Top 10 tips for petite vintage style

I hope everyone’s well this very grey day (in the UK) – I kind of like grey days sometimes as they always feel like my blog reading days; I can browse around Bloglovin’ and not feel guilty that I’m wasting the sunshine. (As a Brit, I’m very conscious of ‘sun guilt’ – I think a lot of us evolve to feel like we should be throwing ourselves out into the sun the moment it chooses to make an appearance. Sometimes you just want to stay in!)
Anyway, another tips post from me today and I realise this one isn’t going to appeal to everyone, but it’s something I’ve struggled with so I hope it helps some of you out there! I wanted to expand on my suggestions in my interview with Jessica (Chronically Vintage). If you’re petite (or perhaps have proportionately short legs/torso) and you like vintage style, you’ve quite possibly also put on a pair of high-waisted jeans that restricted your ability to sit down, or a circle skirt only to find it makes your legs look about 3″ long (which wasn’t exactly the look you were after). The longer lengths of clothes from the 40s and 50s can pose the modern petite woman a bit of a problem to try to incorporate in a flattering way into their wardrobe. For the record, by the way, I’m 5’2″ (just!).
So what’s a girl to do? Well, I think there’s a few things that can really help to work with your height rather than against it, with minimal compromise. It’s probably worth noting that my own style is more vintage-inspired than authentic vintage, as most of you know, so if you disagree with anything I say I fully acknowledge I’m not trying to create a true vintage look most of the time 🙂
1. Find your midi swing skirt length
Petite length midi swing 50s style skirt
For years, I was convinced I couldn’t wear beautiful big midi length circle skirts – years! They were almost as long as me for the most part and they just made me feel short and stumpy and overwhelmed. Turns out I just wasn’t wearing them right – all I needed to do was find the length that worked for me and my height, which is ideally around 25-26″ long. Anything longer than that and there’s more skirt than there is me, which I don’t feel good in. So find the length that works for your height and alter anything that’s too long – simple! Although, of course, one thing to mention about this approach is that if you do want to buy something that is (or could be) longer than your ideal length, you should be very careful about this if it has a pattern that can’t be cut short without ruining it e.g. novelty print skirts.
2. Know how high is too high rise


High-waisted pants for petite girls advice
This is something I’ve learned fairly recently and is one of the best tips I can give you! If you’re petite, you probably don’t have the same length torso as an average-sized woman. If you don’t have this, buying skirts/pants etc that are designed to be very high-waisted is going to be an interesting experience. They’re not made for your length! I tried a pair of Freddies of Pinewoods jeans several months ago and they finished on my ribcage and made it hard to move/breathe/live. Bending over in them? Forget about it! I soon realised I had a limit to how high I could go for it to be comfortable and look flattering and it’s approximately what you see in the above photo which is about an 11-11.5″ rise at the front (the back measurement will always be longer). I was reassured I wasn’t alone by Flashback Summer who took her Freddies to be altered for her height – that’s a very good idea indeed. Interesting piece of info for anyone who knows and loves Lady K Loves jeans – the owner mentioned to me back in January that she was looking into developing a style for petite women. Let’s hope that happens!
3. See the ‘full’ potential in ankle grazers
Making ankle grazers work for petite girls advice
So… these perfect-length jeans are actually supposed to be ankle-length. But who cares? I’ve just ended up with some cute patterned jeans that look like they were made for me, even if that’s ironic. If ankle grazers are around the 28-29″ leg length, which I suspect most are, the petite girl wins if she wants a pair of trousers she doesn’t have to alter. And if I want to, I can still tuck these up on the inside to make them look like capris – something that will apply to most denim fabrics; they’re stiff enough to do this and stay put. So in fact, you’re getting two trousers for the price of one 😉 Money saving and good for your vintage wardrobe!
4. Embrace the crop top
Using the modern crop top in vintage style
I’m sure everyone’s noticed there’s this big trend in modern fashions for cropped tops, because apparently we liked it so much in the 90s we couldn’t wait to get our bellies out again (who decided this?!). When I first realised crops were a ‘thing’ again, I couldn’t help but groan. But then I bought one and it was life-changing! Crop tops are usually fitted and on the petite lady they often finish at a respectable length on the waist, meaning you can wear your usual vintage style high-waisted bottoms with them with minimum risk of exposure. Take the top in the above picture – it probably doesn’t even look like a crop, but in fact if you look here you’ll see it very much is. In this case, I covered the join with my skirt with a wide waist belt. No bulgy fabric underneath the skirt or to work its way out of the waistband. And like in the other post, sometimes I don’t mind getting my waist out, as long as it’s little enough to stay classy – 50s women did it too, after all.
5. Go strapless – on your shoes
Elongating petite legs with no-strap shoes
I struggle with this piece of advice, not because I like to strap my feet into shoes, but because inevitably I have to because they’re incredibly narrow and fall out of most shoes. Wherever I can, though, I always prefer to wear shoes with no straps – particularly ankle straps – as they create a visual ‘line’ that chops into the length of your leg, making it look shorter.
6. Match your tights to your shoes
Tights and shoes in the same colour for longer-looking legs
Now, admittedly, I don’t always follow my own advice on this one as I often have different coloured shoes to my tights in the winter. But if I’m wearing flats or low heels (as above) I am a bit more conscious of it as I’m that bit closer to the ground! It’s just about creating an illusion of leg length and matching your shoes to your tights helps with that. Especially if, like above, I’ve got a shoe with ankle straps on (which I’ve just said to try to avoid!). Opaque tights might not be seen as ‘authentic’ vintage style, but we do know ladies liked to match back then, so I think they would approve! And as you can see, I’ve worked it into a vintage look here anyway. A girl’s got to be warm as well as stylish, sometimes!
7. Choose nude shoes in the summer
Wearing nude shoes to elongate petite legs
This isn’t groundbreaking – if wearing shoes and tights in the same colour will visually trick the eye into seeing the leg as a longer, unbroken line, it follows that wearing nude coloured shoes with bare legs will have a similar effect. Maybe this is more of a modern day trick, but I think it worked just fine with my 50s-style dress here.
8. Go for long over mid-calf or ankle boots
Knee-length BAIT boots for a cute vintage look
Again, I’m not sure this is strictly ‘vintage style’ either – but I think it’s a good option for the colder months when even tights make your legs feel too exposed to the elements. The likes of BAIT have some super cute knee-high boots available, so why not snap up a pair like I did and wear them with your skirts and dresses? Choosing boots that finish at the knee elongates the leg by not awkwardly breaking it up visually at the ankle or calf. Word of warning for the short-legged among us: learn your cut-off length for knee boots if you’re ordering online. Mine is about 13″ and anything longer ends up in the crease of my knee and I can’t walk!
9. Make your comfy shoes low/mid heel
Mid-heel comfy Clarks courts for daywear
Along with always trying to buy shoes without straps where possible, the other thing I tend to do is choose low/mid heel shoes over flats as my comfy, walk-about-in shoes. The ones in the above photo I genuinely walked round a big nature park in and because they’re well-made and the heel’s only a couple of inches, my feet were perfectly happy about it. Heels, even low ones, are a good idea to wear with a long midi skirt if you’re petite – the extra height will elongate your legs to offset the skirt and add a touch of elegance. Plus, any extra height is always going to make you taller, literally!
10. Have a staple denim jacket
Using a denim jacket in 50s vintage style
Well, maybe they’re not everyone’s idea of vintage style but Marilyn wore one, therefore they are cool (actually, some sources think that it was a photo-shoot of her in one that gave them a boost in popularity in the 50s/60s). And in fact, they’re the petite girl’s best friend because a lot of them are designed to be cropped in length. One woman’s crop, is another woman’s perfect waist-length jacket. Which is great for wearing with flared skirts in particular, so the full flare is on display and not awkwardly trapped (which I haven’t got photos of yet, but now have ideas to!). Wearing them with smart skirts might not have been how the vintage lady would have worn them, but I generally love them as a throw-on jacket in the summer that goes with mostly everything… I wish there were more fitted, cropped length jackets out there, but for now I get by with my little denim jacket.
My fellow petite ladies, any other tips I’ve missed that work for you? I’m all ears…


  1. April 26, 2015 / 8:13 pm

    These are all great tips. Being a fellow shorty I use almost all of them.

    I just bought a midi black skirt in leather that is too long on me. It was too nice to pass up for $15 though. Now I'm debating if I just wear it with extra high heels or take it in and get the hem adjusted. You are right though…just an inch or two can make all the difference.

    Also…I also have very narrow feet and mostly wear MaryJanes of the same reason…I walk out of most normal shoes. I wish I could find a solution so regular shoes would stay on my feet.

    Great post!

    Will be sharing this on my FB page : )


    • April 27, 2015 / 12:03 pm

      Yep, every inch is crucial to the short among us!

      Having narrow feet is the bane of my life (I'm not exaggerating!) so I feel your pain – I wrote another tips post on just this topic on, you might find it useful (I particularly thing the cutting heel liners tip can be really handy!):

      Thanks for sharing it 🙂 x

  2. April 27, 2015 / 12:39 am

    This is the PERFECT post. I seriously just said today how hard it was for me to wear vintage because I'm so short. It's a truly fine line and I don't always know how to walk it. It's part of the reason I sometimes skip over vintage/retro styles. I need to keep all of this in mind because you truly pull it off all the time!

    • April 27, 2015 / 12:06 pm

      Glad you like it 😀 It can be a very fine line when something even a centimeter too long makes the difference between good and bad!!

      Another thing worth mentioning that I didn't here is that Hell Bunny are well worth checking out for 'mini' styles of their full length dress range. So they're still cute, retro style dresses with full skirts, but finish above the knee and are really flattering to us shorties. I picked up a dress in this style from eBay and am over the moon with how it looks!

  3. April 27, 2015 / 4:31 pm

    I just read an article that says 5'5" and under is considered petite. I've never considered myself petite but since that's exactly my height it may be why I've had trouble with clothes fitting and looking right. Slowly but shirley I'm learning what looks good on me and it's posts like this that helps me out. 🙂

    • April 29, 2015 / 12:09 pm

      Maybe the rules keep shifting as everyone's generally getting taller and taller..?? I wouldn't consider my 5'5" friends petite particularly – one of my friends is this height, but her leg measurement is the standard 32". If you don't have to shorten things, I'm not sure that's petite by definition… but saying that, some people have longer torsos vs legs etc so it's a bit of a hard thing to pin down! It must be possible to have petite legs and an average length body, or vice versa! Like you say, it's all about learning what works for you personally… and what makes you feel good 🙂

  4. April 27, 2015 / 8:27 pm

    These 'tips' style posts you've been doing are so good! At 5'3 and much wider than yourself, this stuff is really good to know! I am figuring it out, I daren't go for trousers in the most part yet but they look so good on other people, I need to be more brave! I just need to learn to style better in general, you always seem to put some thought into it and it comes across great! I am trying to get my feet used to wearing heels more often but I am not the most lady like of creatures!

    Hell Bunny used to be a good length for me but I have found there newer designs are too long, I have a short upper body so halter tops can be a saviour, it's so hard getting things to fit right!


    • April 29, 2015 / 12:12 pm

      Ah, so glad you've been enjoying these posts! I'm running out of things I feel I can advise on now, but glad if any of them have been remotely useful! Some trousers I wouldn't go anywhere near – basically if they're not fitted they make my legs look short! I think generally adding width through clothes when you don't have a lot of height isn't a great idea – that's where a lot of my logic on dressing myself comes from!

      I find most repro brands default to about 27" skirt length which is just that bit too long for me. I wish more would take a leaf out of Lindy Bop's book and do a petite range!

  5. April 28, 2015 / 3:00 am

    Thank you for the mention up there about the Freddies jeans! I'm glad you found that helpful. You are NOT alone in the too-high-rise issues! I find that a lot of "mid-rise" jeans can fit my shorter torso with a high rise fit. But, dang, it's a struggle!
    Thanks for the good tips! This is great stuff!

    • April 29, 2015 / 12:12 pm

      I thought that was really useful – I'd never even thought about altering a rise on jeans before, but when you said it I felt stupid because why can't you?! Agreed on mid-rise being high-rise in a lot of cases – which is really useful for shopping new clothes that you want to look vintage!

  6. April 28, 2015 / 4:52 pm

    I swear, I just about jumped straight out of my seat like a lit firecracker when I saw this post in my feeds. Thank you for covering this topic in such depth. At (barely) 5'2", it's very near and dear to my own heart as well. I especially love your tip about midi length skirts. They are, by far, the most flattering hem length on me and the one that I find elongates my figure most, so the older I get, the more I try to find and stick with them for skirts and dresses alike.

    Stellar post, Cici, thank you so much for penning this gem!
    ♥ Jessica

    • April 29, 2015 / 12:13 pm

      Well, lovely Jessica, you gave me the idea as I said! It's all been bubbling away in my mind but until you asked that question I never thought other people might want to hear it 🙂 x

  7. April 28, 2015 / 9:13 pm

    I'm a few inches taller than you, and I always feel a bit strange if my skirts are too long – just below the knee works for me! The crop top tip is actually very useful, I hate the bulgy excess fabric! I've now begun to understand what works for me, for example I feel like a clown in some 40s styles because of the shoulders… I'll stick to the 50s. 😀

    • April 29, 2015 / 12:15 pm

      Same – it's just that my 'just below the knee' is probably 'above the knee' on most folk 😉 I also feel like a clown in big shoulders – completely get where you're coming from there! 50s is a bit more universal for suiting lots of people, I find… some of the other eras just look better on certain body types!

  8. April 29, 2015 / 6:08 pm

    This is *such* a great post! I'll be pinning this for later use as well. 😀

    • May 1, 2015 / 6:59 am

      Aw, thank you! Glad it was helpful 🙂

  9. April 30, 2015 / 12:36 am

    I'm also petite and I have always found my size really limits wearing certain vintage styles – unless I want to go to the effort of having alterations done. I've recently worked out that I *can* wear trousers though, something I've been wanting to do for ages – so long as I go and get them taken up.

    Another thing is jeans – most jeans are waaay too long for me, but I've worked out that buying pedal pushers is the answer because they end up being the perfect length on me 😀

    • May 1, 2015 / 7:01 am

      I've never twigged you were petite, Harlow – must be because you dress so incredibly well 😉 and maybe you've got that couple of inches on me that can make all the difference for dresses…

      Completely agree on your trousers and jeans comments – get them altered or buy slightly cropped ones!

  10. May 2, 2015 / 9:08 pm

    This is such valuable advice. Thank you for such a detailed and well-composed post. Although I don't have a typically vintage style, the tips are really helpful in general. Above all, it's about balancing your proportions to create an optical illusion, something which you do very successfully with your personal style. (Although I won't be a convert to crop tops any time soon!)

    Thanks again!

    Saba -x-

  11. August 14, 2016 / 9:23 am

    I'm 4ft 11ins,and found this useful especially in regards to skirtsalways get told that I can't wear circle skirts. Also was never a fan of crop tops as self concious about my tummy but may try them again as suggested 🙂

    • August 24, 2016 / 12:59 pm

      You can wear circle skirts, for sure! Just experiment until you find a length that you feel happy in. Anything below the knee has that vintage feel as it's so uncommon to see these days… I swear buy crop tops- I'm wearing one now in fact with a high-waisted skirt at work!

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