Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Dressing a Petite Frame with the Right Clothing

Every woman has her fashion-related cross to bear, and for Petites it may seem that the whole world is out to prevent you from reaching the top cupboard as well as the highest rung of the corporate ladder. There are some strategies you've no doubt discovered, such as developing a ferocious look to keep people from patting you because you're so little and cute. Ferocity, when backed up with intelligence, has probably saved more Petites in the work world than three-inch heels ever could, and if you've avoided getting mean with stupid people because you don't want to be known by the B-word, you might want to reconsider. B------ get grudging respect and may inspire fear, which are pretty powerful payoffs when it comes to having a high-powered career.

Dignity doesn't have to be tall. One of the most dignified people I ever met was a Navy Lieutenant who barely broke 5 feet in height. She hardly ever smiled on the job, and her watch section (mostly big, burly guys) was frankly intimidated by her. They called her Little Hitler, not because she was in any way anti-Semitic, but because she was tiny and in absolute control of every situation. I knew her outside of her job, where she could afford to be a person, and she was once of the nicest people I ever met. But she knew that, in a military organization where sexual harassment was the rule, not the exception, that she had to be tougher than anyone else. All this is to say that, you can follow all the fashion precepts for Petites, but what people see about you isn't your height or lack of height. It's your integrity and determination, your sense of humor, your sense of self that people will remember most. Higher heels will bring your eyes up, but may make you less sure of foot, and thus, wobbly. If you have strong ankles and want to add a couple of inches, go right ahead. But I saw one fashion tip that said Petites should wear pointy-toed shoes because it makes them look taller than square toes. I think that's ridiculous.

I guess beauty tips for Petites depend a lot on what you're trying to achieve. If you're looking for a sweetheart, being doll-like has certain advantages, and you can play it up with frilly clothes and ask people to get things off shelves for you. (Try that when you're five-foot-nine!) If you really want to look taller, tall shoes and flowing garment lines are supposed to work. (To add height to their frames, stars like Marlon Brando and Bogie stood on crates. Some CEOs have been know to dominate a room by having the seat of the CEO chair made a couple of inches higher than every other seat in the room. I even knew one twisted little freak of a publisher who insisted that his employees sit down the second they entered any room where he was. If someone forgot, he raged at them, accusing them of trying to humiliate him. But that's another story.) Great posture is a boon too, and also makes you remarkable because most tall women tend to slouch.

As to clothing, if I were Petite, I would go for the Audrey Hepburn look--fairy-like, severely tailored and strong as steel wire. Long, columnar gowns for evening, flowing, straight-leg pants, simple lines, are the basis of elegance at any height.

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