Reader Request: Dressing Professionally for the Petite Busty Frame

Kay popped this question into the suggestion box:

How would you professionally dress a busty (we are talking more than DD here) short (5 foot!), curvy woman with hourglass shape? (As in thigh proportionate to the bust.) And no, wearing heels is not an option.

I since I’m neither petite nor busty myself, I asked stylist and blogger extraordinaire Imogen Lamport of Inside Out Style to help me out. And boy, did she deliver! Kay didn’t give us tons of detail, so these recommendations assume that goals include ensembles that will work in a relatively conservative work environment, figure balance, and downplaying the bust at least somewhat. Read on for Imogen’s ideas.

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24 Top Tips to Looking Professional When You’re Petite and Busty

There are a few tricks that all large busted women (of all heights) can do to downplay their busts, assuming that’s a priority.

Jewellery Tips for Busty Petites

Divert attention from your bust

1. Wear larger scale necklaces and pendants, but made from multiple smaller pieces so they don’t overwhelm your smaller scale.
2. Wear lower necklines to your balance point.
3. Avoid any gathering around or frills on your neckline as these will make your bust look larger.
4. Wear a jacket or cardigan; it will help to downplay your bust.
5. Don’t wear tops with sheen or shine as they draw attention and make the area they cover look bigger.
6. Avoid stiff fabrics as they stand out from your body and add bulk.
7. Avoid textured tops such as bulky knits, mohair, velvet and anything puffa!
8. Button-up shirts need to fit correctly across the bust, either buy from a specialist manufacturer or go up a size so that there is not pulling or gaping at the bust and have the rest of the shirt taken in to fit you.

What to Avoid busty petites

Petite particulars

1. Keep your fabrics soft and drapey so they fall close to your body, skimming it without clinging to it.
2. Keep your lines simple and clean. You are a small palette, clean not cluttered is your mantra.
3. Avoid too much fabric, gathers, waterfalls, pleats as they will overwhelm your petite frame.
4. Only one focal point at a time. Ideally up high to draw the eye up to your face.
5. Wear a column of colour, this works particularly well if the colour is darker and wear a lighter jacket or cardigan, left open to create lengthening vertical lines.
6. Blend shoe colour to pants or skin (if wearing a skirt or dress) as they won’t draw attention and will make you legs appear to start at your feet, rather than your ankles.
7. Low vamp shoes are your friend when wearing skirts or dresses as they elongate your legs.
8. Keep skirts and dresses to knee-length or your legs will look super short.

Looking professional

What to wear - petite and busty

1. Keep lines clean – no frills or flounces as they may make you look young and childlike, not professional or mature.
2. Structured garments will make you look more professional and strong.
3. Look for fabrics that are high quality as this indicates that you, too, do high quality work
4. Darker colours and will give you a business-like edge
5. Wear a top or jacket in your eye colour as this draws attention up to your face. When people are focusing on your face they are less likely to notice your height.
6. Heels are an option for some, but not essential, just ensure trousers are hemmed as long as possible without dragging on the floor
7. Ensure your sleeve hems don’t cover your hands, they should end just past the wrist. Sleeves that are too long will make the whole garment look too large for you, like you’ve borrowed your big sister’s clothes and you’re playing dress-ups.
8. Get your clothes altered to fit your unique body shape. Mass market clothing manufacturing isn’t catering to your body shape, so you need to have it moulded to your body.

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Thanks to Imogen for a great group of ideas! Any other busty petites out there? Will these tips work for you? Other ideas to share with Kay?

  • Sonja

    I would like to add some things:
    In the “Divert attention from your bust”-part is says “avoid stiff fabrics” – I would like to add that, both in order to minimize the bust and to look professionell, you shouldn’t rely on too soft fabrics either, wear something with a bit of structure, as Imogen recommends further down. During the last years I’ve replaced many of the knits in my wardrobe by woven pieces. They instantly look more professional and don’t show every bump and lump, which I apreciate.
    Kay does not want to wear heels, so as a relatively petite person I would like to add: I’ve noticed that rounded flats seem to “stumpify” my legs, so I always choose something a bit pointier.
    When it comes to décolletage: I’m not as busty as the asker, but I’d like to confirm that open necklines (as counterintuitive as it might seem) usually draw the attention away from the bust (as long as they are not “scandalously” low) because they open up and draw the attention to the face. In my case I have noticed that a big open neckline with a camisole underneath has the same effect and might be perceived as more professional.

    • Cecy

      I completely agree with Sonja! The comments above were somewhat clashing in terms of the fabric being ‘structured’ or ‘soft’. I personally have always found that soft materials can cling at the chest and fall from there, and so not accenting the waist. This is what my friend calls a ‘boob curtain’. It gives the image of your bust and waist being part of the same mass rather than pulling in to accentuate the waist.

      I am 5 foot tall, and fluctuate between a size 8 and 10 ( depending on the half stone I seem to yo-yo up and down with) and curvy (32DD) but my frame is small being half chinese. It’s very difficult for me to find clothes and often get frustrated at the lack of attractive ‘petite’ clothing out there for my frame.

      Sonja, if you have any other advice on dressing for my frame or know of any sites which sell good quality attractive petite ranges, any tips would be much appreciated!

      Cecy

  • Anna

    Though not especially petite (5′ 4″), I am definitely busty, so these pointers are most welcome. I usually wear jackets or cardigans, as Imogen suggests, and have varied them recently with a modified waterfall in a soft knit. Extravagant waterfalls like the one illustrated will eventually go out of style, but I am sure this one will last a little past that time. The “fall” is relatively narrow and straight, not a series of angles, and does not extend past the hemline of the jacket itself. I find that it drapes nicely over my bust without adding bulk, and it is a refreshing change from classic styles with collars and buttons.

  • Hope

    I am five three and a half and my bra size is 32E. I can endorse all these tips!
    The professional uniform that works best for me consists of heels, trousers or trouser jeans (I have a casual work environment), a tee or button-down and a knit blazer. I LOVE knit blazers; they are a godsend for us busty gals. Unfortunately, they seem to be most widely available at lower price points at places like Kohl’s. Not the end of the world, but I’d love to see more high-end options.
    For tee shirts I like the Three Dots brand; they have a line cut a little more generously for large-busted gals. For button-downs, I agree re: the tailoring but I find I can get away with button-downs with stretch in the fabric if they are made by J. Crew.
    Great post!

    • Michelle

      That’s good to know about Kohl’s! I’ve been meaning to check them out. Do you ever shop at Nordstrom? They usually have a selection of knit blazers for women in a fairly wide price range. I only recently started ordering things from there and the free shipping (no minimum) and free returns policy is awesome.

  • Leigh

    So. Bookmarking. This. I’m 5’2″ and thanks to a breastfeeding baby, currently rocking a 32G. Also looking to start working full time again, so will (hopefully) be having to dress for interviews soon. Thanks so much!

    Does anybody else have suggestions on where to get clothes that work with big boobs and small rib cages? Will definitely be checking out Three Dots, thanks to above commenter.

    • Halo

      I’m 6″ taller than you, but I also struggle with the big bust/small ribcage problem (38G). I’ve had a lot of luck with dresses, which I find are more easily tailored to my figure than blouses. Blouses are the worst! If they go over the bust, they’re huge everywhere else and it’s impossible to change the sleeves or neck much. My go-to for more dressy interview clothing is a sheath dress (sleeveless is far easier to tailor) with a matching or coordinating jacket. You can also have a lightweight cardigan on hand to wear over the dress if it’s too warm for a jacket. Nordstrom did tailoring on mine free when I purchased the outfit, but I’ve had good luck with alterations by a seamstress, too.

    • Michelle

      I’m also 5’2″, rocking the 32G’s.

      I’ve had success with Pepperberry (out of the UK – http://www.bravissimo.com/pepperberry/) shirts & dresses

    • Sonja

      Well, their style probably isn’t everybody’s taste, but
      http://www.pinupgirlclothing.com/
      has many pieces for big busts and small waistes. Although I’m not totally sure if the small waist-scenario that I’m familiar with would be the same as the small ribcage you are talking about

      • devon

        Pinup Girl Clothing is great for curvy figures, but they don’t have a petite range, so their dresses will always be too long in the torso for short women. I’m 5’2″, and I can only wear a couple of their dress styles – the others I find my self tugging down on all day because the entire top half rides up, trying to settle at my natural waist. Their separates and blouses are pretty great, though.

    • http://crossingthedelebear.blogspot.com Katie

      There are a couple of specialty companies- Carissa Rose has business type tailored pieces (really want the Lola pencil dress), Campbell & Kate have great button-fronts, Biubiu and Urkye have a lot of tailored knits and some wovens, and I love DDatelier’s tops and dresses (waiting on my first skirt from them). I’ve personally tried DD and C&K and found fantastic quality there, worn shirts from both for professional events and felt perfectly comfortable.

  • Donna

    Being 5’4″ 36DD I’m more short-waisted than overall petite, but do wear petites on top. I find that I look best when I de-emphasize, not emphasize, my waist. For example, shift-type dresses work better than fit-and-flare. Very helpful info regarding larger necklaces made from smaller pieces. I never thought of trying that style since I still considered it too big for me, but will give it a try!

  • http://line4line.blogspot.com K-Line

    I think one of the key elements of dressing a small, large-breasted frame is getting the right size bra. It needs to fit perfectly in order to lift, support and provide an attractive silhouette under all kinds of clothing. If you’re narrow but busty, and you’re wearing a bra in a cup size that’s too small and a band size that’s too large, you won’t get adequate support and everything is bound to look sub par.

    Some clothing brands, like Biu Biu (Polish) and Bravissimo (UK) cater to larger-busts but I don’t tend to like those brands because they’re a bit generic and the quality of materials tends to be mediocre (pieces depending, of course).

  • Ann

    re #5. Seriously? I cannot think how wearing a top in a color that match my eyes is going to draw attention to my face, somehow disguising the fact that I am 4’11″

  • Sulenka

    Thank you so much for this post! I was beginning to feel like my body type was such a minority that no blogger would ever deal with it. I am 5’3″, and 38D, with all things below relatively slim. But I’m also 48 years old, so the kind of flattering of these… assets… that might have worked a few years ago are not going to work for me now, frankly. The fashions and tips that you have advised are adaptable to my age and need for professional dress. I can work with these ideas to look pulled-together and professional without settling for dowdy.

    • Alli

      LOL – upon reading your comment, the old song popped into my head, “5 foot 2, eyes of blue…. Has anybody seen my gal?” and thought that you could sing your own song with “5 foot three, 38-D” ! :-)

      Great article, and since I’m just a hair under 5’1″ and not busty but hippy, would love to read tips on how I should dress to minimize my hips. I’m normal weight and about one size smaller on top, which isn’t a great difference, but still could use some pointers.

  • Kate

    Sleeve length is critical. Three quarter length sleeves are so flattering – I shorten all blazer/jacket/shirt sleeves as it makes a BIG difference if you are short and this look is in fashion as long sleeves look too formal.

  • RGRC

    Sulenka

    If you’re relatively slim other than your bust you are likely not a 38 anything. Don’t add 4 or 5 inches to your underbust measurement! A good discussion is here: http://bustyresources.wikia.com/wiki/How-to_determine_bra_size# or try bratabase.com

    I always thought I was 38 but I’m 32–makes a big difference in how clothes fit and how I look. I learned that and many other techniques from Imogen.

  • Anna

    Hey, I’ve been waiting for this post my entier life, or at least since I was thirteen.
    I’m 4″11, I wear a 34DDD when not breasfeeding (which I am now), I’m short waisted and dress conservitely due to my religous beliefs. I always feel nothing I wear will make me look good. I usually wear a deep v-neck over a skin tight t-shirt to give the affect of a declotage and that works. I’m going to have to try that necklace thing out. Thanks for the tip about the eye color also. I wish they’d have petite sizes in my country, as I can never find structored dresses and blouses that fit me properly.

  • leigh

    I’m just under 5’3 32D hour glass petite frame. I find my bust area is too big for most clothes that would otherwise fit. The easiest smart lookk is a dress with a petite jacket. The problem areas always seem to be the waist and shoulders and (and cuffs). Belted things help. I live in the uk, sizes tend to be smaller than elsewhere, but I find dresses from urban outfitters fit well- they tend to be generalised sizing and cut short. Also topshop do a petiite range, and a lot of the normal range fits well too- the problem being they like most fashion stores do not cater from women with typical ‘womanly’ shape (bust and bum), so the styles suit flat chested tall girls best- or those pear shaped. But still it is the best store for uptodate clothes that fit petites. The coats are very good, so are the jeans. Or you could try vintage clothes because they tend to favour smaller frames and bigger chests (think the 50s as fashions fade and change)

  • Erica

    I’m going into my senior year of high school and its difficult finding cute dresses because I’m 5’1 and I am in a 32JJ. I finally have a fitting bra but it won’t be long before I need a little bigger size. I am taking these tips to heart, but it’s still hard finding dresses. I can’t wear any unless they have huge straps or sleeves. I can’t shop in juniors or in women much. Junior dresses hardly ever fit my bust and women dresses are usually too conservative and long. Any extra advice on what to do? Sites to visit? Please reply.

    • http://www.alreadypretty.com Sally

      Erica, take a look at Biubiu: http://biubiu.pl/lang/en The company is Polish, but seems to be the go-to for women with large busts and smaller waists.

      I’d also recommend the blog Thin and Curvy for further resources: http://www.thinandcurvy.com/

      Hope that helps!

  • Blanca

    This is quite usefull for a profesional look, but how about something more casual? I have no trouble dressing up ’cause I love to wear heels and of course that helps, but when I want a casual look I feel that clothes and flat shoes make me look like an early developed teen (and I’m almost 24). Any ideas?
    Oh! And before I forget, I’m kinda curious about whats the best dress for a petite busty lady. I mean silhouette/neckline/waistline combination.

  • Thelma

    Im 5″0, a 30G and I’m only 16 and this helped me so much as to what to wear next year for school! Its so hard trying to dress my age without adding on any weight or drawing attention to my chest, definitely referencing this when i next go shopping!