Reader Request: Flattering the Petite, Curvy Figure

How to dress petite curvy or petite plus size figures

LynnieBee had this plea:

I was wondering if you could blog about some dressing tips for short curvy girls? Tips on how to elongate the line of your body, emphasize curves without looking lumpy, you know, that kind of thing. That would be awesome!

I had a few folks seconding the motion, so I could hardly refuse!

Monochrome outfits

A petite woman looks even smaller when she divides her body into chunks, which happens when tops and bottoms are in drastically different color families. Nothing creates a nice, unbroken line like a broad wash of a single shade. Now, don’t go thinking this can only mean “head-to-toe black.” Monochrome means one color, but it can be ANY color. Create an ensemble that is all shades of blue, or red, or gray, right down to the shoes. Mix in a few textures and multiple tonal values so you don’t look like you’ve been dunked in a tank of RIT dye.

Belt and top in same color

Want to define that waist without halving yourself, which emphasizes smaller proportions? Try wearing a navy belt atop a navy sweater, or tying an olive green scarf around the waist of your olive green dress. All the cinching with none of the division. (Scarves and woven belts are more supple and forgiving, if you’re concerned about a stiff leather belt digging into your midsection.)

Shoes and tights in same color

Ahhh, that old chestnut. But old and chestnutty for a reason! If you’re short and curvy, anything that elongates your legs is a no-brainer, and having your feet and gams in a single shade makes those gams look a mile long. Once again, this doesn’t have to mean black tights and black shoes. Bright tights and shoes are both great fun, and up the style quotient of any ensemble.

Necklaces and scarves

Drawing attention to the top of your rack, right up near your face, will help keep the focus high on your figure. Especially when worn in conjunction with an elongating ensemble. So bring on the statement necklaces and colorful scarves!

Subtle cleavage

Recommended for the same reasons as necklaces and scarves, a hint of cleavage draws the eye to the top half of your body. So if you’re petite and voluptuous, cash in on those great curves! I’m not advocating tops cut to the navel, but something that lets the girls peek out just a smidge? Absolutely. Add a chunky necklace if exposed cleavage alone makes you feel naked. And, of course, save this trick for weekends, nights out, fancy dress parties, and other appropriate settings. Cleavage at the office is often more trouble than it’s worth.

As always, none of my figure flattery advice posts should be considered gospel, including this one, and I fully expect you to read them with a grain of salt. Style “rules” are merely guidelines, no matter who is dispensing them. I trust you to use your judgment. And I trust you to take what applies to you, discard the rest, and assume positive intent.

Image courtesy unduex.

Originally posted 2010-01-27 06:47:00.

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45 Responses to “Reader Request: Flattering the Petite, Curvy Figure”

  1. La Historiadora de Moda

    I'm not petite, but I am curvy, and I think these are fantastic tips, Sal!

  2. Samantha

    Ah! In my constant battle to make belts work for me, I am intrigued by your belt/shirt color notion. Will be trying this soon. Have a good feeling.

  3. K.Line

    There are so many varieties of short and curvy that it's hard to know exactly what to suggest. I have a short waist to go along with my short stature and large breasts. I make sure that my top is fitted to emphasize my waist. And stretch fabrics are the panacea for the short curvy person. Make 80 per cent of your wardrobe stretchy (beautiful jerseys and cashmere and merino and high-end synthetics) and you'll look great. Be careful with the woven (non-stretch) items. If they don't fit perfectly they will emphasize all the things you are trying to keep in check.

  4. Meli22

    I am 5'4" so I classify into petite as well as regular. I LOVE your tips! I would add a couple pointers:

    Don't do anything that overwhelms your figure. Huge ruffles, big blousy tops (sans belt anyways), huge parachute pants, huge chunky necklaces or heels, etc.

    Don't go with the wrong lengths on skirts, dresses, and capris/shorts. Long skirts are very hard for a petite woman to pull off well, for example. Be careful about big prints- they can also overwhelm.

    When wearing pants, slim fit or a straight line from the hips seems to be most flattering. Flared pants or pants that emphasize my larger hips make me look shorter for some reason.

  5. Diana

    I agree that these tips can work well for everyone, no matter what their size. I like the idea of belting a shirt or dress with a belt in the same color.

  6. Kimberly

    As a curvy D-cup with petite-length legs, I have to agree with the other commenters in saying skirt and pant lengths are CRUCIAL. What this often means is that it's better to buy regular length skirts/pants and have them hemmed, than to buy petite pants/skirts (which are sometimes too short). Find a good tailor and have them take measurement while you are wearing the shoes you intend to wear with the outfit. Hemlines matter for any woman, but when you have a 26" inseam like me, even a half an inch off will make the difference between pretty legs and tree trunks!

    Also second the stretchy-vs-starchy fabric debate. Jerseys, silks, bias cuts, etc, will all enhance the petite figure, whereas stiff cotton or boxy-cut pieces will just chop you off and make you look wider.

    The pieces in my wardrobe that have elicited the most positive feedback from others are fitted sweaters (that aren't too long!), jersey or high-end synthetic wrap or faux-wrap dresses where the skirt is hemmed to be an inch above my knee, and mostly straight but slightly flared slacks where the hem comes right to the top of my shoes.

  7. Anamika

    I don't follow all those rules, but I try to follow a few. Mostly though the monochromatic rule bores me to death. I have done all black and still do sometimes…yes it bores me. I have tried mostly greys with black jacket and loved it. But an all blue outfit or all red ensemble…I need to run away! I will appreciate if someone knows how exactly to pull off a monochromatic outfit in the red or blue family of colors.
    I am not sure how short I really look when I wear a bright colored top with black pants and black jacket. But I just can't wear grey tops all the time with my collection of black pants and skirts. Any idea what else I could try?

  8. Oranges And Apples

    I'm short (5'3) and (relatively) curvy, and I constantly break your monochrome and heels rules. I do agree with you, I just choose to ignore the rules in the name of cramming more colours in and being able to walk long distances. Avoiding long skirts is definitely a good rule! If I do wear them, I wear heels, and i never wear heels!

  9. Anamika

    BTW, those slim fit pants from Ann Taylor look awesome on petites…so I guess the tip here is to try straight legs and pants with forgiving cut around the hips.
    I especially love skirts on petite frames like mine. I used to dread the pencil skirts…but turns out I look great in them. A-line are a no-brainer. I have also worn longer length skirts over same color tall boots…creates that monochromatic frame Sal was talking about.

  10. Angela Pea

    Right Up My Alley! I am very short and very curvy! My two cents to add to what has already been said.

    1. If you can't sew, find a good tailor and make him your very best friend. Some of us are short only through the waist, but have regular width shoulders and long arms, which means you have to tailor clothes off the rack to fit you properly. This is NO PLACE to skimp, especially on investment pieces such as suit jackets, coats, or that perfect black dress.

    2. Keep the hems of jackets and tops just a tad on the high side, right at the hip bone. This will make the legs look longer. Duster style jackets that hit mid thigh or lower will just make you look shorter, as if you borrowed your big sisters clothes.

    3. Petite, Curvy and large bust? (oooh-la-la!) Buy tops to fit your bust, then take them in at the waist and shoulder and shorten the sleeves and hems. See number 1, above.

    4. As with the jackets, keep the hemlines short, hitting just at or above the kneecap at the most slender part of your leg. Again, this fools the observing eye into seeing LONG lines, and emphasizes the shapliness of your leg.

    3. Color! Color! Color! Nothing says "Hey! I'm Here!", like the pop of red or lushness of purple.

    Great topic, Sal – thanks for posting it.

  11. Gwen

    I'm not so much a petite curvy, but I've stolen a tip from someone I know who is, which is: Wear a lower-cut neckline to minimize big breasts.

    I know this sounds weird, but anything with a neckline higher than my collarbone leaves this big expanse of shirt that just emphasizes the bust. If it's cut lower the big mass is broken up enough to look smaller.

    I don't wear my tops as low-cut as the person I stole it from because I don't have anything like her personality to pull it off (she's the person I think of when saying *some* people can get away with sexy at work because they're *so* good at what they do). And I have to make sure I don't slouch in front of my computer at work.

    But a little bit lower-cut than I would have tried a few years ago? The effect is absolutely more modest. I swear.

  12. Sal

    Anamika: If all-red or all-blue spook you, maybe some less vibrant colors like deep purples, olive greens, or even shades of brown could work. Monochrome doesn't necessarily mean all the same SHADE, just all the same family. The shades should work in harmony, but they needn't be identical.

    Here are a few examples: (The purple wrap top is pretty contrasty, but just to give you some ideas) (first outfit is monochrome browns) (complementary pinks in one outfit)

  13. angie

    These are super tips, Sally. I’d like to add two more.

    o The first thing I do with a curvy petite client is get her re-fitted for a bra. 60% of all American women are still in the incorrect bra size! Once she’s refitted, her waistline reappears and her bust line is spectacular. All her curves fall naturally into shape.

    o Beware of the type of scarf your drape. You are after one that’s very collapsible as opposed to rigid. Tie the knot lower on your neck too. This elongates the neckline with elongates your long lean line. Bulky scarves tend to add bulk, especially if you’re busty.

  14. evanadine

    another thing than im pretty sure you have noted before, sal, is to wear a cardigan or jacket open over a atop of another color — this created a thing, vertical line down the center of the body that simultaneously thins and elongates.
    a great tip for anyone, but especially anyone trying to appear thinner or taller!

  15. Laine & Jesse

    There are some good tips in here! I am 5'3" and proportions are my friend. Higher waisted items make my legs look much longer. Also, if I wear shorts that are too long, I look frumpy. There is such a variety of shapes for curvy women that it is good to know if you are more of an hourglass and so on so that you can create a balanced look for yourself. There are plenty of curvy women who are pear shaped or top heavy so they might choose different pieces with a different amount of structure to be flattering on them than another curvy woman would.

  16. Deja Pseu

    These are great tips! I'd also add:

    1) Avoid "chunky" knits or bulky, gathered items.

    2) Look for fabrics and cuts that skim rather than cling and have some movement.

  17. Julia

    I'm not a petite one, (although I am curvy) but my mom is very short. She denies being petite because petite sizes don't fit her right. She maintains that she just has extra short legs.

    My mom always looks great and now that I think about it, she uses a lot of these tips!

    I think it probably goes along with the scarf/cleavage/necklace tip, but interesting necklines look great on her! Whether it's small beads, embroidery, other interesting patterns, or just the cut of the neckline it really draws the eyes up!

    She usually stays away from pants that are capri-length on her, as that makes her look shorter.

    Although, if she buys regular (and sometimes petite) sized capri pants, they usually are the perfect length of pants and she doesn't need them hemmed!

    • jean

      To Julia
      so true with buying regular sized capri pants. they really dont need hemming up and looks great on high heel shoes.

  18. Charlotte

    Great reminders too for those of us who are tall but mostly legs, Sal.

  19. gypsyariana

    Yay! Petite and curvy, that's me! 🙂

    Couple tips…v-neck shirts as opposed to crew or turtleneck…elongating the neck line elongates the whole body line, and crew/turtlenecks actually emphasize the bust (thanks Stacy and Clinton!)

    Also, there's been a lot of talk about pants being hemmed, but shirts should be as well…letting the shirt hem be too long makes legs look short and stumpy (well, shortER in my case).

    Anything that emphasizes your natural waist is a good thing…structured jackets (again, thanks Stacy and Clinton!), belts, wrap dresses…gives curves a good va va voom effect! 😉

    And I know not everyone likes them, but I loves me a good pair of heels or high heeled knee boots! I'm not a big fan of short booties and skirts on me, because again, short and stumpy legs.

    Thanks for the great post, Sal!

  20. Vix

    Disclaimer: Most shoe-loving women will ignore the following. I'm not a shoe-lover, so the strategies have been painless. They've also simplified my life and made my legs look longer.

    To elongate the leg line, avoid T-straps, ankle straps, mary janes…and flee gladiators. Show as much foot as possible. Diagonal straps can slim a wider foot, and if they aren't too high *up* on the foot they can also lengthen the leg.

    If bare-legged, more or less match shoes to skin tone or do an exact/tonal match to skirt/pant color. Even if there's an expanse of high-contrast leg between matching shoe and hem, the eye reads it as fairly uniform.

    [I now save my teal shoes for use with green skirts vs neutral ones.]

    In addition to all the great tips above for top necklines and fit, a repeated/uniform pattern that's in proportion to one's size will keep viewer's eye moving. Especially great for glossing over any mid-section issues.

  21. Sal

    Holy smokes, people, you are cookin' with GAS! What a great collection of tips for petites.

  22. Anonymous

    Great tips from everyone.

    I'm really taking note. I'm not petite and curvy but I'm 5' 4", short waisted and busty (an inverted triangle) and a lot of these are great ideas for me too. They help me to understand why some looks just don't work for me: such as stiff fabrics.

    I'd just add that it's also crucial to make sure your handbag or tote is not overwhelming or falling at the wrong place.

  23. Amy

    Check out "Big Girl in a Skinny World" column in Marie Claire magazine. Ashley has great ideas every month!

  24. Anonymous

    Not curvy or particularly petite, but I have super-short legs and one of my discoveries is that not only is hemline critical for pants and skirts, but waistline is even more important! Anything that falls too low on the hips throws my proportions way out of whack. In fact, I would submit that long skirts look excellent on petites as long as the waistline is in the correct place, the hemline is at least to the ankle, and the skirt is not overly full or bright.

  25. Keiko Lynn

    Hey Sal,
    I just wanted to say that this post is awesome. I also love the tips people have been leaving in the comments. Keep up the good work!

  26. Sarah-Rose

    At 5'1", not exactly curvy but with an E cup I just have to reiterate what Gwen said above about cleavage.
    If I wear something which shows no cleavage whatsoever I feel frumpy and my bust appears annoyingly large. A little bit of cleavage (and I stress LITTLE, I am at work 5/7 days) is much more flattering.
    Also, it's hard to find tops which are flattering, work appropriate, and cover cleavage entirely.

    I think that as long as it's within the realms of a work appropriate outfit then a smidgeon of cleavage is fine. And sometimes unavoidable!

  27. Marie

    Along the lines of wearing matching tights and shoes, you can also try wearing shoes that are almost the color of your skin. I have a pair of nude-colored flats that are cut low, and they really do make your legs longer.

  28. Kathryn

    As a petite girl I can totally attest to the fact that pants that are too short (capri to above the top of my show) and skirts/dresses that are too long (at the knee or longer) only make me look like a munchkin.

  29. Jennifer Nicole

    I'm five feet even and a bigtime hourglass: 38-29-38. My go-to outfits (that show off my body, short and all) are the following:
    -Boot-cut jeans: the tighter thighs let you show off your hips while the slightly-flared calf keeps you proportioned and long. (Great for long legs/short waists.)
    -V-neck shirts: they don't need to be slutty. V-necks carry the eye in a vertical line, and evens out proportions.
    -Pencil skirts. Ignore those that say only hipless girls can wear them. Keep it just above the knee and cinched at your natural waist (NOT empire waist – your natural waist is the smallest point, just below the empire waistline) and tuck in a pretty top.
    -Wedges: they provide a little more support than regular heels, and if they're nude or match your tights, give the illusion of much longer legs.

    Hope that helps!

  30. MuShu

    I'm 4'!0" and a 14/16, so definitely petite and curvy. My number-one tip is to make sure that tops and jackets are tailored to fall at my … ahem … crotch (I think this might be called the high hip). Makes the legs look SO much longer. Oh, and if you want to look longer and leaner, NEVER wear capri pants.

  31. Anamika

    Wow this discussion is amazing. Thanks Sal for the tips/ideas. I think one of my problems in putting together outfits is that I have too many black pieces and then random colors all over the place. But that is about to change. I will start with an inventory of few colors I would like to add and start hunting. Thanks again! You are really terrific!

  32. Monica

    I'm not petite but here are a couple of rules that work for anyone that is curvy or carrying a few extra pounds:

    1) Wear your skirts right at the knee. This is universally flattering length for all body types. I'm also in agreement with Trinny and Suzanna (the What Not To Wear gurus) that no woman over the age of 35 should be wearing a skirt at mid-thigh length.

    2) Heels are fabulous for lengthening the legs but avoid kitten heels because they will only emphasize thick ankles and calves. Wedges and more substantial heels are the best.

    3) NEVER EVER NEVER NEVER wear capri pants. They only look good on very thin women.

    I had a supervisor at a previous job who is 5'5" and about 200 lbs. She dressed beautifully and had great style BUT she insisted on wearing kitten heels and capris and it made her look like was was sitting on top of 2 tree trunks. NOT ATTRACTIVE!

    Thanks ya'll for your input! This is a great post.

  33. Lauren

    These are great tips for people who are self conscious about their size.
    To be frank, however, I wear a 14/16, and typically don't make any extra effort to disguise my curves, or make me look like something I'm not (super tall, or thinner).
    I wear the same types of things skinny people wear (with the exception of leggings as pants or shirts as dresses) and don't go out of my way to take into account my "plus size"; and I can't honestly say I look bad.
    Instead of trying to create a disguise for your curves, try finding clothes that just FIT right. Things that aren't too tight or too loose. Pants that aren't too baggy. Stuff like that, instead of creating an illusion.

  34. Lynn

    Yay!!! This is my request!!! Thanks Sal!! And thank you ALL for your wonderful feedback!!!

  35. Ali

    I recently discovered your blog and am loving it – and love this post especially! Thank you!

    • Sal

      Tee, not sure what kind of advice you’re looking for. Feel free to e-mail me if you’ve got specific questions.

      • Tee

        Oh, I’m looking for prom dress advice. I wanna look taller and have just a little less butt.

  36. Tiffany

    ok how should i dress for the summer i hate shorts like really i do my thighs are not in the best shape since i had my son’. im 5’2” does anyone have any suggestions? and no i dont want to wear skirts and dresses all summer.

  37. kat

    I am only 5f1 with a double d cup size and fairly generous hips and bum. I think that its important to acknowledge that as a petite and curvy woman, you are already effortlessly feminine and while you may never look like a supermodel, you will look lovely and womanly. I find that extreme lengths look best on my little legs. I either go for a short hemline of a maxi length, unless I’m wearing jeans, which is most of the time.
    don’t be afraid of maxi dresses/skirts. They look great. Just keep it nice and tailored at the waist and bust and wear with heels if you should feel so inclined, although personally I prefer to wear heels with short hemlines and keep long hemlines relaxed with flats.

  38. Heather

    I am 4ft 8 inch very tiny & quite curvy I’m struggling to follow these guidelines as I feel the need to wear heels- wedges because of my self consciousness I have a terrible time shopping as I take a size 14 top & size 16 bottoms please help as on high street now almost a lot of clothing are catering for tall people

  39. Heather

    I am 4ft 8 inch very tiny & quite curvy I’m struggling to follow these guidelines as I feel the need to wear heels- wedges because of my self consciousness I have a terrible time shopping as I take a size 14 top & size 16 bottoms please help as on high street now almost a lot of clothing are catering for tall people everything seems to be so long on me.