6 Wardrobe Staples for Petite Women

It can be a challenge to find clothes when you’re smaller than the mannequins in store windows. Not only are your choices limited by size, it can also be tough to find clothing that fits the way it should.
I grew up in a rural area with few retail options, and at various points in my life I lived in clothing I didn’t realize was too loose. “It’ll shrink in the wash,” my mom would say; she hadn’t quite caught up with the wonders of 3% Spandex. It took a while for me to get in touch with the body hiding under all that cloth, and discover that there are, in fact, ways to dress a small frame that fit and flatter.

Here are 6 wardrobe staples for your petite closet that reflect all the power and fierceness you want to show the world.

1. Cardigan

Pair a colorful cardigan with high-waisted pants for a polished work look. Cardigan Anthropologie, pants Forever 21/ Melanie Bell

These classy sweaters are usually cut small, making them an easy fit for petite women. They add an air of sophistication and maturity, which helps earn respect when your body type looks youthful. There are lots of fun options out there, so you can play with styles and colors while still looking like “a serious grown-up.” Cardigans are also quite versatile. They can be worn to the office, paired with a dress for a special occasion, or tossed on with jeans and a t-shirt on a laid-back weekend. Finally, they’re easy to tuck into a purse for those times when you might or might not need a sweater.

2. Skinny jeans

A fuzzy sweater adds volume to a slight upper body. Match with skinny jeans and fun footwear for a casual look. Sweater Le Chateau, boots Target/ Melanie Bell

The current denim trend is an asset for smaller women. Skinny jeans elongate the legs, making you look taller. They’re cut for a close fit—if you don’t have curves, no problem! What’s more, there are short-legged versions readily available. Even if you’re five feet tall, you can probably find a pair that you don’t have to hem in your nearest shopping mall. It’s fashionable right now to let skinny jeans bunch a little at the bottom, making them easy to wear even when there’s an extra inch or so of length.

3. Top with power shoulders

Looking bigger helps you get taken seriously, and certain styles of clothing foster that optical illusion. You’ll want to approach loose clothing with caution. While there are great draping pieces out there, many looser styles create a “tent effect” on small frames, and some are too roomy on top for slight shoulders. Swathed in fabric, you may find yourself looking smaller.
Rather than looking for big clothes, consider adding some definition up top. Think a boxy blouse or a blazer with shoulder pads. Those 1980s businesswomen had the right idea—shoulder pads make you look like a boss. I’ve found both vertical and horizontal stripes to be helpful on power tops, for different reasons. The vertical ones make you look longer, and the horizontal ones make you look wider; both add gravitas.

Melanie Bell

Melanie Bell

Melanie Bell grew up on Prince Edward Island, Canada and lives in San Francisco. Her work has appeared in xoJane, Jaggery, Art Animal, The Island Review, The Fiddlehead, CV2, and various other publications. She teaches about Enneagram personality types at Berghoef Bell

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