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Small packages

Women are classified as petite if they're 5ft 4in or less. Well, that must make me a midget since I top out at just about 5ft one-and-a-half (don't forget that crucial half).

blog imagePetites tend to look girly and cute and can sometimes feel overlooked and trivialised, but dressing a petite body isn't difficult as long as you follow a few basic rules. You basically need to keep your lines clean, as in this Boden dress (left). Here are some tips:

1 Remember that many people, particularly blokes, are looking DOWN at you, not straight at you. To see what they see, buy a cheval glass (ie: a freestanding mirror whose angle you can alter) and mark a height on it of about 5ft 10in. Tilt the mirror until your eyes cross that line. This is the angle at which other people see you and you'll notice one thing straight away � it foreshortens you. Bear this in mind when you choose your clothes and, if you can, check everything you wear at this angle of view.

blog image2 Don't swamp your frame. Whether you're garconne and boyish, or curvy and fuller-figured, wear clothes that fit. That means shopping in the petites department for tailored clothing such as jackets (see M&S jacket at right) and formal trousers (casual clothing is less of a problem). When you wear clothing that is cut for a taller frame, any of the following might happen:

a The sleeves will be too long and will need shortening.

b The bust dart will be in the wrong place.

c The waist will not fall at waist level.

d The jacket will be too long overall.

e The pockets will fall too low.

f In trousers, the rise will be too low.

g The pockets will be too low, especially the back pockets of jeans.

h With bootcut trousers, the flare will begin too far below the knee.

i With flared trousers, the full width of the flare will have to be cut off.

Shopping in the petites department can be a pain because it limits your styles, but it is worth investing in at least a couple of basic jackets such as black and, say, a brown or grey tweed, as they will go with virtually everything.

3 Don't wear cutesy clothes - you'll look like the fairy on top of the Christmas tree. If you're short, you're cute enough already. Be wary of too many girlish embellishments such as ruffles and frills - if you wear them, make sure they're self-fabric, not contrast.

4 Choose fabrics with soft drape that skim your body, such as the knit separates. Avoid stiff, bulky fabrics.

5 Avoid clothes with horizontal detailing, such as wide shoulders, puffed sleeves, frogging, epaulettes or horizontal seams. Instead, choose clothes with vertical detailing such as princess seams, contrast button plackets or edging, or rows of vertical pintucks. In skirts, avoid horizontal tiers, particularly in contrasting fabrics.

6 Keep your outfits tonal (say, different shades of blue) or monochrome to create a long, slimming line. Instead of colour, use texture and pattern to give variation to your outfits. Don't allow colour contrasts to cut your body in half at the waist or hip.

blog image7 Avoid large, splashy prints, and especially anything multi-coloured. Instead, stick to tonal or neutral prints with small to medium-sized motifs (as seen in this dress from Monsoon), or vertical interest. Classic prints such as paisley, polka dot and vertical stripes always look good.

8 In jackets, choose single-breasted styles with three buttons. The top button should come quite high up the body, preferably at about bust level (lower than this and you draw onlookers' eyes downwards).

blog image 9 Wear jackets that end at your high hip. Jackets that end at the low hip cut you in half right across your body and can make your legs look very short. This jacket from Oasis also breaks up the horizontal line of the hem with a flattering cutaway and has vertical detailing on the revers and front edges.

10 Keep the clothing on your lower half plain - reserve patterns and interest for your top half to draw the eye upwards.

11 Avoid very low rider and hipster skirts or jeans - a slightly low waist keeps you in better proportion.

12 Avoid cropped trousers, turnups, bermudas and capris - keep your trousers full length, with no contrast at the hem. Instead of shorts consider a wrap-over or button-down sports skirt in a fabric such as denim.

13 Don't wear your skirts too long. It took me a long time to get my head around this one, as I am an inveterate wearer of near ankle-length skirts, but it's true - you simply look taller if you show at least 3-4 inches of leg, if not more. Short skirts - say a couple of inches above the knee - can look good on petites, provided your legs are slim. If you're sensitive about showing your legs or simply hate tights, wear long boots.

14 Be wary of full skirts, especially short, full skirts, and most particularly short, full skirts made in fabrics with body. Skirts that hang close to the body such as pencil, knit, straight, tulip, bias and gentle A-lines work the best.

15 Choose shoes that have a low vamp (ie: are low cut on the top of your foot), in order to elongate your foot. Pointed toes or long, squared-off toes work better than Minnie Mouse ballet slippers. Avoid anything with T-straps or thick ankle straps that cut you off visually at the ankle. Slingbacks and mules often work well. Match your shoes to the colour of your tights, and preferably to the colour of your skirt or trousers.

16 Wear a heel whenever you can, but not above 3" high. Truly high heels throw petites out of proportion.

17 Long boots that match the colour of your skirt are a great way to elongate your line. At all costs avoid wearing ankle boots with a skirt - reserve them for jeans or trousers.

18 If you're fuller figured and have problems finding clothes, get to a dressmaker. They are skilled at fitting non-standard bodies. Pattern company Petite Plus specialises in dress patterns for the curvy, short woman.


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