Friday, October 30, 2015

Being chic when you’re petite

Image of Nicole Richie from

In my last post, reader Julia asked in the comments section:


I'm 15 and 4'11 and really self-conscious about my height. Do you have any 'appreciation' tips and does this affect my chances of being chic?


Julia, your question makes me really sad that you believe height has anything to do with being chic.  Parts of our physical makeup that we cannot change such as height, hair type/eye shape/skin colour, overall basic body type and even foot size, we may as well work with and play up the good things about them.  The alternative is unhappiness with aspects of ourselves that we have no control over.

In addition, I believe it’s how your being is that determines how chic and happy you are, rather than what your physical dimensions may be.

I’m 5’7 so I can’t give you my own life experience of being petite, however I do recall a girl in high school who was in my group of friends for a year or two.  At the age we were – around 15, we were probably mostly fully grown height-wise and this girl was petite – not very tall, and slimmish but curvy (she had a bust, butt, thighs etc).

What I remember about her is that I wanted what she had.  She was always laughing and having fun and had oodles of friends who loved being with her despite having moved to our school from another area (many of us had gone through school together so knew each other well).  Her hair was shiny and always looked nice and her clothing style was great too.  She had the biggest, warmest smile and a few cute freckles also.

What I noticed she didn’t do was get into cliques, gossip or complain.  She was passionate about her interests and generally looked like she loved life.  She was nice to everyone without needing to be their best friend.  She worked in a fish and chip shop after school and used to laugh about smelling like frying oil when she came home.  Even having a non-glamorous job did not detract from her attractiveness!

This was all because she wasn’t focusing on her perceived flaws but she was making the most of herself and her life.  She was having fun, and if she was bothered about her height, none of us knew anything about it.  If someone had teased her I’m sure she would have laughed it off.

Consider if she had a hang-up about her height, if she wished she was taller and thought she might be more popular if she was the same height as her friends.  Maybe she’d been called nicknames and this had stuck with her.  I don’t think she would have been as confident and that in turn would have led to her being more in her shell, not having as much fun etc.

I can think of a few other examples of friends who are not tall and they hate it.  Many times I have heard from them ‘I wish I’d gotten my (tall) mothers height instead of my (short) father’s height’, ‘I hate having to buy kids shoes sometimes’, ‘I always wear high heels so people don’t realise how short I am’.

It can’t be very nice to have that endless loop repeating in your mind.  Maybe you have been teased and you can still feel the sting.  Imagine though, if you took everything ever said to you about your height (or anything else) as a compliment.

If I think about applying this advice to myself it might go like:

‘Your legs are... very straight’ (my mother actually told me this when I asked her if my legs were nice when I was younger; I still tease her about it) – Thank you! I love my straight legs!
‘You talk too softly’.  Thank you!
‘You don’t look so fat now you’ve lost some weight’ (from my first husband).  Thank you!
‘You used to be blonde!’ (an elderly Aunt that I hadn’t seen for years) – Thank you!
‘You’re such a control freak’ (all my family members to me) – Thank you, I appreciate it!

Sometimes I even do say that exact thing to a ‘funny’/back-handed/passive aggressive compliment – Thanks.  I’ll take that as a compliment!

Remember, snide or smart remarks can only stick and affect you if you let them.  Be like Teflon and let stuff just slide right off.

What else?
  • Research chic ladies you admire and find the petite ones to serve as your chic role models.  They might be celebrities, or people you know in real life and admire the way they carry themselves.

  • Come up with twenty reasons why it’s easy and fun to be chic and petite, and twenty reasons why it’s better to be petite than taller.  Open up your lovely journal and create some inspiration for yourself.  Take every negative reason that you tell yourself and write down the opposite.  Ask yourself if there's any way that the opposite reason coud apply to you.

    Examples from above could be:

    Instead of:  I hate having to buy kids shoes sometimes and I always wear high heels so people don’t realise how short I am,

    You could say:

    I love being able to buy the kid size shoes because it saves me a lot of money, and I love that I can wear high heels and not tower over my boyfriend.

  • Instead of looking at your height as a burden, consider it a blessing and say to the Universe ‘thank you for my petite height’.  You were given your height for a reason and the more positive reasons you look for, the more you'll find.

I hope this was helpful Julia and thanks for a great question.  

Perhaps any other petite ladies could chime in with all the reasons why you love your height and how chic it makes you feel?


  1. Oh, I love being a shorty. Always have. Back when I realised my height of five feet exactly was as tall as I was going to get, I started thinking about the pluses. The fact of being a dainty little lady has always felt very feminine to me - I see myself as a perfumed, pampered little package.

    I like the restrictions of only being able to wear dainty jewellery, small cuffs and collars, fitted clothing, never anything baggy or chunky. Looking good when you're small is all about proportion. Back in our early years together my husband used to say I carry off being small so well because I'm so perfectly proportioned. Rubbish! My hands and feet are too big and my legs are too short, but I learned where to wear my hemlines, what pants shapes suit me and so on, and I enjoyed learning all those things. And of course another plus is that when the sales are on, very often only small sizes are left. I've picked up some wonderful bargains over the years!

    So my advice to Julia is to look on the bright side, train your eye to recognise what works to elongate your appearance, enjoy it that men will always want to do your lifting and carrying for you, and just enjoy being your own unique - petite! - self.

  2. Thank you so much Rachel for a wonderful comment!!!

  3. I'm 5ft 1 in. and shrinking as I age. For me the most important thing is to stand tall and keep my shoulders down. I learned ages ago that tall men intimidate me so now I ask them to sit down so that we can talk on the level. At 75 I now probably qualify as a 'little old lady' and I find I don't mind that at all - it's usually said with affection and I use it to joke about myself. Tall old ladies get a far less warm response.

  4. Bless you Clare, and thank you for your comment. Your advice on asking tall men to sit down is fabulous too.

  5. For what it's worth, Rachel, I was pretty tall (5'10") at a young age and always envied the adorable girls. I could never be "cute." I also have chilly ankles and wrists because it's a lot harder to lengthen clothes than shorten them! I think Fiona and her commentators give you great advice to play up your own strengths. Enjoy that you're not towering over insecure men.

    Sure the models are giraffes, but when we think of chic women, we're not usually thinking of them. We're thinking of Audrey and Jackie and Coco. I have no idea how tall any of them were! Best of luck to you. E in Minneapolis

  6. Hello Rachel and Fiona. I am 5'2", I have had my share of sarcastic comments about my height over the years, funny thing is I don't even think about my height until they say something. I know it bothers them more than it bothers me (which is only if I can't reach something), haha and have even said as much, if not directly. I like being on the smallish side, good things come in small packages. That said, I take care with my clothing choices, which are more fitted and tailored, I almost always shop the petite section, fit is key. Fiona's tips are right on point. Rachel I sincerely hope you come to realize how wonderful it is to be petite!
    Cheers from Rita in Victoria

  7. I'm 5'4" and I like being small. Have I ever wanted to be 5'8"- occasionally, but never for long.

    -My taller friends have more trouble finding clothes than I do- strange but true!
    -I'm shorter than most guys, which is nice
    -People think I'm younger than I am- this might not matter at 15, but it's really nice at 35!

    Some of the chicest women in the world are petites- Salma Hayek is 5'2", Reese Witherspoon is 5'1", Broadway star Kristin Chenoweth is your height at 4'11".

    You are at an advantage because you're thinking about this now, so you can find out what works on your body at a young age. As Rachel says, proportions are key. For example, on you skirts should always look longer than they do wide. This doesn't mean you can't wear full skirts if you like them, they just need to make sure they're made of a soft, fluid fabric and fall close to your body. Stiff skirts with lots of petticoats should be tried with caution, as they create a huge horizontal.

    Look up a list of petite celebrities and find one whose style speaks to you. You don't want to clone yourself off of her, but look at how she wears the things you like. Maybe she wears drapy jersey tops and you love that look- great! Check out how she does it- how does it fit? What kind of accessories does she add? How are they proportioned? Look at movies they're in where you love the costuming- maybe you've just seen Amélie and her adorable ingenue style is exactlyt what you want.

    Also, search for petite fashion bloggers- there are a fair number of them out there!

  8. When I was younger I was considered very tall for my age-5'7.5" at 12yrs. I was teased a lot. I wanted to be petite. As I got older I wished I had been taller, like a couple of my beautiful nieces. And now at 61 I have lost an inch in height, and perhaps one wish will come true! Being chic is something anyone can develop. Good for you for starting to think about it so young. You'll be way ahead of so many other young women!

  9. One of my favorite chic icons, Sofia Coppola, is petite: 5'4" - my height as well! My 16 year old daughter is shorter than me at 5'3" and she is hoping to pass me up. I don't think it's going to happen. I think she just wants to be able to see over the top of my head :)

    Dear Julia, Please don't let your height guide you into thinking you cannot be a substantial woman. There are so many woman past, present, (and I'm sure future) who embody chic and powerful women.

  10. I've just remembered a rather wonderful little book, "A Guide to Elegance" by Genevieve Antoine-Dariaux. It has a section on elegance for petite women - I can't recall if it's a full chapter or just a few pages, it's ages since I read it, but I do remember being impressed with some useful style tips. The book was written in the 1960s so some of the advice is very dated, but I think it would qualify as a classic because a lot of the ideas would still apply today. I just checked eBay and copies in good used condition are selling for under $10. Just a thought!

  11. Hello from another petite Julia - albeit many years older! Like you, I was very conscious of my height of just 5' in my younger days, and indeed very self conscious generally. Over time you will see that Fiona's wise words are so very true.

    However, there is no denying that buying appropriate clothing has always been a challenge, and I would heartily recommend learning to sew if you cannot do so already. I was lucky enough to learn from my Mum and Grandmother and also at school, and it has made such a huge difference.

    So, do think about learning to sew your own clothes and make alterations. Fit is so important to prevent our petite frames from being swamped and sometimes just a couple of inches, say on a sleeve length for example, can make a huge difference.

    There seems to have been a huge resurgence in sewing the past couple of years and there is so much stuff out there on the internet - blogs, tutorials, fabric sources, etc. One blog I would highly recommend is 'Diary of a Chain Stitcher' - a petite young woman who makes beautiful clothes. Maybe a bit too classic for your age, but just start looking and I am sure you will find lots of inspiration.

    Do have a go if you can! It really isn't difficult if you stick to uncomplicated designs, buy decent fabric and follow patterns step by step. You will end up with a unique to you wardrobe which will fit much better and be much better quality than ready to wear - and probably be the envy of your taller friends!

    But above all do have some fun with your wardrobe and break all the rules if need be whilst you are still young. Good luck!

  12. Thank you so much lovely and chic ladies, for your generous responses. So much good info!

  13. Oh boy! I remember being so hung up about my height as a teenager too! My Dad kindly fibbed on my driver's licence application to make me feel better but I am 5 ft 2 and as an adult have completely forgotten about it. I learned to dress in monochromatic tones and heels on days I was feeling short, nothing too loose - nice fitting clothes look better when you are petite. So does fine, delicate jewellery and accessories. If you like the chunky stuff, just go for one knock out piece, or a crazy pair of earrings. Standing up straight helps - people are always surprised when they learn my height, but all of this is just a habit and I don't think about it any more, but you have reminded me of a time when I was obsessed. You are going to look back and laugh one day too, The most important thing is the advice you've already been given - be the best you that you can manage on any given day - interested in others and therefore you will be interesting. People will remember that they loved talking with you, or your sense of humour, your kindness. They'll only remember that you are 'short' if you don't give them something else to think about. Hope you are laughing at this 'flaw' someday soon. Sam

  14. Dear Fiona. Thanks for posting Julia's question. I am 5 feet tall. When i was at my school age, I used to be teased by friends of my height. The worst was my mother is always seeing that as a shame. I had very low self-esteem and had no idea how to dress nicely. What you said are right. We need to accept what we have and develop the good side of us. We do not need to compare ourselves with others as everybody is different. Yes, having a good and proportional body figure is a benefit (it is easier for people to put on anything), but that is not the most important thing. For me, health, tidiness and cleaniness are the most important things for looking good. Being petite is actually a great asset for any women. We do look adorable and bobbily. I am grateful that I have moved to England where there is diversity of cultures and races. I can find lots of petite size clothes. What surprises me is there are a lot of European women are petite. All in all, when we are happy, we radiate. Just like Fiona's old schoolmate.


Merci for your comment. Wishing you a chic day!

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