by Joy O'Renick | Updated August 10, 2023 | News
The Problem with Petite Maternity Clothes
Dressing as a petite woman is hard.
Dressing as a pregnant person is hard.
Dressing as both can be PAINFUL.
If you're a petite woman, you already understand the challenges, but let's just go over them for the sake of catharsis. Despite the fact that petite women (defined as under 5'4") now represent more than 40% of the US female population, most fashion still seems to be made for leggy supermodels.
No hate to leggy supermodels, but we don't share closets for a reason.
In "standard sized" clothes, our pant legs drag on the ground, even the most professional tops are made revealing by too-long straps, and our sleeves fall to our knuckles.
Non-petite styles (maternity tank and nursing-friendly dress) on my 5'2" frame.
This reality doesn't change when we petite women become pregnant. If anything, maternity tops get even longer and most styles feel even more oversized, leaving us looking like little girls playing dress up with our moms' clothes.
The Good News About Petite Maternity Style
Wait - there is good news! First, maternity brands like MARION have begun actually making maternity clothes for petites - offering a high quality line of workwear, basics, and fashion for short mamas.
Second, the rules for dressing as a petite pregnant person aren't all that different from dressing as a petite non-pregnant person, with a few exceptions. Read on for the most important rules to looking great during your pregnancy, short mama:
Rules for Petite Maternity Fashion
(With some help from petite celebrities across the decades.)
1. Avoid boxy, oversized styles
As tempting as it can be to try to hide our growing bodies in cascades of loose fabric, this is the opposite of helpful. For tall women, oversized pieces can look attractively slouchy and chic. For short women, oversized styles tend to swallow and overwhelm our frames. We're much better off wearing fitted pieces that draw attention to the slimmest parts of our silhouettes (especially when we want to provide a counterbalance to our expanding middles). Natalie Portman could look gorgeous wearing a burlap sack, but the fitted black dress above flatters her frame and showcases her cute bump much better than the oversized piece.
I knew this principle long before I was pregnant, so naturally tried on dozens of fitted maternity dresses when expecting my first son. The problem was that my body was covered in new pregnancy bulges and rolls, and nearly every fitted maternity style I could find was made with paper-thin fabric. I don't have to tell you how unflattering the combination was. This leads me to a maternity-specific petite rule:
2. Choose Structured, Substantial Fabrics
There is nothing worse than feeling exposed as your body changes and expands. Quality, structured fabrics act like Photoshop's magic eraser tool on all those bulges. It's usually true that pieces made from quality materials are more expensive, but the difference is 100% worth it. For great examples of this, try MARION's Into the Blue Petite Maternity & Nursing Dress made with luxe Italian suiting fabric, or White Collar Petite Maternity Blouse made with TENCEL. Just remember to look for breathable fabric, or you'll be cooking more than a bun.
3. Wear Full-Length, Slim Leg Pants
We know, we know - it's always tempting to jump on-trend when pant legs go cropped or super wide. But the reality is that those styles are never going to be the best fit for petites. That's even more true when petites are pregnant. The cropped leg of a shorter pant creates a visual break halfway down our ankle, making it appear that our legs are several inches shorter than they are.
Short frames also struggle to elongate a flowy pant. Instead, the wider silhouette stretches us out horizontally until we risk looking square-shaped. Especially when pregnant, slimming the appearance of our legs balances out our bellies. Fitted maternity pants help make it clear that our thickening middle is from a baby, while the rest of our bodies still look like our bodies (well, mostly).
The most flattering petite maternity pants are always going to be slim cuts, which can include skinny, straight, or boot. MARION's petite-friendly Favorite Maternity Work Pants are a slim leg office trouser in luxe Italian suiting fabric and a pregnant petite favorite.
4. Wear Solid Colors, and Go Monochrome When You Can
It's a well-known fashion principle: wearing the same color from head to foot elongates and slims. This rule absolutely holds true for pregnancy. Wear various pieces of a similar hue, or keep it simple and wear a solid maternity dress with matching shoes.
5. Follow the Rule of Thirds
As a petite person, one of your biggest fashion goals is probably about looking as tall as possible - or at least not looking shorter than you really are. Following the rule of thirds is one of the best ways to maximize all the inches you have to work with - especially during pregnancy. This means splitting your body's lines into thirds. For example, wear maternity and nursing dresses that fall to about your knee so 2/3 of your body is covered by the dress, and 1/3 is showing. Choose 3/4 length shirt sleeves so 2/3 of your arms are covered, leaving only flattering forearms exposed. Select maternity blouses and tops that fall at or above the hip (these are hard to find for short mamas unless you're shopping in a petite maternity collection). Remembering the simple rule of thirds will bring a balanced, lengthened appearance to every maternity outfit you create.
6. Show off Your Best Assets
Many of us spend too much time listing the things we don't like about our bodies, and too little time appreciating the things we do like. Especially during maternity, it's important for pregnant petites to get clear about what your biggest physical assets are, and dress to highlight these. (...Obviously, if you said your flat tummy is your biggest asset, you're going to have to go with your second choice.)
Have great legs? Show 'em off! Michelle Obama arms? Bare 'em. Love your bust? Go for it.
Many pregnant women experience a kind of physical identity crisis as their bodies stretch, bulge, and reshape themselves to accommodate their growing babies. Find the parts of your body you like (and that are the least likely to radically change during pregnancy), and highlight them in your fashion choices. This can provide a reassuring anchor to your "old self." It can help you recognize and appreciate portions of your body that remain consistent, and make the parts that are changing a little less overwhelming.
Next time you're struggling with the question, "What on earth should a pregnant petite wear?" - start with these 6 simple rules and rest easy that the results will be absolutely stunning.
1. Skip boxy, oversized styles
2. Choose structured, substantial fabrics
3. Wear full-length pants
4. Wear solid colors, and go monochrome when you can
5. Follow the rule of thirds
6. Show off your best assets
What are your petite maternity style struggles? What are your style secrets? Let us know in the comments below.
About the Author:
Joy O’Renick is bio mama to two beautiful toddler boys, and adopted mama to an amazing 24-year-old son. She, her husband Miles, and their youngest sons live on a mini farm in Oregon where they grow food, play in the woods, and host board game nights. Joy is a longtime education leader who has worked in various communities from South Los Angeles to rural Oregon. Her experience as a working new mom (and her struggles to get dressed for work during pregnancy & nursing!) led her to found MARION.