Clothing styles for petite women in their 40s

Updated April 17, 2017

Petite women often struggle to find not just small sizes, but clothes in the appropriate proportion. Ill-fitting, ill-proportioned clothes are unflattering. For younger petite women, buying children's and teenage clothing is one solution. As women reach their 40s, however, teenage styles start to look inappropriate, even foolish. Clothing lines specialising in petite cuts are worth finding, particularly for problem items like fitted jackets, coats and dresses.

Jackets and Dresses

Problem areas for petite women are sleeve length and shoulder width. A tailored jacket may be available in a size 6 or 8, but its sleeves will usually be too long. Over-long sleeves draw attention to diminutive stature. Seek petite fittings to get the correct cut. Cropped jackets and three-quarter length sleeves aid an illusion of body length. Many petite ladies find dress waists are at the wrong height. Petite designer Karen Gillam also notes that petite women are often more “curvy” -- their waists are proportionately small compared to their hips. Waists are another reason to seek specialist petite garments.


For some, petite trousers are a must. However, a proportionately long-legged petite woman may find petite trousers too short. In this case it is better to seek a small size in a standard fitting, and have the legs shortened to fit. An illusion of greater leg length can be achieved by wearing slightly long straight-leg or boot-cut trousers over heeled shoes. A high waist teamed with a cropped jacket enhances a leggy effect.

Styles Dos and Don'ts

Avoid large patterns -- these swamp the figure. Solid colours and monochrome outfits work best, giving an illusion of greater height. Horizontal stripes accentuate width. For short women, this problem is exacerbated. Use vertical stripes and vertical detailing, drawing the eye upward. Similarly avoid full, frilly styles and square or boat-shaped necklines, as these only add width. V-necks and low, scooped necklines are a good choice, drawing the eye vertically. If your legs are good, wear skirts short -- showing bare skin gives a suggestion of greater body length. Avoid Bermuda type shorts, cuffed or cropped trousers and mid-calf length skirts -- these make legs appear shorter.

Footwear and Accessories

While women's shoes in high street shops may not start small enough, children's shoes do not provide adult or designer styles. An adult size 2 foot may be differently proportioned to a child's foot of that size. Petite outfitters are now stocking specialist petite shoes -- see Resources. Keep accessories in proportion -- large bags and very chunky jewellery will dwarf you. If a small waist is your best feature, accentuate it, but beware of belts splitting the figure in two, giving a shortening effect.


Tailored styles are most flattering, giving a slim profile and illusion of height. Focus on getting the right fit at the waist, hip and shoulder -- hems are readily shortened. For curvy women, a correct waist fit is difficult: jeans that fit at the hip gape at the waist. Choose low-rise styles instead. Dressed to suit their bodies, petite ladies can be glamorous: according to “Petite Affair”, Eva Longoria and Kim Kardashian are under 5 feet, 2 inches. Representing the glamorous petite over-40s is Kylie Minogue at just 5 feet.

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About the Author

Based in the Isle of Man, Tamasin Wedgwood has been writing on historical topics since 2007. Her articles have appeared in "The International Journal of Heritage Studies," "Museum and Society" and "Bobbin and Shuttle" magazine. She has a Master of Arts (Distinction) in museum studies from Leicester University.