ASK ALISON: I'm Petite And People Think I Look 14 -- How Can I Dress My Age?

Some babes want to dress their age, not their shoe size!
Publish date:
September 4, 2013
shoppables, fashion, style, Ask Alison, dress your age

I love reader questions. When I first asked for them, (just about a year ago), I had no idea you guys would send in such interesting ones! I find myself consistently interested in the answers, even though I'm obviously the one answering them.

This week's question is a really great one that also reminds me just how many xoJane peeps there are around the world, because it comes to us all the way from Scandinavia! (Norway, to be exact.)

Hello Alison,

I follow all your posts on xoJane -- but do you have any fashion tips for someone who is really petite? I'm only 5 feet tall and weigh in at around 100 lbs.

My problem is that even though I'm 24 years old and married, a lot of people see me and think I'm 14 years old! How can I dress for my age?

I don't mind looking young, but as I'm about to start job searching next spring, I'd love to be taken seriously and not be told to "get my mom."

With love,

Gjertrud from Norway

Her timing for this question couldn't be better, as we are dealing with this exact issue right now on the pilot presentation I'm doing. Our lead actress looks far younger than her love interest in the show -- so my crew and I have been scavenging the stores for pieces that maintain her youthful charm while giving her a polished edge that makes her seem professional and sophisticated.

This seems like the right time to inform everyone that I sleep with a stuffed Foofa doll, so I'd obviously advise you to do as I say, not as I do.

My advice to Gjertrud would start with the banning of any message or novelty tees from her closet. They are serious shorthand for pre-teen or high school fashion and have no place in a "big girl" job search!

But that doesn't mean she can never wear a t-shirt. She just needs to make sure her tees have a sophisticated edge to them, either via an interesting cut or some contrasting trim. Another good choice for a casual top that still has some grown-up edge to it is a thin cotton voile peasant or button front style blouse. Swapping your t-shirt for a blouse instantly makes your look seem more put together.

Casual Tops by alison-freer featuring red tops

You'll notice I'm leaning towards well-known stores for the purposes of answering Gjertrud's question, as she needs spots that cater to petites and are willing to ship internationally. I've specifically bought a ton of Land's End's new Canvas line for my baby-faced actress recently. It features a younger, hipper, slimmer cut that still has a classic, grown up edge to it. (I think it's meant to be their answer to J. Crew.) Land's End also carries great petite-fit pieces and ships internationally without totally gouging the customer.

A whiff of classic preppy style helps to give any look a little grown-up feel. It's an easy cheat to keep in the back of your mind while you shop. Avoid dabbling too much in short-lived trends like full 80s neon or Madonna-inspired lace if you tend to look "too young". (A little bit of a trend goes a long way on a baby face!) Instead, look for pieces in a classic cut with a fresh, youthful, unique spin, like leopard print. The goal is to look polished yet fun.

Preppy Edge by alison-freer featuring dressy cardigans

Details like piping or pintucks lend sophistication to any garment. Sometimes that's all you need to take the teenybopper edge off your look! And when in doubt: always err on the side of buttons and a collar. A quirky blazer or a snappy collared shirt in a fun print frames the face and adds an air of authority without veering into boring territory.

Blazers & Button Downs by alison-freer featuring J.Crew

I've found that full skirts sometimes end up being too youthful and twee on petite babes with baby faces. The Zooey Deschanel "adorkable" look is a bit hard to pull off unless you have some sort of gravitas about your look -- be it age, stature or an old soul.

When dressing a petite lady, I find that sheath dresses, slim cut pants and pencil skirts add the element of professionalism that poufy skirts sometimes miss the mark on. Graphic prints or classic black & white pieces give an instant professional edge to your look just by virtue of their snappiness.

Sheaths & Crops by alison-freer featuring a pleated dress

I also find that a cropped pant is a million-dollar look on a petite frame. It balances out the silhouette in a way that's quite pleasing to the eye. Almost all of fashion is about balance and proportion -- and nowhere is proportion more important than for the petite woman. Wide leg pants have a tendency to overwhelm a petite frame, making you look like you're playing dress up.

A 2-3" expanse of ankle or a tight, fitted seam where your hem meets a short ankle bootie is the perfect clean, crisp look. (You could also just have your existing pants cropped to just above the ankle bone for about $7.00 U.S. -- no need to buy anything new!)

I think a mistake many petite women make when dressing is failing to tuck in their blouses. An excess of billowing fabric makes a petite lady look like they are swimming in a too-big garment. So Gjertrud -- start tucking your blouses into your pants and take a page from the J. Crew catalogue by giving yourself some definition with a skinny belt in endless colors and patterns. (This simple trick is also an easy way to wear pieces you already have in your closet that maybe aren't quite working for you. Tuck in, add a belt, and be on your way! Instant adult upgrade.)

Skinny Belts by alison-freer featuring a studded bracelet

Too much large, oversized statement jewelry can come off as a costume on a petite babe in a professional setting like a job interview. An easy cheat is to wear as many pieces of delicate, gold-toned jewelry as you like. It lends a richer, more adult look to your wardrobe without too much effort. Pile it on with abandon -- as gold jewelry instantly "classes up" anything. You simply can't do it wrong.

Gold Mini-Jewels by alison-freer featuring stud earrings

Keep your fashion questions coming! I live to answer them.

I'm on Twitter: @IveyAlison.