Work Fashion Tips for Petite Women

work fashion tips for petite womenIt’s on my to-do list today to update a lot of our older posts with advice for where to buy petite-friendly clothes for work, and I thought I’d ask the readers: what are your best work fashion tips for petite women? Do you think certain styles work better than other — or is it all about knowing your body shape and tailoring it? I’m 5’4″, so I’m right on the cusp of petite sizes… these are some of my best tips for petite women, but I’d love to hear yours…

Psst: Check out our new resource, Where to Find Stylish Petite Suits for Women!

  1. Don’t feel like you have to wear 5″ heels to look professional — it’s ok to be short! (We’ve actually even discussed whether 4″ heels are appropriate for interview heels or other work situations — know your office before you buy a ton!)
  2. Know where to shop. We’ve rounded up the best workwear for petites in the past — but it’s also worth noting that depending on your exact dimensions, sometimes regular sizes may work best for you (for example, as a 5’4″ woman, I often buy petite pants but regular-length skirts) — and many brands offer “short” lengths that are cut slightly differently than petite lengths. Keep an eye to quality and style, but it’s worth noting that if you’re very petite you may be able to shop in juniors’ or children’s size ranges as well. (If you’re on the hunt for the unicorn that is plus-sized petites, check out our roundup of the best workwear for size 16 and beyond.)
  3. Tailor it up. We’ve rounded up the best suiting alterations for women and common tailoring alterations for women — but you can also learn to do some things yourself, such as hemming pants. YouTube is a great source for free tutorials, and you can find affordable online courses at places like Craftsy or Skillshare, as well as in-person lessons at local fabric stores like Joann. It’s also worth noting that some stores provide free alterations on your purchases, at least up to a certain point — for example, Nordstrom offers many free alterations on full-price clothing — “basic alterations are free for many full-price items purchased at Nordstrom and Trunk Club (online or in stores)” — and depending which level Nordstrom rewards cardmember you are, you may be entitled to $100 or more of reimbursement for alteration expenses.
  4. Know YOUR body. It’s hard to say “petite women always look great in this” because petite bodies come in all sizes, with all sorts of leg/waist/hip/bust ratios. A structured, shrunken one-button blazer may look great on one petite woman — while a dolman-sleeved sweater may look great on another.
  5. Don’t expect every look to work on you. Learn which styles work well on you and which don’t. For example, a large print may overwhelm your frame — the current trend of “stick a ruffle on it” may really, really not work for you. Start with clean, minimalist clothing in neutral colors, and build from there. Our four-week work outfit challenge may be just what you need to try different work outfit ideas.
  6. A note on looking young (and trying to use fashion to look older): A lot of young professionals who are petite worry about looking like high-schoolers, but we’ve noted in the past, “looking young” has every bit to do with how you hold yourself, speak, and otherwise present yourself — in other words, it often comes down to “acting young” more than looking young. Before you buy designer clothes, get expensive highlights, or buy a slew of uncomfortable heels, you may want to check out this post on executive presence, or this post on how to be taken seriously when you look young, where we advised a 30-something college professor on some beyond-the-basic tips.

How about you, readers? What are your best work fashion tips for petites? Which are your favorite petite stores for workwear — and suits?

Pictured: Deposit Photos / envivo.

We rounded up 6 easy work fashion tips for petite women -- and asked our readers for more. Whether you're concerned about looking young, gaining height, dressing professionally, or just knowing WHERE to find petite-friendly clothes for work, we've got you covered.


  1. Assistant Professor :

    I struggle every year with Father’s Day gifts for my Dad, so I though I’d ask if anyone has any suggestions. I live too far away from my Dad to take him out for a meal/spend the day together. He isn’t into many of the things that gifts for men seem to revolve around (golf, beer, grilling, fishing). His main hobby (sports memorabilia collecting and re-selling) isn’t something I can really buy gifts around as he has very specific, niche collecting interests and I don’t have the knowledge to know what’s valuable vs. what is crap in that market. He does play volleyball in a league, but I’ve given him enough volleyball themed t-shirts as past gifts that I don’t want to go that route again.

    So, any gifts for men that have gone over well for you that you can suggest, preferably around $50 or so?

    • How about chore handling gifts? A housekeeper or organizer or getting his car detailed?

    • Anonymous :

      Don’t make it so hard on yourself. Make him a calendar of the two of you doing stuff together (or if you have kids–him and you and the kids doing stuff together)/ family photos. Or get him a gift certificate to a nice restaurant. It doesn’t have to be hard…if he’s into sports memorabilia–he’s probably also into sports–get him tickets to a game or a couple of games…

    • Tickets to something? Mine loves stand-up comedy and I usually look to see who is touring at some point and get tickets. Somehow that’s easier to accommodate than music taste or plays.

    • Senior Attorney :

      Some gifts my (probably near the same age as your dad) husband has liked:

      Weather station
      Vinyl Me Please record of the month club
      Ditto the tickets and photo calendar (my hubby really liked the electronic photo frame with slide show of family photos)
      Nice bottle of wine or liquor
      Fun shirt from (too late for this year but they have such fun prints you can keep it in mind for next year or his birthday or whatever)

    • Assistant Professor (OP) :

      Thanks for all of the ideas above- they got me thinking of some new potential gift ideas, so I appreciate it.

  2. Anonymous :

    I’m 5’4 too, so not really tiny, but I have very short arms and practically non-existent legs (I’m all torso) so I need petite sizes. The b!tch of it all is finding petite sizes that go beyond like, a size 10. Not everyone petite is also skinny! I get basically all my casual pants and jeans at Old Navy because they have a big range of sizes and fit me well. I also find my frame looks overwhelmed in blazers, and I feel really silly in them – like a child playing dress-up.

    • Nerfmobile :

      I’m all torso too. I’m 5’6″ so not petite, but I find that petite pants are often just the right length on me to not need hemming, so I do browse pants in the petite ranges. I also find that the current ankle pants in regular lengths often look like full-length trousers on me, so petites with long legs might check out ankle pants in regular sizes.

    • Anonymous :

      I am average-height with a very long torso and short arms and legs, and I actually do best in tall sizes when they are available. I can never wear petites. Petites are too short-waisted (dresses, jackets) or too short in the rise (pants). I always have to get the arms and legs hemmed.

  3. w*lmart has petite workout and yoga pants that are pretty cheap, if that helps too!

  4. My best tip is that petite shopping is an exercise in frustration, so plan accordingly. Pretty much everything has to be tried on, every time. Sometimes you may need a petite size, but some items may work in regular if cut correctly (skirts, t-shirts, sportswear (skorts, golf shirts), even cropped jackets all work for me in regulars . . . sometimes). A size that works in a line in one season may not work in the next season (I am looking at you Talbots). Many petite items are online only, so be prepared to be doing returns by mail or in person. Even then, expect to have most things altered for the best fit. Do not expect to find what you are looking for when you look for it and be prepared to buy what you find when you find it . . . I have gone out looking for jeans before and come home with a winter coat and an evening gown (true story). And if you find something that actually does work, buy it in all the colors, in multiples if possible, because the odds of finding the item – or anything else that fits so well – again is slim to none.

    These are the reasons that I buy shoes, accessories, and jewelry. They fit!

  5. Anonymous :

    I am average-height (so not petite) but wear a small size and have a straight figure, and different body types absolutely require different styles. I cannot wear the long, shapeless blazers that are in style now–they make me look like a little kid playing dress-up in an adult lab coat. Collars, buttons, flaps, and other fussy details generally overwhelm my frame. On me, a collared suit jacket with buttoned sleeve vents, flap pockets, and a buttondown shirt is just a rumply mess of stiff fabric. I look best in simple, sleek styles. I imagine that the same would be true to an even greater degree for someone shorter than I am.

  6. I am 5’4″ , short-waisted with a small bust, and have hips. I am a different size on top than bottom– normally am a 2 or 4 petite on top and a 4/6 on bottom. Learning what types of things can be altered and how has been a game changer for me. I have also found that any sort of strong pattern overwhelms me. Same with unwaisted dresses– I have a fairly defined waist and big hips, so I just look like a blob.

    Brands I’ve had luck with recently:
    Ann Taylor: Petite sizes in tops; regular sizes in bottoms then get hemmed. Dresses in petite sizes a size up, then get the straps taken in. (Figuring out what dresses can have the bust taken in is very important.)

    MM LaFleur: Many of their dresses like the Etsuko and Ashley are high-waisted, which means they fit me perfectly.

    Everlane: Pants in ankle or cropped length. Most tops are meant to be tucked in or intentionally are oversized.

  7. Minnie Beebe :

    I’m about 5’6” so wouldn’t normally be thought of as petite. However, I’m short waisted and have narrow shoulders, so while I don’t always buy petite tops, I find that both jackets/blazers and flowy tops fit MUCH better in petite sizes. Blazers so that the shoulders fit properly. Flowy tops so that the length is correct— most of the time, Loose, flowy tops, such as that plieone top from Nordstrom, end below my hip crease, just below my crotch, and it’s so sloppy looking. Petite tops will usually end above the crotch, and it’s a much better look for me.

    • I am very similar to you. 5′ 7″ short waisted, small bust, narrow shoulders. I was getting XS most of the time, and then recently learned that a petite S is even better for me.

  8. I am also difficult to dress fashionably–not tall, size 2 or 4, big tuchus and big boobies, but very small waistline and blond hair. I am officially mini-curvey, but can NOT wear pencil skirts safely b/c of my tuchus. I go to Lord and Taylor who caters to women like me, but it becomes expensive NOT to be able to choose from their entire wardrobe. When I get married, I will put on a few pounds and will stick to A line skirts! At least until I am pregnant! YAY!!

  9. Hey, Kay – does this post mean that you are not doing a suit round up for petites???

  10. Odd Proportions :

    I am technically petite, 5’2″, but am basically all limbs. My torso is so compact that my hip bone almost touches my ribs. Despite my height, I have a 29″ inseam and a longer “wingspan” than my 5’10” husband. My main issue is jackets/shirts are too long in the torso if it fits my core while the arms are too short. I have gotten by with styling everything as 3/4, and just wearing skirts and dresses. I am a size 00-0. Anyone else with a similar build, and if so, where on earth do you buy clothes?

  11. I’m 5.2, long waisted but with short legs and arms. When I was younger and needed to wear professional dress I wore a lot of knee length pencil skirts and hip length two button blazers. I had to get everything altered, nothing fit perfectly off the rack. As I got older, I moved to another office that was business casual. I love old navy’s pixie pants in dark colors. I get them in regular sizes but with the “short” pants length or if I’m in luck they have ankle length during the summer which hits me right at regular pants length. For skirts I wear a lot of just below knee length and ankle length. I wear fitted shirts to keep from looking too frumpy and have a wide variety of cropped fitted cardigans which look great with both my pants and skirts. I avoid any kind of flowy styles, tunics, or any kind of crazy ruffled sleeves. I get lost in all that material and end up looking like a little girl playing dress up in her mother’s clothes.

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