Simple Ways to Improve an Outfit

petite work outfit tips
After: Ann Taylor blouse (similar – on sale), Theory pull-on pants 00 (current version; similar for less), Sarah Flint pumps 5.5, Edited Pieces belt xxs

I was organizing my closet over the weekend, and fondly came across a pair of navy pants and white shirt that were 2 of my most worn basics back at my corporate job. I guess a couple of years and two kids will bring about some changes (in both my tastes and figure), as I put the “old favorites” on and was just a bit horrified by the resulting look on the left!

I know many of you initially discovered this blog through my “before and afters” like the infamous How to Look Older or Building Confidence in the Workplace posts, so I thought it would be fun to start doing these again! Today’s post is on small, subtle changes that do make a difference. The pieces in both the Before and After looks are very old, so this also reinforces the types of pieces that survive the test of time.

Fabric Drape

This one is super important! I love a good crisp cotton shirt for other types of outfits, but a stiffer fabric can sometimes look boxy or overwhelm a petite frame. Look for more fluid fabrics (but not clingy) that will drape over your figure and move with your body.

Some of the pieces that have lasted the longest time in my closet are actually polyester, machine washable blouses like this one from Ann Taylor, that I still find flattering nearly a decade later and are still in great condition. This old one actually has a neck tie that I tucked in for a simpler look. Here is a classic, current option that has tons of great reviews and comes in both petite & regular!

Rise & Length

A low-rise plus cropped length pant can be truncating. Even a slightly higher rise and longer length in the “After” elongates the look. Instead of a super low or super high rise based on trends, find the most flattering rise for you depending on your proportions.

My pants are Theory crepe pull-on crops from many years ago, but they still have a very similar option and J.Crew Factory has a budget-friendly lookalike with great reviews. All Theory is regular sizing, but I find their crops can sometimes work as full length pants on petites. And back to point # 1 – the fabric drape matters. I love how the crepe material on these glide against my legs rather than cling to them, and the elastic back waist is forgiving through weight fluctuations.

Sizing

The first pants were just a little tight. Sizing up or going for a more figure-skimming fit (instead of figure-hugging) can result in less bulges and a more seamless silhouette. After 2 kids my body has definitely evolved, and I’ve been forcing myself to realize that buying some of my favorite pieces again in 1 size up is worth it!

Shoe Choice

Skin toned shoes are always a good idea, but with darker pants I sometimes prefer a shoe in a similar color tone to visually continue the leg line. Pointy toe instead of rounded or square can be more elongating as well.

Add a Belt

When in doubt, I love adding a belt to accentuate the waistline and to also break up an outfit comprised of solid colored pieces. p.s. our Edited Pieces belt is restocking soon!

ann taylor petite blouse theory pull on pants
Ann Taylor blouse (similar – on sale), Theory pull-on pants 00 (current version; similar for less), Sarah Flint pumps 5.5, Edited Pieces belt xxs

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22 Comments

  1. Cil wrote:

    This is a great post! Before and After posts from you are THE BEST. Considering your “How to Look Older” post is almost a decade old, have you ever thought of doing an updated version that suits today’s fashion?

    Posted 9.27.22 Reply
    • Jean | Extra Petite wrote:

      Thank you, I’m definitely interested in working on one!

      Posted 9.27.22 Reply
  2. Mia wrote:

    Love this post! The way you break down why/how the outfit was improved is so helpful to me. I would love to see more before/after posts like this! Maybe one that includes flat shoes? Love the blog XOXO

    Posted 9.18.22 Reply
    • Jean | Extra Petite wrote:

      Thank you, Mia! I’ll keep that idea in mind!

      Posted 9.20.22 Reply
  3. Lysa wrote:

    Yay! Love those!.. the classics of your blog posts from many years ago that kept me coming back. Thank you so much for those little tweaks that have helped so much!

    Posted 9.15.22 Reply
    • Jean | Extra Petite wrote:

      So glad to hear you love this kind of post! And thank you for following along over the years xx

      Posted 9.16.22 Reply
  4. Rhonda wrote:

    This example is so helpful. I’m 4-10, 58 years old. I struggle to figure out how to style based on rise, how to make a blouse work, when to tuck or not. The Gap curvy fit 0P trousers that I wore for years no longer fit me. I thought of sizing up (they don’t make them anymore, alas) but then realized they are not comfortable. Pants labeled “mid-rise” work best for me, and I like ankle length, or whatever hits just above my booties. These J Crew Factory pants may be worth trying. And why do manufacturers limit the colors for petite sizing?

    Posted 9.15.22 Reply
    • Jean | Extra Petite wrote:

      Hi Rhonda, so glad you found this helpful! I love that you’ve found a rise and length that suits you. I’m with you – I wish brands would carry all of their color offerings in petite sizes.

      Posted 9.16.22 Reply
  5. Valeri wrote:

    Jean! Those are pull-on pants? Wow! I’m going to be in CA tonight and I’ll stop by J Crew and see if they have them in the store. They look so chic! Speaking of CA, I’m going to be there for a week and always stress about what to bring. I have several pieces from Uniqlo that I can mix and match all week (Ultra Stretch Active Ankle Pants – Theory). I’m certain I discovered them from one of your posts.

    Posted 9.15.22 Reply
    • Jean | Extra Petite wrote:

      Hi Val! I hope you have a wonderful visit in CA and am so glad some of my past recommendations are coming in handy on your trip!

      Posted 9.16.22 Reply
  6. Yin wrote:

    Love these comparisons!! I will also clear those before pants from my closet.

    I was wondering about the belt, without belt loops, how does it stay in place?

    Posted 9.15.22 Reply
    • Ana wrote:

      I was wondering the same thing! Would love to replicate this look, but doesn’t the belt move all over the place?

      Posted 9.16.22 Reply
    • Jean | Extra Petite wrote:

      It’ll slide a bit and require a little adjusting. Some people have suggested double sided fashion tape but I personally don’t mind the sliding enough to try that, Also, for pants you really love and wear often you can tack on a small loop using a little thread in the back.

      Posted 9.16.22 Reply
  7. Matilda wrote:

    Love these ideas for small tweaks to outfits. I have one question: how do you keep the belt from slipping around without belt loops on the waist of pants? I’d love to wear partially/totally elastic waisted pants, but they rarely have belt loops.

    Posted 9.15.22 Reply
    • Jean | Extra Petite wrote:

      Thank you Matilda! I just shared my thoughts regarding the belt on an above comment 🙂

      Posted 9.16.22 Reply
  8. April Barnes wrote:

    Love it, Jean!
    This is so helpful…..to use older pieces in your wardrobe that are classic and use them in new, updated ways. Love the drapey fabric, and it looks so elegant on you! I have some pants that I need to update, so definitely will be going with a more elongated look. Thanks so much for the inspiration!

    Posted 9.15.22 Reply
    • Jean | Extra Petite wrote:

      As always, thank you for your kind words and encouragement April!

      Posted 9.16.22 Reply
  9. Emily S. wrote:

    I’m so excited that these posts are back!! I found you years ago through your How To Look Older post, and I love your meticulously detailed posts like this that train my eye to see my body in clothes better. As I hit my late 30s, “looking older” is no longer a goal, but dressing my body in a flattering and sophisticated way continues to be. Thanks so much for sharing these tips.

    Posted 9.15.22 Reply
    • Jean | Extra Petite wrote:

      Oh my gosh, thank you for following along over all these years! I’m so glad my tips are still helpful for you xx

      Posted 9.16.22 Reply
  10. Robyn Maislin wrote:

    Sorry, I disagree. Drapey things make me look bigger and weird, at five foot nothing and 107 pounds. The tucked in the front, overflowing shirt thing, just no. Everyone’s different. I look better in appropriately fitted tops of shorter length. Belts do nothing but cut me half. I bought a pair of the Loft and Ann Taylor polyester pants that looked decent in your photos, and when I received them, I was horrified to see an elastic waist in the back. They looked like pants from the 70s. I never wore them and finally donated them. Since I am probably older than your mother, take this for what it is worth. While I agree that small tweaks to the look of a shirt or pants can give a more updated look, I buy new clothing based on what I know flatters my athletic short body type. You’ll never see me in a midi length skirt or dress. Ditto for flouncy sleeves and huge florals.

    Posted 9.15.22 Reply
  11. Natalie wrote:

    Long time fan and reader since 2011 from your two famous before/after posts (looking older/building confidence) as I’m also a petite Asian.

    Right along with you, I have gotten married and had two young children. Would love more of these great before/afters series

    Posted 9.15.22 Reply
    • Jean | Extra Petite wrote:

      Thank you Natalie! It means so much to hear you’ve been along for the ride with me over all these years xx

      Posted 9.16.22 Reply

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