How to Wear a Maxi Dress If You’re Petite – 7 Styling Do’s and Don’ts

Contrary to popular belief, a short girl CAN wear a long dress. Nicole Richie is a testament to that. I myself 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 it. All you have to do is follow certain guidelines:

Tip # 1 – Go Solid or Monochromatic

Maxis with solid colors, especially darker ones, will definitely make a short person appear taller for the simple reason that it is slimming (thus elongating) and it offers less distraction to the eyes.

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

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

WEAR:

Hayden Panettiere wearing a flowy gray strapless maxi dress to go out to lunch in Los Angeles, California, on November 12, 2008; Pregnant Nicole Richie in an ethereal look in a white maxi dress while attending the launch of House of Harlow Jewelry at Kitson on Melrose Avenue in Los Angeles, California, on March 7, 2009; Lea Michele getting a health shake in a comfy two-slit black maxi dress in West Hollywood, Los Angeles, California, on October 13, 2014Hayden Panettiere wearing a flowy gray strapless maxi dress to go out to lunch in Los Angeles, California, on November 12, 2008; Pregnant Nicole Richie in an ethereal look in a white maxi dress while attending the launch of House of Harlow Jewelry at Kitson on Melrose Avenue in Los Angeles, California, on March 7, 2009; Lea Michele getting a health shake in a comfy two-slit black maxi dress in West Hollywood, Los Angeles, California, on October 13, 2014

AVOID:

Amy Smart wearing a color-block-dyed strapless maxi that's unflattering for petites while leaving Dry Bar Salon in West Hollywood, Los Angeles, California, on April 25, 2013; Ashley Tisdale wearing a two-piece maxi dress that cuts her height in half while out and about in Los Angeles, California, on June 12, 2014; Paris Hilton arriving at the LAX Airport in a monochromatic color-block maxi dress that wouldn't flatter shorter ladies on May 8, 2014Amy Smart wearing a color-block-dyed strapless maxi that’s unflattering for petites while leaving Dry Bar Salon in West Hollywood, Los Angeles, California, on April 25, 2013; Ashley Tisdale wearing a two-piece maxi dress that cuts her height in half while out and about in Los Angeles, California, on June 12, 2014; Paris Hilton arriving at the LAX Airport in a monochromatic color-block maxi dress that wouldn’t flatter shorter ladies on May 8, 2014

TRY:

Solid maxi dressesLeith Side-Slit Maxi Dress, $72 / Three Dots Scoop Maxi Dress, $162 / James Perse Tucked Tee Maxi Dress, $275 / Loveapella V-Neck Stretch-Knit Maxi Dress, $68

Tip # 2 – Pick a Print Proportionate to Your Size

It’s pretty unavoidable to wear printed maxi dresses 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 that have small prints. Using a 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 a plus size and also a petite, just go with medium prints instead of large ones (large prints are most ideal if you’re tall and a plus size). Avoid prints that are horizontally inclined because that will definitely shorten you.

WEAR:

Jenna Dewan-Tatum demonstrating how to pull off different printed maxi dresses while shopping in Beverly Hills, Los Angeles, California, on June 13, 2012, picking up juice at Earth Bar in Los Angeles, California, on March 4, 2013, and carrying her daughter Everly across the street in Los Angeles, California, on April 10, 20145’2″ Jenna Dewan-Tatum demonstrating how to pull off different printed maxi dresses while shopping in Beverly Hills, Los Angeles, California, on June 13, 2012, picking up juice at Earth Bar in Los Angeles, California, on March 4, 2013, and carrying her daughter Everly across the street in Los Angeles, California, on April 10, 2014

AVOID:

Petite celebrities being overwhelmed by the too large and busy prints on their maxi dresses: Vanessa Hudgens leaving Nine Zero One hair salon in West Hollywood, Los Angeles, California, on March 27, 2013, Nikki Reed at the 2011 Teen Choice Awards in Universal City, California, on August 7, 2011, and Kate Garraway outside the ITV studios in London, England, on July 20, 2010Petite celebrities being overwhelmed by the too large and busy prints on their maxi dresses: Vanessa Hudgens leaving Nine Zero One hair salon in West Hollywood, Los Angeles, California, on March 27, 2013, Nikki Reed at the 2011 Teen Choice Awards in Universal City, California, on August 7, 2011, and Kate Garraway outside the ITV studios in London, England, on July 20, 2010

TRY:

Printed maxi dressesSplendid “Waterville” Floral Maxi Dress, $158 / Mara Hoffman Lace-Up Maxi Dress, $275 / T-Bags Los Angeles Center-Knotted Maxi Dress, $202 / Felicity & Coco Geo-Print Empire Waist Maxi Dress, $98

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 it’s 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.

AVOID:

Celebrities wearing petite-unfriendly bold-striped maxi dresses: Gwen Stefani arriving at a kids' party in Hollywood, California, on April 28, 2012, Kristin Cavallari leaving the Fred Segal store in Los Angeles, California, on October 23, 2014, and Fearne Cotton arriving at the BBC Radio 1 studios in London, England, on July 27, 2010Celebrities wearing petite-unfriendly bold-striped maxi dresses: Gwen Stefani arriving at a kids’ party in Hollywood, California, on April 28, 2012, Kristin Cavallari leaving the Fred Segal store in Los Angeles, California, on October 23, 2014, and Fearne Cotton arriving at the BBC Radio 1 studios in London, England, on July 27, 2010

Tip # 3 Pick the Right Cut

Generally, for petite women, maxi dresses that are cut closer to the body work best. Dresses made out of soft and fluid jersey or silk fabrics cut on the bias are the most ideal. Avoid boxy, balloon, or tent-like dresses that come in 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 strappies with the long dress to make your legs look longer (and you taller).

WEAR:

Nicole Richie rocking a slinky silk-satin maxi dress at the CFDA Awards in New York City on June 4, 2013; Kylie Minogue wearing a slim cut empire-waist halter maxi dress while arriving at the Grand Hyatt Cannes Hotel Martinez in Cannes, France, on May 20, 2014; Kim Kardashian wearing a body-fitting geo-print maxi dress to film Keeping Up with the Kardashians in Los Angeles, California, on February 27, 2013Nicole Richie rocking a slinky silk-satin maxi dress at the CFDA Awards in New York City on June 4, 2013; Kylie Minogue wearing a slim cut empire-waist halter maxi dress while arriving at the Grand Hyatt Cannes Hotel Martinez in Cannes, France, on May 20, 2014; Kim Kardashian wearing a body-fitting geo-print maxi dress to film Keeping Up with the Kardashians in Los Angeles, California, on February 27, 2013

AVOID:

Fergie being overwhelmed by all the layers and fabrics of her maxi dress getup at the 2012 Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival in Indio, California, on April 14, 2012; Nicole Richie's unflattering balloon-like printed maxi dress at the Cartier Charity Love Bracelet Launch held at a private residence in Los Angeles, California, on June 18, 2008; Alexandra Burke drowning in a floor-sweeping floral maxi dress at The Glamour Women of the Year Awards 2011 in London, England, on June 7, 2011Fergie being overwhelmed by all the layers and fabrics of her maxi dress getup at the 2012 Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival in Indio, California, on April 14, 2012; Nicole Richie’s unflattering balloon-like printed maxi dress at the Cartier Charity Love Bracelet Launch held at a private residence in Los Angeles, California, on June 18, 2008; Alexandra Burke drowning in a floor-sweeping floral maxi dress at The Glamour Women of the Year Awards 2011 in London, England, on June 7, 2011

TRY:

Right maxi dress cuts for petitesHaute Hippie Slip Gown, $595 / Rachel Pally “Meagan” Dress, $224 / Lilly Pulitzer “Joanna” Maxi Dress, $268 / Amanda Uprichard Empire-Waist Silk Maxi Dress, $250

Tip # 4 Pick the Right Length

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

WEAR:

Petite celebrities benefiting from the height-enhancing length of floor-grazing maxi dresses: Amy Adams visiting the Sherman Oaks Macy's store in Los Angeles, California, on September 6, 2014, pregnant Jenna Dewan-Tatum leaving a doctor's office in Santa Monica, California, on March 13, 2013, and Kym Marsh shopping in Manchester, England, on May 4, 2010Petite celebrities benefiting from the height-enhancing length of floor-grazing maxi dresses: Amy Adams visiting the Sherman Oaks Macy’s store in Los Angeles, California, on September 6, 2014, pregnant Jenna Dewan-Tatum leaving a doctor’s office in Santa Monica, California, on March 13, 2013, and Kym Marsh shopping in Manchester, England, on May 4, 2010

AVOID:

Halle Berry in a height-cutting ankle-length and horizontally striped strapless maxi dress while shopping at The Grove in Hollywood, California, on September 29, 2014; Pregnant Selma Blair's ankle-length printed maxi dress and strappy sandals shorten her 5'3Halle Berry in a height-cutting ankle-length and horizontally striped strapless maxi dress while shopping at The Grove in Hollywood, California, on September 29, 2014; Pregnant Selma Blair’s ankle-length printed maxi dress and strappy sandals shorten her 5’3″ height as she leaves a private residence in West Hollywood in Los Angeles, California, on April 27, 2011; 5’2″ Helena Bonham Carter looking even more diminutive in a tea-length maxi dress as she leaves the Radio 2 studios in London, England, on June 12, 2014

TRY:

Floor length maxi dresses for petitesRachel Pally “Aida” Dress, $242 / Halston Heritage V-Neck Drape Gown, $395 / Young, Fabulous & Broke “Hamptons” Maxi Dress, $207 / Tart “Adrianna” Maxi Dress, $176

Tip # 5 Wear the Right Shoes

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 don’t agree 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.

WEAR:

Petite celebrities pairing the right strappy heels and open sandals with their maxi dresses: Nicole Richie at the 18th Annual Environmental Media Awards held at the Ebell Theatre in Los Angeles, California, on November 13, 2008, Olivia Munn visiting a friend in Beverly Hills in Los Angeles, California, on April 22, 2014, and Kim Kardashian leaving a beauty salon in West Hollywood, California, on June 29, 2011Petite celebrities pairing the right strappy heels and open sandals with their maxi dresses: Nicole Richie at the 18th Annual Environmental Media Awards held at the Ebell Theatre in Los Angeles, California, on November 13, 2008, Olivia Munn visiting a friend in Beverly Hills in Los Angeles, California, on April 22, 2014, and Kim Kardashian leaving a beauty salon in West Hollywood, California, on June 29, 2011

AVOID:

Paris Hilton's awkward pairing of pointy-toe pumps with a floral maxi dress at LAX Airport in Los Angeles, California, on September 18, 2014; Joss Stone wearing ugly pink Ugg boots with a maxi dress at the BBC Broadcasting House in London, England, on November 30, 2014; Myleene Klass wearing stumpy sneakers with a black maxi dress in London, England, on May 6, 2014; Jemima Kirke pairing clunky worn-out boots with a floral maxi dress in Astor Place in New York City on June 25, 2014Paris Hilton’s awkward pairing of pointy-toe pumps with a floral maxi dress at LAX Airport in Los Angeles, California, on September 18, 2014; Joss Stone wearing ugly pink Ugg boots with a maxi dress at the BBC Broadcasting House in London, England, on November 30, 2014; Myleene Klass wearing stumpy sneakers with a black maxi dress in London, England, on May 6, 2014; Jemima Kirke pairing clunky worn-out boots with a floral maxi dress in Astor Place in New York City on June 25, 2014

TRY:

Shoes with maxi dresses1. Narciso Rodriguez “Ava” Strappy Sandals, $750
2. Schutz “Tabacema” Nubuck Sandals, $180
3. Stuart Weitzman “Nudist” 110mm Sandals, $398
4. Sam Edelman “Gigi” T-Strap Sandals, $70
5. Alexander Wang “Antonia” Ankle-Strap Sandals, $475

Tip # 6 Pick Maxi Dresses with Details that Elongate

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 of the dress, or even a long and 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 petites. One shoulder (asymmetric) necklines are also flattering, since they give the illusion of a slimmer silhouette.

WEAR:

Selma Blair in a v-neck halter maxi dress while running errands in West Hollywood, California, on May 10, 2014; Jessica Simpson wearing a gold one-shoulder gown to The Hunger Games: Mockingjay - Part 1 premiere held at the Nokia Theatre L.A. Live in Los Angeles, California, on November 18, 2014; Vanessa Hudgens wearing a vertical-print boho maxi dress to shop at the Urban Outfitters store in Studio City, California, on September 17, 2014Selma Blair in a v-neck halter maxi dress while running errands in West Hollywood, California, on May 10, 2014; Jessica Simpson wearing a gold one-shoulder gown to The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 1 premiere held at the Nokia Theatre L.A. Live in Los Angeles, California, on November 18, 2014; Vanessa Hudgens wearing a vertical-print boho maxi dress to shop at the Urban Outfitters store in Studio City, California, on September 17, 2014

TRY:

Maxi dresses with lengthening detailsT-Bags Los Angeles Deep-V Ruched-Halter Maxi Dress with Braided Ties, $194 / AQ/AQ “Livia” One-Shoulder Maxi Dress, $149.60 / Nanette Lepore “Byzantine” Dress, $648 / Karen Kane Tribal-Print Maxi Dress, $118

Halter necklines are also elongating. However, busty and plus size petites must stay away from it. Do avoid maxi dresses with contrasting border details on the hem. The borders will only make you look shorter than you already are. Also avoid dresses with horizontal panels.

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

Tip # 7 Use the Right Accessories

As much as possible avoid using belts in contrasting colors because that would be like creating one horizontal line across your body and cutting it in half. Although this does not mean you can’t wear one. If you do want to wear a belt, make sure you wear heeled sandals (to compensate and balance out the loss in height). Also, pick a color that is similar (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 ditching the wide brown belt she initially accessorized a blue maxi dress with while shopping in Glendale in Los Angeles, California, on July 7, 2008

As long as you follow these simple rules, you’re guaranteed to look maxi stylish for the whole summer. Enjoy dressing up!

Credit: Adriana M. Barraza / Alberto Reyes / Homero Tercero / Jody Cortes / Michael Wright
/Owen Beiny / Williams / Apega / JP / JFXimages / PNP / WENN

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