Petites 101: A Guide to Finding Your Fit
Shopping for petites doesn't mean you need to have a tailor on speed dial. Read our tips to finding the best fit for frames 5’4” and under.
I’ve always been a huge fan of getting my clothes tailored, and wondered why it wasn’t more common. Then one day it dawned on me—my taller friends (relative to my 5’3” height) don’t have to adjust their hemlines because most clothing is simply already designed for them. The truth is that most retailers cater to women around 5’7”, even though the average height for American women is nearly 3 inches shorter. So why are those of us with smaller statures left in the lurch? While there’s no universal sample size across the fashion industry, the simple fact is that clothing brands operate with the understanding that clothing can always be cropped or taken in.
So what is a petite woman to do? My advice: Learn to shop strategically. First, know which brands carry petite sizes (EILEEN FISHER carries a range of sizes from XXS to 3X, with many styles available in Petite proportions). When extended sizing isn’t available, I find it handy to know what measurements might suit my frame—if you’re under 5’3”, the sweet spot is 40-45 inches for dresses and 27 inches or less for pant inseams. Memorizing those lengths is especially useful for online shopping when you can’t actually try on the clothes.
Read on for more pointers on styling petite frames (featuring Michelle Paltan, our Social Media Manager).
Know Your Shapes
- Try boxy or cropped tops. The shorter proportion on top helps define the waist and balances wide-leg pants.
- Look for V-neck or scoop neck tops—showing off your neckline or shoulders can help elongate the torso.
- High-waisted pants are always flattering. They define the waist and create a leg-lengthening line.
- A structured, proportional jumpsuit can also help create a long silhouette. Try sticking to solid colors or subtle patterns, as bold designs or stripes tend to overwhelm the figure.
Balance Oversized Silhouettes
A shorter frame shouldn’t keep you from reaching for an oversized trench coat or blazer. The key is to layer them over a close-fitting silhouette—try slim shapes (like our “696” pant or a tank dress) to control the volume. For more advice on nailing the oversized look, check out our article: How to Style Oversized Clothes.
Define Your Waist
Think about tying or belting a longer silhouette (like a maxi dress or jumpsuit) at or slightly above the waist. It can be as simple as tucking a T-shirt into your pants or tying a sweatshirt at the hips over a long dress—this helps elongate your legs and provides structure without much effort.
The matching set, an EILEEN FISHER staple, is universally flattering. A head-to-toe look creates a clean line that gives the illusion of length. Reach for a top and bottom in a matching color and you’re ready to go (bonus points if the fabrics coordinate too).