bottoms? Or you want the tummy control of a higher rise? Or you prefer the trendy look of high waisted pants and jeans?
I have a trick for you! It’s called the semi-tuck! This is where you tuck your top into the high rise either on just one side or all the way across the in the front, but not in the back. This styling technique is super stylish and gives you the best of both worlds…the look you want and the balancing you need.
Since the semi-tuck has come into style, I do it all of the time! (I actually think I did it before it was the trend, but I doubt I can claim myself as the trendsetter, lol!) Semi-tucking has worked for a lot of my petite short waisted clients.
3.) Alterations are your best friend! You’re probably used to having things hemmed, but did you know you can have a tailor shorten the rise of a pair of pants?
I’m not a tailor, so I can’t tell you the exact steps (and it might not work for all pants,) but essentially they take the waistband off, shorten the zipper and put the waistband back on. Voila! Mid-rise!
I had this done a few years ago. Okay, it was forever ago, but…I had a little suit that had a black and white polka dot jacket and waist high, black pants that had a cute, little black and white polka dot tie closure. Naturally, I didn’t want to cover up the tie by wearing my top on the outside, so I had this alteration done, and it worked like magic.
4.) Avoid tucking tops in. Here’s why:
First, the horizontal line created by the contrast between your top and pants/skirt chops you up. The effect emphasizes your short torso in comparison to your leg length.
Next, it creates added bulk around your middle. Even if you’ve got a really flat stomach, (lucky you,) because you don’t have a lot of extra real estate length-wise, all but the shortest of tops are going to create bulk on your tum and bum area.
When you need a formal appearance, like for a job interview or presentation, you can tuck your blouse in, but then blouse it out a bit. Adding a jacket that hits at your hip area should counteract the tucking and lengthen your torso.
5.) Instead of tucking, let your tops float past the waistband of your pants or skirts.
Ideally, you want blouses, tops and sweaters to hit somewhere around the top or middle of your hipbone. This gives you a classic proportion that’s sleek and sophisticated.
6.) Wearing the same color top and bottom creates a long lean line, making you appear long and lean in turn.
If the idea of wearing this column of color bores you to tears, feel free to vary the shades a bit, but keep it in the same or similar color family.
For example, wear a navy sweater and pants OR wear the navy pants with a steel blue sweater.
Prefer light colors? A column of winter white makes a gorgeous, elegant look for work. Or for weekend, pair a light blue V-neck sweater with light wash jeans for the same effect.
7.) Try a low-slung belt.
Having a short torso, you just don’t have a lot of room for belts through your mid section. Instead of feeling like you’re limited by fashion’s “rules” just adjust them to work for you. By wearing a belt that dips toward your hips, you’re fooling everyone’s eyes into thinking your waist is that much lower.
8.) Be picky about your perfect pant length.
Making sure your pants are long enough will help you look nice and tall…long and lean.
Since you’re a petite with long legs, you may need to buy your pants in the missy section to get the perfect length. True, they may turn out to be a little long in which you can have them hemmed.
Another option is to look for petite pants that have generous hems you can let down if you need. A last idea is to look for missy pants in a “short” length. (They’re not common, but you can find them occasionally.)
9.) Choose dropped waist dresses or dresses that flow past your waist.
Psst…click through on this photo to shop this dress and more! (I make a small commission at no additional cost to you…thanks for your support!!)
By avoiding dresses with a set in waist, you can fool the eye! No one can see just how high your waist is! It’ll also be easier to find a perfect fit, too. If you happen to be reading this post and you’re not petite, but short waisted, this is an amazing way to find a great fit!
Please don’t think I’m telling you to wear baggy sacks, especially if we’re talking about work dresses. There are tons of dress styles that will work for you. No matter what your size, height or body shape, hiding in your clothes is never the answer!
To learn even more about how to dress your petite, short waisted body, check out Determining Your Body’s Vertical Balance, 6 Style Tips for Short Waisted Women and 10 Pointers for Petites.
Before You Go…
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!
18 comments on “Petite Dressing if You’re Short Waisted”
Awesome advice thanks for the post
Thank you for addressing this issue. Besides being shortwaisted I’m also under 4’10”. I’ve had a problem with clothes all my life. All my working years I’ve had a terrible time getting things to fit right and look good for the office. Someone commented on your other post about being shortwaisted that her hips are only about an inch below her waist. My body is the same. No gentle slope down to widest part of hips. Pants and slim skirts curve out to follow the slope of hips on average petite bodies. On my body that curve begins below my hips somewhere around the tops of my thighs. As a sewer myself, this can easily be altered. However, most suit jackets or blazers are fitted or semi-fitted. In most petites clothes the waist area hits below my waist around my hips. Buttoning a jacket raises the waist so it sits on the top of my hips making the jacket bulge out front and back. Jackets almost have to be remade to fit properly. The only suits and blazers I can wear with no jacket alterations is Talbots. Their petite sizes seem to be short waisted friendly for the most part.
I just want to clarify something I wrote. Where I wrote “on my body that curve begins below my hips”, I meant the hip curve on the skirts and pants begins below when my hips are on my body,
Thanks for your comment, Patty!
Yes, .I’ve noticed Talbot’s petites are more petite than many other stores. That’s great you found them!
Gosh, it’s great you sew! I’ll bet you could start an alterations business for other petites like you!
lastly, a really long time ago, I saw some basic pants at Macy’s that were “petite short.” It might be worth looking.
This is more of an issue if you are an hourglass shape as I am. I know I should tuck in my shirt or top but it just doesn’t work so I either wear fitted (princess seams or tailored tops) over my skirt or pants, or tuck things in so they blouse over the waistband. I can’t wear things that are flowy or loose as much as I would like to.
The top of my hips comes just below the bottom of my rib cage. It’s a challenge. Sometimes I think the best solution is just to wear dresses with a waist or tailored but I get cold.
Do you mean you know you SHOULDN’T tuck in tops? The way you’re blousing out your tops when you tuck them is perfect! Lots of options when you understand your goal!
I have always read that if you have a. Hourglass figure as I do (plus petite and shirt waisted) you should tuck in your tops. Is that true or no?
I have actually never heard that. As an hourglass, you’re right in that you don’t want to hide your waist. And if you have a curvy bustline, if you wear a big flow top and hide your waist, it makes you look much larger than you are. So if you don’t want to tuck, an ideal top to wear with a skirt would be a knit shell that fits nicely and hits a tiny bit below the top of your hip bone. I hope this help!!
I am 5’0″ 102 lbs. Rectangle body type. Short waist. I find that pants and even shorts want to ride up in the crotch. What am I doing wrong? I can’t buy to big because they just fall off. It’s like all pants want to migrate up to my smallest point but it’s too high.
I’m thinking you may want to try mid-rise and low rise pants. High rise pants/shorts, especially ones with an elastic waist will tend to ride up too far. I’ve had it happen myself. You can also consider having the waists of your pants lowered. A good tailor should be able to do this.
Hi there! I’m 5’2” and short waisted, athletic build and long legs which I love (I workout a lot). What length shorts should I wear?
Hi Laura! I love that you love and appreciate your legs! It’s difficult to give you an exact answer without seeing your body in person (or on screen) but typically shorter shorts look better on petite women…the more leg we see, the taller you look. Plus, you’re working hard for your fabulous legs, so why not?! The real key will be to keep your tops untucked…the best length is for them to hit mid-hip, not too short, not too long. I’ve recently been shopping online for shorts and the most common lengths seem to be 3.5″ and 5″. The latter would give you a dressier look, maybe for going out…with heels.
I am 5 feet even. My pants inseam crotch to floor is 26 inches. The bottom of my rib cage basically sits on the top of my pelvis. I feel like I am short legged AND short waisted. As I age and my weight changes, I am completely frustrated. Pants and my yoga wear all roll down and bite into my middle. Midrise pants seem create a muffin top. I definitely have a rectangle shape, but am having a terrible time finding clothing that fits and makes me feel confident.
At 5’0 even, it makes sense that you’d have a short torso and short legs. You’re tiny! My suggestions are generalized. You have to find what truly works for you. I’m not petite but am short waisted and have found mid-rise pants most comfortable. Yep, I think mid-rise will create a muffin top on almost everyone. It’s a matter of finding the right tops, so the muffin doesn’t show.
I am five feet one, i have an hour glass body type with a short torso. Will these tips work for me? As i dont feel my legs are that long
It’s not really about whether your legs are long, rather are they long in proportion relative to your torso. Yes, you can follow these tips for sure! You may also resonate with the tips in this article, https://elementsofimage.com/fashion/how-to-wear-high-waisted-pants-skirts-if-youre-short-waisted/.
Well, I’m VERY short waisted and have big hips. If I wear V necks, this calls attention to my hips. All tops are very long and I have been told that my shirts should fit just above my hip bone. NOTHING fits and it would be a fortune to have everything tailored. I’m so depressed.
I think someone else posted the same–yes, when your hips are larger, you can take my advice on lengthening your torso with a grain of salt. You want to keep attention high on your body. I’m sure there’s something out there for you–it’s just a matter of finding the perfect pieces. I would be happy to help you. You can schedule a Zoom with me here, https://my.timetrade.com/book/2RPRJ.