How To Wear a Petite Maxi Dress If You’re Short – 7 Styling Tips

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Contrary to popular belief, a short girl CAN wear a long maxi dress. The term maxi has been used since the late 1960s to describe ankle-length, typically informal dresses.

The petite Nicole Richie is a testament to that. I am pretty tiny (standing only at 5 ft. and at 90 lbs.), but I have learned a few tricks that have allowed me to wear long dresses without being engulfed by them. All you have to do is follow certain guidelines:

Style Strategy #1: Embrace Solid Colors or Monochromatic Looks

Maxis with solid colors, especially darker ones, will definitely make a short person appear taller because they are slimming (thus elongating) and offer less distraction to the eyes.

If you’re plus-size petite, dark, solid colors are a must. But if you’re small and petite like Nicole Richie, you can afford to wear light, solid colors.

If you want to wear a color block maxi dress, make sure it’s monochromatic. Otherwise, choose maxi dresses with block orientations that will not cut you in half.

Recommended Choices:

Hayden Panettiere elegantly styled in a flowy, gray, strapless maxi dress for a lunch outing in Los Angeles, CA (Nov 12, 2008) / Pregnant Nicole Richie radiates in a white maxi dress at the House of Harlow Jewelry launch, Los Angeles, CA (Mar 7, 2009) / Lea Michele opts for a casual yet chic two-slit black maxi dress in West Hollywood, Los Angeles, CA (Oct 13, 2014)Hayden Panettiere elegantly styled in a flowy, gray, strapless maxi dress for a lunch outing in Los Angeles, CA (Nov 12, 2008) / Pregnant Nicole Richie radiates in a white maxi dress at the House of Harlow Jewelry launch, Los Angeles, CA (Mar 7, 2009) / Lea Michele opts for a casual yet chic two-slit black maxi dress in West Hollywood, Los Angeles, CA (Oct 13, 2014) (Credit: WENN)

Styles to Avoid:

Amy Smart in a color-block-dyed strapless maxi dress, an unideal choice for petites, spotted in West Hollywood, Los Angeles, CA (Apr 25, 2013) / Ashley Tisdale's two-piece maxi dress visually shortens her height, seen in Los Angeles, CA (Jun 12, 2014) / Paris Hilton in a monochromatic color-block maxi, not the best pick for shorter statures, at LAX Airport (May 8, 2014)Amy Smart in a color-block-dyed strapless maxi dress, an unideal choice for petites, spotted in West Hollywood, Los Angeles, CA (Apr 25, 2013) / Ashley Tisdale’s two-piece maxi dress visually shortens her height, seen in Los Angeles, CA (Jun 12, 2014) / Paris Hilton in a monochromatic color-block maxi, not the best pick for shorter statures, at LAX Airport (May 8, 2014) (Credit: WENN)

Style Strategy #2: Select Prints That Complement Your Size

Wearing printed maxi dresses is unavoidable because they are quite abundant. Make sure you pick prints that are proportionate to your size.

Believe me, it matters. If you’re thin and short, pick maxi dresses with small prints. Wearing a long dress with large prints will overwhelm your tiny frame.

If you’re medium-built and short, you can go for medium-sized prints. Now if you’re plus size and also petite, just go with medium prints instead of large ones (large prints are most ideal if you’re tall and plus size).

Avoid prints that are horizontally inclined because that will definitely shorten you.

Recommended Choices:

Jenna Dewan-Tatum showcases how to rock printed maxi dresses, seen in various locations across Los Angeles, CA (2012-2014)Jenna Dewan-Tatum showcases how to rock printed maxi dresses, seen in various locations across Los Angeles, CA (2012-2014) (Credit: WENN)

Styles to Avoid:

Petite celebrities overwhelmed by large, busy prints: Vanessa Hudgens in West Hollywood, Los Angeles, CA (Mar 27, 2013), Nikki Reed at the 2011 Teen Choice Awards, and Kate Garraway in London, England (Jul 20, 2010)Petite celebrities overwhelmed by large, busy prints: Vanessa Hudgens in West Hollywood, Los Angeles, CA (Mar 27, 2013), Nikki Reed at the 2011 Teen Choice Awards, and Kate Garraway in London, England (Jul 20, 2010) (Credit: WENN)

If you’re going to pick out a striped maxi, go for subtle, thin diagonal (45-degree angle) lines that are not as bold. Avoid wearing bold, repetitive horizontal or vertical lines.

Such will either cut across and make you look shorter or create the illusion that you are wider. Chevron prints can be just as bad as well.

Don’t get me wrong, vertical lines are good, but only when they’re not bold and repeating. For example, a single vertical line running through the center of a dress can make a person look slimmer and taller.

Styles to Avoid:

Gwen Stefani in a striking bold-striped maxi at a kids' party, Hollywood, California (Apr 28, 2012) / Kristin Cavallari sports a bold-striped maxi, not ideal for petites, while leaving Fred Segal, Los Angeles, California (Oct 23, 2014) / Fearne Cotton in a contrasting striped maxi, an unflattering choice for petites, at BBC Radio 1 studios, London, England (Jul 27, 2010)Gwen Stefani in a striking bold-striped maxi at a kids’ party, Hollywood, California (Apr 28, 2012) / Kristin Cavallari sports a bold-striped maxi, not ideal for petites, while leaving Fred Segal, Los Angeles, California (Oct 23, 2014) / Fearne Cotton in a contrasting striped maxi, an unflattering choice for petites, at BBC Radio 1 studios, London, England (Jul 27, 2010) (Credit: WENN)

Style Strategy #3: Choose Flattering Cuts for Petite Figures

Generally, for petite women, maxi dresses cut closer to the body look flattering. Dresses made of soft and fluid jersey or silk fabrics cut on the bias are ideal. Avoid boxy, balloon, or tent-like dresses with extra stiff materials.

Pick maxis that accentuate the waist (whether it be the empire waist or your true waistline).

Empire-cut maxi dresses with soft flowy skirts work best in hiding tummy bulges and giving the illusion of longer legs (more height).

If you’re wearing a maxi that is belted on the true waist, make sure you wear heeled strappy shoes with the long dress to make your legs look longer (and you taller).

Recommended Choices:

Nicole Richie in a sleek silk-satin maxi at the CFDA Awards, New York City (Jun 4, 2013) / Kylie Minogue in a slim cut empire-waist halter maxi in Cannes, France (May 20, 2014) / Kim Kardashian in a fitted geo-print maxi while filming in Los Angeles, CA (Feb 27, 2013)Nicole Richie in a sleek silk-satin maxi at the CFDA Awards, New York City (Jun 4, 2013) / Kylie Minogue in a slim cut empire-waist halter maxi in Cannes, France (May 20, 2014) / Kim Kardashian in a fitted geo-print maxi while filming in Los Angeles, CA (Feb 27, 2013)

Styles to Avoid:

Fergie, Nicole Richie, and Alexandra Burke in voluminous maxi dresses that overpower their petite frames, seen in various locations (2008-2012)Fergie, Nicole Richie, and Alexandra Burke in voluminous maxi dresses that overpower their petite frames, seen in various locations (2008-2012) (Credit: WENN)

Style Strategy #4: Opt for the Most Flattering Lengths

Again, contrary to popular belief, floor-length dresses will always work best for petite women compared to ankle-length ones, NOT the other way around.

Why? Well, once the hem of your dress touches your ankles, you will appear shorter whether or not you’re wearing heels because the hem is like a horizontal line cutting across. Do yourself a favor and avoid tea-length dresses as well (calf-length).

Recommended Choices:

Amy Adams accentuates her height with a floor-grazing maxi while at Macy's in Sherman Oaks, Los Angeles, California (Sep 6, 2014) / Pregnant Jenna Dewan-Tatum elegantly elongates her figure in a full-length maxi dress, seen in Santa Monica, California (Mar 13, 2013) / Kym Marsh enhances her petite frame with a floor-sweeping maxi during a shopping trip in Manchester, England (May 4, 2010)Amy Adams accentuates her height with a floor-grazing maxi while at Macy’s in Sherman Oaks, Los Angeles, California (Sep 6, 2014) / Pregnant Jenna Dewan-Tatum elegantly elongates her figure in a full-length maxi dress, seen in Santa Monica, California (Mar 13, 2013) / Kym Marsh enhances her petite frame with a floor-sweeping maxi during a shopping trip in Manchester, England (May 4, 2010) (Credit: WENN)

Styles to Avoid:

Halle Berry in an ankle-length, horizontally striped strapless maxi, reducing height appearance, spotted at The Grove, Hollywood, California (Sep 29, 2014) / Pregnant Selma Blair in an ankle-length printed maxi with strappy sandals, not height-flattering, leaving a residence in West Hollywood, Los Angeles, California (Apr 27, 2011) / Helena Bonham Carter, at 5'2", appears more petite in a tea-length maxi dress, seen leaving Radio 2 studios, London, England (Jun 12, 2014)Halle Berry in an ankle-length, horizontally striped strapless maxi, reducing height appearance, spotted at The Grove, Hollywood, California (Sep 29, 2014) / Pregnant Selma Blair in an ankle-length printed maxi with strappy sandals, not height-flattering, leaving a residence in West Hollywood, Los Angeles, California (Apr 27, 2011) / Helena Bonham Carter, at 5’2″, appears more petite in a tea-length maxi dress, seen leaving Radio 2 studios, London, England (Jun 12, 2014) (Credit: WENN)

Style Strategy #5: Select the Perfect Footwear

With the maxi dress already covering more than half of your body, it’s best to keep the feet open and sexy. Some people may tell you it’s okay to wear pumps with maxi dresses, but I’m afraid I have to disagree with that.

The best companion of a maxi dress is a pair of heeled strappy sandals. If you want to wear flat ones, go with thong sandals that show a lot of skin.

Recommended Choices:

Nicole Richie, Olivia Munn, and Kim Kardashian pair strappy heels and open sandals perfectly with their maxi dresses (2008-2014)Nicole Richie, Olivia Munn, and Kim Kardashian pair strappy heels and open sandals perfectly with their maxi dresses (2008-2014) (Credit: WENN)

Styles to Avoid:

Paris Hilton, Joss Stone, Myleene Klass, and Jemima Kirke in footwear choices that clash with their maxi dresses (2010-2014)Paris Hilton, Joss Stone, Myleene Klass, and Jemima Kirke in footwear choices that clash with their maxi dresses (2010-2014) (Credit: WENN)

Style Strategy #6: Elevate Your Look with Elongating Details

Vertical lines come in many forms. It can be a deep V neckline, a single vertical line running through a dress, detailing at the center, or even a long, deep V-shaped accessory around your neck. The idea is that a deep V neckline elongates.

V-necks are also perfect for plus-size or busty short women. One-shoulder (asymmetric) necklines are also flattering since they give the illusion of a slimmer silhouette.

Recommended Choices:

Selma Blair, Jessica Simpson, and Vanessa Hudgens in maxi dresses with elongating elements, spotted in various locations (2014)Selma Blair, Jessica Simpson, and Vanessa Hudgens in maxi dresses with elongating elements spotted in various locations (2014) (Credit: WENN)

Halter necklines are also elongating. However, busty and plus-size petite women must stay away from them. Avoid maxi dresses with contrasting border details on the hem.

The borders will only make you look shorter than you already are. Also, don’t be tempted by dresses with horizontal panels.

Styles to Avoid:

Heidi Klum wearing a horizontally paneled maxi dress that petites should avoid while out and about in Brentwood, California, on April 21, 2012; Carmen Electra busting out of an animal-print halter-neck maxi dress at the Elizabeth Glaser Celebrity Carnival in Santa Monica, California, on June 13, 2010; Lily Allen wearing a border-hemmed maxi dress that draws the eye downwards at the Cheltenham Festival at Cheltenham, England, on March 18, 2011Heidi Klum wearing a horizontally paneled maxi dress that petites should avoid while out and about in Brentwood, California, on April 21, 2012; Carmen Electra busting out of an animal-print halter-neck maxi dress at the Elizabeth Glaser Celebrity Carnival in Santa Monica, California, on June 13, 2010; Lily Allen wearing a border-hemmed maxi dress that draws the eye downwards at the Cheltenham Festival at Cheltenham, England, on March 18, 2011 (Credit: WENN)

Style Strategy #7: Accessorize Wisely

Avoid using belts in contrasting colors as much as possible because that would be like creating one horizontal line across your body and cutting it in half. However, this does not mean you can’t wear one.

If you want to wear a belt, wear heeled sandals (to compensate and balance out the loss in height). Also, pick a similar color (or almost the same) as the dress.

Hilary Duff wisely ditching the wide brown belt she initially accessorized a blue maxi dress with while shopping in Glendale in Los Angeles, California, on July 7, 2008Hilary Duff wisely ditched the wide brown belt she initially accessorized a blue maxi dress with while shopping in Glendale in Los Angeles, California, on July 7, 2008 (Credit: WENN)

As long as you follow these simple rules, you’ll look maxi stylish for summer. Enjoy dressing up!

Filed Under: Celebrities