Small, but perfectly formed …

If you are 5’3” or less, clothes shopping can be a bit of a chore. For day to day fashion, many of the big high street names now offer a petite range but, with the Debs season fast approaching, when it comes to formal evening wear, the choices can be limited. When shopping for your own red carpet number, my advice would be to think carefully how it will look if you need to shorten it. Loosing length off the skirt can often leave a petite wearer overpowered by design features that were conceived for a larger build. The key thing to consider is scale.

Let’s take this dress as an example: a confection of lilac tulle, embroidered with 10cm-long motifs spaced at roughly 30cm centres. In terms of scale, this is a big pattern repeat. You would need a large expanse of fabric to get the full impact of the design. The dress also has a rouched, dropped-waist, bodice with beading and a dramatic swagged apron.

Models tend to be taller than average so, for argument’s sake, let’s assume that she’s about 5’8” or taller. Let’s say our customer is around the 5′ mark or slightly less. If you stood her up against the dress on it’s hanger, she wouldn’t be much taller! We could simply shorten all those layers of tulle. But to do so would do neither the dress, nor the wearer, any favours.

In this case, you would be effectively shortening the skirt by half its length, losing most of the embroidered decoration, and leaving the petite wearer looking stunted by the visually-heavy apron feature that would have practically reached her knee-level.

Like this …

To illustrate my point, I traced over the figure and re-drew the dress, without the apron and taking out a bit of volume from the skirt.

The slimmer silhouette is a significant improvement, but the dropped waist is unflattering, giving her the appearance of an unnaturally long back and short legs.  So I re-drew the slimmer line dress again, this time with a shorter bodice that sits at the natural waistline.

Having done away with all the embellishment, my sketch needed a bit of bling, so I added some beading on the bodice and skirt and a small taffeta rosette at the waist.

 Et voila! It isn’t the same dress at all, but I hope you’ll agree that the proportions of the new dress, with its smaller scale decorations are far more flattering to my 4’6” client than the cut-down original.

So, if you are in the market for a petite Debs’ dress, consider that a standard size will likely need both the bodice and skirt altering, which may radically alter the look of the dress. Also, with that in mind, do take a careful look at any beading or decorations that flow over the waist area. Often, embellishments are simply added as a panel or motif and can be unpicked and re-stitched relatively easily. However, you may find that beaded embroidery has been applied directly to the dress fabric, which could complicate an alteration, making it too time-consuming to be economically viable.