Reader Request: Long Over Lean for Petites

Fabulous reader Emily – who I was lucky enough to meet and chat with when I was in New York last summer – e-mailed me a while back asking about making the long-over-lean formula work on a petite frame.

Lately, all I want to wear are leggings and longer things on top – which I realized is: Sally’s Long-Over-Lean formula. Thing is: I own 1 pair of ponte pants, 1 pair of cheap leggings, and 1 pair of sort-of-skinny jeans. I’m 4′ 11″ as you might remember. I carry my weight in the belly. Literally in the belly, as in, could be 5 months pregnant all the time (I ain’t). Clearly if I want to make this happen as My Look, I need more leggings. And more long swinging / pooch-hiding sweaters. BUT!!!!! (Here’s my question): DO I want to make this happen as My Look? I’m short. If I wear a long sweater on top, I think I go 50%-50% in terms of body division. Not the Golden Mean by any stretch.

Emily was kind enough to let me use some of the photos she sent along to me in hopes of helping others struggling with the same questions. So here’s what I told her:

The thing about the Rule of Thirds is that you can totally forget about it absolutely whenever you want to. If this is what you want to wear – tunics and leggings in various combinations – and you feel comfy and fabulous and like yourself wearing those items, then you absolutely should. Rules be damned! Now if you’d like some middle ground – if you want to make the long-over-lean look work and incorporate a couple of traditional figure flattery maxims – here are a few things you can try:


Visually elongate your legs

Try wearing like-colored leggings and boots. I say boots because even a little peek of ankle breaks up the leg line. Boots that are the same or close to the color of your leggings – even like-colored ankle boots – would be super. And they can be flat! Visually elongating your leg line by wearing similarly colored leggings and shoes will help this look feel more balanced.

Be strategic about focus

Take charge of where the observing eye lands. In the gray tunic/black leggings outfit, Emily is divided just about in half and where those two pieces meet is a high contrast break. The eye goes right there. She could draw the eye upward and break up her figure a bit by wearing a scarf or necklace. This will achieve two goals: It will create another segment of her figure, and it will keep focus away from her midsection, which she’s self-conscious about. For a different tactic, she could draw the eye up and down her figure by wearing a long necklace. I know that may seem counterintuitive, but it will help elongate the figure a bit.

Do low contrast layers

The gray tunic and black leggings are totally cute and I told Emily she should absolutely wear them. But a charcoal gray, dark brown, or other darker colored tunic would help her create a column of color – an unbroken line of color from shoulders to feet – which helps unify the look and create a taller-seeming silhouette.


This yellowish tunic is probably too tight. Since it’s a cardigan, it could be worn open over another tunic-length layer instead of buttoned and belted. Another way to do the column of color with this formula is to wear a like-colored long cardigan and leggings, but a different color on the inside. Of course, to do this Emily would need yellowish leggings, so I told her not to pursue this option with this specific piece … but maybe give it a shot with others.


Don’t worry about it

Emily sent me a photo of herself in clothes that she says create a more traditionally “flattering” silhouette on her – the top and skirt on the left. And she looks dynamite in that outfit, it’s true. But she looks cool and funky in her tunics and leggings, too. As I said above, some of the things you want to wear won’t “work” with your figure in ways that Tim Gunn would embrace. But Tim Gunn isn’t here. When it’s important to you to create a visually balanced, tall, slender silhouette, do that. When it isn’t important to you to hit those marks, don’t worry about them. Figure flattery is limiting, but personal style is unlimited. You’re the boss.

Any other petite women out there wondering about the long-over-lean formula? Are you doing any of the things I suggested? Other recommendations for Emily and other petites who love leggings and tunics?

PLEASE NOTE: Emily is not a blogger herself and has very generously offered to let me post these photos to illustrate how she’s attempted to tackle this specific dressing formula. If you chose to comment on this post, express your views respectfully and civilly or they will not be published. I’m happy to participate in a discussion that includes contrary opinions, but will not tolerate cruelty. Also be courteous and kind to each other when responding to remarks from other readers.

Originally posted 2014-05-01 06:15:16.

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29 Responses to “Reader Request: Long Over Lean for Petites”

  1. KimM.

    First I want to thank Emily for allowing her photos to be used. That takes guts! Also I think she has very shapely legs as shown in the skirt outfit. Whatever makes Emily happy is what she should wear, just like Sally says. I like the idea of boots to keep the leg line uninterrupted but if she doesn’t like boots, could she perhaps wear same-color socks for the same effect?

    • crtfly

      I have the same question as KimM about the socks? Would they be equally effective as the boots?

      I agree with several other posters. Emily has some fabulous legs! I think she could wear even shorter skirts and look great. Frankly, with those winning legs exposed, I think she could go to work with messy hair and no one would notice.


      • Sally McGraw

        Great question, friends! I’m assuming you’re thinking of an outfit like Emily’s gray tunic/dark leggings one with a shoe like an oxford. In that case, yes, dark socks would help – they wouldn’t need to be exact, even, to help extend the leg line. Socks will look less natural with a ballet flat, pump, or Mary Jane, though, so in my opinion, it’s kind of a limited solution.

        The other way around is to go for leggings and shoes that aren’t as contrast-y against your own skintone. So black leggings and shoes against pale skin creates high contrast, but wouldn’t for dark skin. Light gray leggings or, say, tan or stone-colored skinny jeans and light shoes against pale skin won’t break up the leg line as much, but will be high-contrast against dark skin. Does that make sense? Hope so!

  2. Anna

    Emily is so pretty! I’m also a petite apple shape, and what works for me are “columns” of color and keeping long tops flowy instead of chunky. For example, in the top pic, swap out the chunky grey sweater for a black tee to match the leggings and a lighter weight, flowy, cardigan. Add socks to keep an unbroken line of black between your top and toes.

  3. Jane McLaughlin

    This is a post I could really relate to being 5’2″. I like the long over lean since my legs are longer than my torso. I have a problem with tops that are so large or bulky that I can tell its not going to work for me. Another area of concern is wearing leggings. Are they OK to wear in a casual work enviornment or on the weekend running errands? I’ve heard it said that leggings are not pants but their so darn comfortable. I do wear a longer top when I do wear them out and about, but I’d like to hear what others think.
    Thanks Sally for another great post!

    • lindaloui232

      Jane, my take on leggings are not pants is that they should be thought of as thick tights. You wouldn’t wear tights without something that covers your bum and a good portion of your thighs so you need to have similiar coverage over leggings. That being said, I wear them on casual Fridays with a dress or tunic as does my CEO, but the woman who wore them with a short shirt got sent home to change. For weekend errands, you may be able to wear a shorter top over your leggings than for work, but still cover the bum! But know your office and ask someone if you are not sure.

  4. JB

    Thanks to Emily for sharing her photos – it’s refreshing to see photos that we non-bloggers can relate to every once in a while! And for what it’s worth, I think you have great curves and I don’t think you look pregnant at all. Nothing more to add to Sally’s suggestions, mostly just wanted to show my support. Show us more pictures of whatever direction you end up taking!

  5. Not quite anonymous

    I was interested to see the post title, since I used to think of long over lean as a style *mainly* for petites until I started seeing Sally’s pictures. However, the difference is that the petites I know opt for a longer version of “long,” similar to the length of Emily’s skirt in the next to last picture (or even longer). By the way, that’s a very flattering silhouette, and Emily has great legs. Anyway, I wonder if Emily could maintain that silhouette by wearing skater dresses and leggings. It’s certainly a comfortable combination.

  6. Susan Ashworth

    I agree with Kim – Emily has some seriously cute legs, and the skirt outfit makes those the focal point. Just saying.

  7. Cynthia

    I love long tunics over…well, everything. I have had better luck with tunics that fit at the chest and flare at the bottom, though, and with no empire seam. That trapeze-y sort of effect seems intentional, to my eye, and the right sort of trapeze will glide effortlessly over all manner of bodies without looking like maternity gear (perhaps I’m deluding myself there but whatever, I’m owning the flared tunic).

  8. Trystan L. Bass

    Kind of looks like Emily & I have similar figures (& neither of us look pregnant, lol!). I tend to wear long-over-lean on weekends, so I don’t have many of these outfits on my blog & when I do, owing to my goth tendencies, they’re monochromatic, but I found a couple links that might be relevant — is all black, but it’s a simple straight knit tunic, leggings, shorter cardigan, & boots. Very casual, very comfy! This could be done with more contrast, say a colored cardigan &/or a tonal top, but I’d keep the leggings & boots the same color. This one has a lot more color (for me) – Bright top, dark bottom, plus a belt to reign in the blouse.

    I think the key part is leggings + boots, either low or tall, in the same or similar color, that does create an unbroken leg line, & gives a lot more leeway with what’s worn on top. Even a loafer, socks, & leggings all in the same color does the same visual trick. I just do this naturally bec. I wear so much black & dark colors 🙂

  9. JJ

    Thanks to Emily for sharing her photos! I’m a petite apple (and inverted triangle) myself and like the long-over-lean silhouette. (Tunics over leggings are also sooooo comfy.) I’ll echo some of the tips that have already been mentioned here. What works for me:

    1) A slightly longer tunic so the meeting point between tunic and leggings/skinny pants aren’t exactly at the halfway point — for instance, in the first pic with the grey sweater, I would pick a slightly longer cut — one that ends right where the hips curve into the thigh.
    2) I echo Cynthia’s tip on tunics that fit at the chest and flare at the bottom with no empire seam (or any gathers, for that matter). Flowy fabrics work better for this.
    3) If I want to wear a chunkier long layer — like a chunky sweater in winter — I usually do it as a long (mid-thigh to above-the-knee length) cardigan.
    4) I sometimes like using a 3-piece outfit to achieve long-over-lean: leggings or other skinny pant/jean, a fluid long top over that, and a cropped nip-waisted (not boxy) jacket or cardigan over that. The nip waist in the crop jacket/cardigan gives the whole ensemble more shape and structure.
    5) If traditional leggings are too revealing or the top doesn’t cover my whole bum (in which case I don’t wear leggings), try skinny pants or skinny jeans/denim leggings. (I’m partial to Old Navy Rockstar super skinnies myself.)

  10. Ginger

    I’m all for the long/lean look for casual wear, but looking over the photos I think Emily looks her best in the skirt. Just because your waist isn’t tiny doesn’t mean it isn’t flattering to highlight it’s curve. Also, she’s got great legs, you miss those in the leggings/tunics.

    I think stick with the column of color, but don’t limit yourself to one silhouette.

  11. Anamarie

    Funny, the first thing I thought about the first photo was, you need some tall boots and either a long necklace or a scarf! I have similar body concerns as Emily, and have a couple of outfits similar to #1. I feel like boots balance the skinny pants, and a scarf or necklace complete the outfit. The only tip I could offer is that I would make sure the leggings/skinny jeans or whatever on the bottom fit very well and don’t create a muffin top or pooch. If the bottoms fit well, the top will look good, whether it’s close to the body or flowy. I’m always on the lookout for tunics with some shape around the waist – Sally, could you maybe feature some in an upcoming post? Thanks!

  12. fashionforgiants

    This was a great post. It was extremely helpful of Emily to allow her photos to be used because I am a visual learner and I need examples, darn it! I know I’m tall, but this advice can be used for women of all heights because it still holds true for women of all heights.

  13. nishaa

    I think leggings should not be used as pants and so the top has to hit mid thigh or lower. .
    I love Emily in her skirt outfit and I think that length over leggings with unbroken leg line would look amazing on her. .
    And yes, it takes guts, girl. . to share your photos. . way to go. .

  14. Eva

    While I’m not petite, I have the same body silhouette and issues as Emily. The way I like to do long over lean is:
    – tops that are short in front and long in back
    – tops that a slightly loose but not sack-like, and with some shape around the ribcage and shoulders
    – tops in a fabric that drapes softly without clinging – stiff fabrics makes you look bigger and shapeless
    – a column of colour (I like the dramatics of monochrome)
    – a third piece (cardigan or jacket – I prefer the first, but a well cut jacket would work the best)
    – drawing the eye up and away from the middle (scarves, jewellery, hair, etc.)

  15. NeenaJ

    My silhouette is very similar to Emily’s so, Imma Let You Finish and then take all the advise for myself! Love the idea of a minidress over leggings as the petite version of long over lean.

  16. sprylie

    Wow! I am so touched by all these kind, helpful commenters! I must admit, it was a little bit of a cold water splash to see myself on the interwebs here on Sally’s blog today, and yet, I’ve come away feeling really…just terrific, emboldened even! That, of course, is totally due to the compassionate attention of all you folks who have taken the time to comment and advise (and to the ever wise and careful and kind Sally)..I’m very grateful to you. I’ll walking really tall on my terrific gams for the rest of the day!


  17. Amanda

    Thanks to Emily for sharing these pictures! I think that what would help with this look is floatier, lighter layers. It seems like she’s picking pretty heavy sweaters to go with the leggings, and I think long, light tunics, lightweight cardigans, tops that move more would work best with this look.

  18. Allison

    As a short curvy person myself, I second the suggestions about boots and looser tunics. I also think this look is improved on me with a deep v-neck. The other long lean layer I LOVE and have a hard time finding is a fitted, button-up shirt dress. It’s fitted (lean) but the woven material doesn’t cling to every bump so it provides a nice, unboxy shape. It can itself be layered underneath with a long sleeve t-shirt (and dress sleeves rolled up) or a cami. Several buttons open over a layer make a long neckline and defeat that “too tight in the bust” problem. It can also have a long open cardigan worn over it as another layer, which visually adds long vertical lines to the outfit. You can belt it to accent your waist. Dang, now I wish I had more of these.

  19. stephaniemaslow

    Woo hoo, Emily! You are so brave and beautiful. I love the dress on you, it shows off your waist and curvy legs. Thanks for asking the question for us petite ladies, this was really helpful!

  20. Penelope Millar

    I’m Emily’s height although I have a different figure-I carry all my weight in my thighs and rear. I do long over lean A LOT and what I have found is great is a dress that flares from the waist over leggings. I also wear a lot of scarves or larger necklaces to draw attention up towards my face. I really like to match leggings, shoes and a second top layer or necklace so that the color down below harmonizes with something near my face. (My favorite trick is that I wear a lot of brown in the exact bronzey shade of my hair for my legs, shoes & necklace/scarf/sweater and then blues that bring out my eyes for the long dress/shirt layer.)

    Not only does that dress show off your great gams, it also shows that you look good with a defined waist and some flare. Definitely try playing around with that over leggings. I personally look terrible in long and straight over lean but if you want to do it, I think a little longer and looser for the top layer will look good. I really agree with Sally about the leg column of color- for us short gals I think most of the time any visible ankle detracts from the look. (I make a personal exception for wedge sandals because I love them so.)

  21. Ruth Slavid

    All those comments about Emily having great legs are right, and I think that is why it can work. As somebody who has really heavy thighs, I avoid this look like the plague. Anything that cuts across my legs between hip and knee looks awful. Much better to wear a shorter top and not draw attention to the thunder thighs. So I would say that long over lean can work whatever your height – but you need decent legs.

  22. Rachel

    Thanks Emily for sharing your photos – I would actually love to see more posts like this.

    I think Emily would look great in a short shirt dress over leggings – shirt dresses tend to have a nice shape and define the waist (assuming that’s what you want of course). Gap has some good ones at the moment. I think one of the advantages of being petite is that you can wear shorter clothing and look cute, whereas I’m 5ft 6 with a long body and tunics tend to look obscenely short on me!

    I can also picture Emily in leggings with a long fitted t-shirt and a kimono-style jacket over the top, maybe belted? I don’t know why, it’s just a vibe I’m getting 🙂

  23. Aya in Couturgatory

    First of all, I must say that the pregnant comment is not how you look at all. When reading the intro I expected a much different figure than you present. You have a great figure!

    I am 5’2″ and I’ve started experimenting with long tunics over skinny bottoms, myself. I have broad shoulders and full behind/legs, so I try asymmetrical/diagonal tunics and tops with cowl/v-necks to create visual interest and flow from the top half. Sleeves that are either fitted or flowy/drapey rather than poofy give me a trimmer silhouette, I think.

    I sometimes belt the tunics at my natural waist, then let the looser material flow down. Wide belts work best with my figure (long torso and short legs) but of course, your tastes and proportions may vary!

    I do the same thing that Sally suggested, as well. I wear similar colored boots or wedge sandals and it makes my legs look longer, and balances out the contrast between my full upper legs and small ankles.

    I wish you the best and lots of fun playing with your style!

  24. CCs_Cheap_Chic

    I too am petite (5’2″) and long over lean is one of my favorite looks! I am a classic hourglass and am well aware that it isn’t the most classically flattering look for my body type, it is still my comfyist. I usually wear a statement necklace or skarf to draw attention up and give my outfit a touch of fabulousness. 😉 I think Emily looks amazing in all her outfits and applaud her for appearing here.

  25. LinB

    Emily looks like what we used to call a “pocket Venus.” That is, she is so curvy and pretty, and tiny enough to stuff into a vest pocket! My sister is a busty, curvy 4’11”, her daughter is a busty, curvy 4’10.” They can wear almost anything so long as they are careful about proportions. You have to be really, really particular about where hemlines fall. They’ve both learned to sew, not to construct whole garments for themselves, but to properly hem skirts, and slacks, and blouses, and dresses. And to take up garments at the shoulders. And to narrow the backs of blouses, coats, and dresses that fit fine everywhere else. The “shrunken” jacket trend of the 1990s had big staying power. Many of the little coats that looked so squinchy on “normal-sized” people are in thrift stores now. Sister and niece snap them up, as perfectly proportioned to their diminutive frames — they don’t have to shorten the sleeves, and the lengths are perfect.

  26. Jessicawnc

    I love Emily’s cool and funky look! I too struggle with long over lean but keeping the tummy to a minimum. I love the mustard cardigan and think it would look great over a black tunic and black leggings!