How to Shop for Petite Dresses That Are Stylishly Small

Graduate from the kids' section and uncover our secrets on finding the perfect petite dresses for every diminutive frame.

Updated January 22, 2024
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If you're 5'4" or under, and you're shopping regular sizes, you might find that clothes don't always fit the way you want them to. Thank goodness for petite women's dresses! While you can rock any dress style you want, what's most important is finding a dress that fits well and makes you feel amazing. 

7 Things to Look for in Petite Dresses

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Dressing for a petite frame in most department stores can make you feel like a child. It only takes a few pairs of ridiculously long jeans and maxi skirts that are supposed to be minis to get discouraged. Thankfully, some specific dress features and characteristics work best for petites. Once you know what to look for, they're easy to find!

V-Necks

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V-shaped necklines are naturally flattering to many different body types and petites are no exception. This cut creates vertical interest, drawing the eye up and down. With the extra chest on display, they'll elongate your neck and create the illusion of a taller torso. 

Need to Know

Petite sizes are designed for people who are 5'4" and shorter. This means that petite dresses shouldn't just be altered for length, but the overall change in proportion. 

Vertical Details

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When you're on the shorter side, you want to elongate your frame. One way to do so is to look for stripes, patterns, and design details that travel the vertical length of your dress. Like the V-neck, this draws people's eyes up and down, helping to cement those few extra inches.

Monochrome Color Palette

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Monochrome is great for so many different reasons, and helping to elongate the petite frame is one of them. Any look with a single color will work to streamline your body. 

Helpful Hack

Going monochrome doesn't mean you have to settle for exactly the same color. Experiment with shades, but stick with darker bottoms and lighter tops as they balance out smaller proportions. 

Knee-Length or Shorter

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If you're sitting at 5' even, the last thing you want to do is cut yourself off at the knees. This means that dresses with a floor-length hem will call attention to how short your legs or torso are. To combat that, look for dresses that are knee-length or shorter. Mini dresses or skirts can be extremely flattering on petite shapes. 

High-Waisted Looks

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Dresses that have a higher waist, such as empire, can have an elongating effect. Extra details like thin belts or sashes in the smallest section of your upper body will help emphasize this optical illusion. Ultra high-waisted looks will make your legs look like they go on for days. 

Related: 9 Ways to Wear a Dress With Leggings & Capture Y2K Nostalgia 

Wrap Styles

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The wrap dress is a modern little black dress in that it works for almost everyone. Because it's literally wrapped around the body, it features the beloved V-neck as well as a tie at the waist. Combine this style with a shorter hemline, and you've got a knock-out dress for anyone on the shorter side. 

Ankle Length

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If you can't be bothered to live that mini-dress life, go for those longer hems! But try maxi dresses in a solid, monochrome color that hits at your ankle or slightly above it. You want to show that you've got some leg under all that fabric. 

5 Things to Avoid When Dressing for a Petite Frame

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It's always important to wear whatever makes you feel good, but there are some styles and design elements that you might want to avoid. If you're looking to give yourself the best proportions possible, try to stay away from these things. 

Calf-Length Dresses

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Dresses that hit the middle of your lower leg can cut off the long look you're trying to attain. But if you love the length and don't want to part from it, try an asymmetrical or high/low hem.

Wide Belts

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Wide belts can work, but only when their color harmonizes with your dress. If you sport a black dress and want to accessorize with a wide belt, make sure the belt is black as well.

A wide belt in a different color will cut the streamlined look in half and make you look even shorter. 

Horizontal Stripes

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You may want to save the horizontal stripes for a cute top with jeans. These side-to-side stripes draw the eye horizontally rather than vertically and will emphasize your shorter stature. 

However, if you're really vibing with those 80s adolescent playground stripes, then look for dresses with stripes of varying sizes. This will create some visual excitement that can hypnotize the eye. 

Different Colors

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Petite women may want to avoid dresses that have a chunk of color on top AND bottom. While bold colors can be fabulously fashionable, having both on either end of a dress can chop you right in half. 

Dropped Waists

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Dropped waists are one of those dress cuts that are flattering on very few people. Because of the jacked-up proportions, dropped-waist dresses can make you look like you have a super long upper body but shorter legs. Experiment with this style before buying anything to make sure it gives you the look you want.

Where You Can Shop for Petite Dresses

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Many of your favorite retailers have an impressive collection of dresses made just for petites. 

  • Petite Studio: Created by a petite designer, Petite Studio in NYC is an authority on styles specifically made for you.
  • JCPenney: JCPenney has a large selection of dresses specifically for petites — and they often have great deals. 
  • Nordstrom: Offering many designer brands, Nordstrom has great choices for petite dresses, especially when it comes to formal wear. 
  • Anthropologie: For gorgeous details and timeless styles, check out Anthro's impressive petite collection.
  • Ann Taylor: Here you'll find a wide selection of sophisticated dresses meant to help elongate you. 
  • Kohl's: You can find a wide variety of clothing for petites at Kohl's including jeans, cargo pants, athletic wear, dresses, and casual and work clothes.
  • ASOS: With a style for nearly everyone, ASOS has an amazing petites section.

Feel Confident at Any Height

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Thanks to petite dresses and other specialty clothing, you can feel confident at any size. Whether you love a polka dot wrap dress or a dramatic deep v-neck number, there are options for you. Just remember, that you can wear whatever style you want and look incredible so long as you feel your best in it!

How to Shop for Petite Dresses That Are Stylishly Small