How to Find Petite Jeans That Fit

Everyone needs a perfect pair of jeans!
Everyone needs a perfect pair of jeans!

Jeans are one of those must-have fashion items. They can also be a crucible of fashion -- a garment that either makes your look or leaves you looking like a fashion wannabe. Jeans can be cruel. When you're petite, the jeans dilemma can take on added poignancy, too. For petite girls, that coltish, long legged look is harder to achieve. Actually, the reality is all about numbers. The term petite as it relates to clothing doesn't mean elfin or gamin. It doesn't mean waiflike. It just means short -- as in 5'4" or less. This is a vertical assessment only. It has nothing to do with weight or girth. There are supersized petite fashions just as there are large misses-sized fashions.

Petite fashions are about more than just hem length, though. Some petite women make the mistake of thinking that wearing a petite size just means having all your pants hemmed a couple of inches shorter than everyone else's. It's actually more complicated than that. Petite women who shop for jeans in the boys' section of the local department store are missing the boat in a big way. Short in stature means proportionately shorter from head to toe. To wear jeans and other garments well, it's important to downscale your choices and make finding a good fit your top priority. To do that, let's mosey over to the petite department and see what makes short stature garments unique.


If you're petite, you've probably tried on clothes that were clearly designed for a body style very different from yours -- even when the size on the label was in line with what you typically wear. That's because standard sized clothes are scaled for women with longer waist measurements, longer inseams (typically), wider shoulders and longer arms. The disparity can be so great for some petite women that wearing conventional women's sizes makes them look like they're playing dress up in their mom's clothes. When trying to find jeans that fit, it isn't just the hemline that's important. If you're petite and trying to finesse your way into a pair of boy's jeans, the waistline will likely be too large, there'll be a pooch in front and the crotch will be south of your true center, too.

This is the secret to sizing jeans and other women's garments for a petite frame: Evaluate your true size and wear clothes designed to fit your form. If you are less than 5' 4" tall, get yourself to the petite department. It's where you belong. If you're not sure what size you should be wearing, visit an upscale boutique and ask for some expert advice. Many women are shy about asking clothing store clerks for basic information about sizing, styling and current fashion. These salespeople are pros. They can be an invaluable resource for information and recommendations.

There are some other things you should keep in mind when considering a jeans purchase:

  • Don't get greedy. You may feel you have to fit into a specific size to be satisfied with a pair of jeans, but that's just not true. Clothing sizes aren't as standardized as they used to be. You may be a size 6 in one manufacturer's brand of jeans and a size 8 in another brand. Don't let vanity mislead you into buying jeans that look and feel lousy because they carry a small size label.
  • Be prepared. When you shop, wear the undergarments and shoes you plan on wearing with your new jeans. It's a good way to rule out any nasty surprises once you get your purchase home.
  • Sit down. Before you grab your credit card, sit down, literally, to see how your jeans feel and look. Are they tight in the crotch? Do they gap at the waist? Are there gaps or puckers in the pocket area? Do any of the rivets, jewels or other hardware items poke or pinch? Does the zipper bow out or begin to separate at the top? Also, do you kinda feel the way a stuffed sausage looks (never a good thing)? If you do, remember that all jeans shrink a little. Counting on the fabric to ease out enough to accommodate your stomach or thighs may be a pipedream.

To get a leg up on finding a fabulous pair of jeans, measure your inseam. It's the key to a good fit. Measure from your crotch to just below your ankle, and make a note of the measurement for future reference. It will help you in buying all types of pant styles, not just jeans. Once you know your inseam measurement, it'll also be easier to anticipate the way a pair of jeans will fit before you ever try them on.

Most petite women have an inseam between 26 and 31 inches. That's a big spread. If you're lucky and have long legs, that's great. If you're on the shorter side of that range, don't despair. Clever styling and fashion camouflage tactics were made with you in mind. We'll have some special tips and tricks on the next page.

Don't forget that even prewashed denim will shrink a little over time. For a comfortable fit, opt for jeans that are about a half inch longer in the inseam than you need them to be. That way you'll have plenty of room now and later. Be sure to do the sit down test just to be sure.

All jeans are not created equal. Try on a number of styles when you shop. If you find a pair of jeans you like but they seem a bit short in the inseam or small overall, try the next size. If that size is too big, go back to a smaller size but pick a different pair of identical jeans. Mass produced jeans are often a bargain, but there can sometimes be variations within a size designation. If the size 12 you tried on is a little too small, switch it out for another 12 -- and another. With some perseverance, you may find the perfect fit.

Petites come in all shapes and sizes. Tall women haven't cornered the market on fashion flaws either, especially where jeans are concerned. If you have a flat butt, saddle bags, a thick waist or a tummy bulge, you could be putting your worst features out on display when you choose the wrong pair of jeans. If you've sworn off denim until you lose 20 pounds or until knee length ponchos come back in style, we have some tips that will help you buy jeans that actually make you look good -- maybe even great:

  • To elongate a short inseam (hmm, short legs), make sure the hem of your jeans break just at your instep. That means no puddled denim around your ankles -- and no waders, please.
  • If you have ample hips and a tiny waist, select mid-rise jeans for a better fit that won't gap at the belt line.
  • If you have ample hips, choose flared or boot cut jeans. They'll balance and elongate your shape. Sure, skinny jeans are in style right now, but if you don't look very good in them, what's the point? Wear what suits you and you'll look good no matter what's in style.
  • When you're petite, an uncluttered, straight silhouette usually works best. That means you can dispense with rolled jeans, cropped legs, pleats, flowery motifs down the seams, cuffs and whatever else creative clothing designers come up with in the future. Think classic and you'll have the right idea.
  • If you have to lose a few pounds, be suspicious of spandex. Stretchy denim hugs your curves but doesn't do much to hold then in check. If you're a little overweight or out of shape, stick with cotton twill denim for structure and stability.
  • Avoid mommy jeans. It's easy for petite women to look short in the waist when wearing pants with thick waistbands or lots of frou-frou embellishments at the waistline. For a clean, streamlined look, keep the waist area plain and simple with mid-rise jeans. Keeping the waistline simple can also help control problems with the dreaded muffin top (that slight bulge where your skin and the tops of your jeans meet).
  • If you have a flat backside, looking great in jeans can be a challenge. You can always cover up the problem with a shirt or tee, but where's the fun in that? Instead, choose jeans with large back pockets. They'll create the illusion of a rounded bottom without all the exercise.
  • Go for a tailored, form-fitting look. You may love comfy jeans that are a size too large, but the extra bulk won't do you any favors. On a taller woman, extra fabric can be risky, but on a petite woman, it looks sloppy.
  • Find a brand and stick with it. Some fashion brands cater specifically to petite women and really know their business. When you find a pair of jeans you love, make a note of the manufacturer for next time. You may not be able to find the exact jeans, but those relative proportions will still work in a slightly different and often updated style.

Be bold and have some fun.
Be bold and have some fun.

When you're short, color changes across an outfit can make you look even shorter by cutting you in half visually. We should get all the bad news on the table at one time: Big prints, some geometric prints and vertical stripes can be fashion suicide, too. Heck, even bold textures like large knits can be a problem. It isn't fair, we know, but it's still all about scale. Smaller women have smaller silhouettes that typically don't accommodate big, bold, overstated fashion well. Forget the floppy bows, the large ruffles and the oversized handbags.

It' isn't all bad news, though. If big and bold doesn't work as well on a petite woman, small and subtle works beautifully. Subtle accents can have a huge impact on a petite woman's fashion choices -- in a good way. All that thread play on your jeans can look like a million dollars, where on a tall woman, it'll be a minor detail.

Creating vertical symmetry and an elongated silhouette usually works very well in petite fashion. Let's explore how this relates to color: If you're petite and perfectly proportioned, the visual impact of being shorter than average may be marginal, but don't count on it -- especially in jeans. Your best bet is to create a visual bridge between the garments you're wearing above the waist and the jeans you're wearing below the waist. The easiest way to achieve this is to adopt a monochromatic look where your shirt, jacket, sweater or vest matches the color of your jeans. This has an elongating effect that will make you look taller and more slender. It's a trick that will work with any type of trouser and even with skirts. Wearing jeans in solid fabrics and preferably dark colors also helps create a straight, vertical column that's flattering to almost any figure. Darker jeans with slightly lighter, vertical fade lines at the front can help produce a slenderizing, elongated effect, too.

Here's another general rule: When you select contrasting colors for tops and jeans, the higher the waistline of the jeans, the more pronounced the shortening effect will be when a contrasting top is tucked in. Sometimes even choosing a wide, contrasting belt can make you look shorter and stockier. This doesn't mean you're limited to wearing blue or black every time you wear jeans, though. Try wearing a contrasting shirt or tee with an item over it like a long scarf, jacket, vest, sweater or shawl that coordinates with your jeans. Another option is to wear a somewhat longer top in a contrasting color that hits below the waist at about mid-hip length (not tucked in). This tends to even you out top and bottom, minimizing the shortening effect.

If you love color, indulge in your choice of accessories, but keep your look in jeans as blended, balanced and uncluttered as possible. You'll look taller and more slender. Keeping things simple isn't a big yawn, either. It will shift the focus to other details like your jewelry, shoes, neckline, hairstyle and beautiful smile. There's nothing wrong with that.

Related Articles


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