Plus Size Maxi Dresses for the Short Girl

We all know who can wear maxi dresses easily: the tall, the broad shouldered and minimally breasted, the pears, the hourglass…basically the same usual suspects who have an easier time of plus size dressing to begin with.

So let’s talk about the people for whom this is a more challenging silhouette. Short girls, I’m looking at you.

I don’t adore maxi dresses on short women. It’s just a tough look to pull off because when you’ve got a lot of a fabric but not a lot of height, the line between chic and circus tent is painfully thin.

That doesn’t mean you can’t wear them at all, it’s just that if you’re the featured centerfold in Squat n’ Busty Quarterly, finding the right maxi dress might present some difficulties. Don’t fret too much though. As I tell all my short and apple-shaped readers: you get miniskirts and tall boyfriends, let the tall girls have this one.

Also, if “flattering” is your stylistic be-all and end-all, you might as well get off the bus right now.

A hostess gown is never going to be your go-to when you want something that the makes desert bloom and the angels sing by virtue of your mere presence. Stick to your structured A-line frocks and all shall be well. Boring, but well.

Oh, a slight derailment:

Every time I dedicate a post to a particular body type, I get hordes of dissenters hellbent on disagreeing with me based on their personal experience and then I have to pretend I care.

Don’t make me pretend to care.

I’m not good at it and it makes the vein in my forehead do weird things. So let’s just all save ourselves some trouble. If I say XYZ might be best left to another body shape but you are convinced XYZ looks better on you than anything has ever looked on anyone there are a few options which I have listed here in order of probability. Pick one and run with it.

Option One:
You are an exception to the rule that was really only a suggestion in the first place. There are few hard and fast rules anyway, and even those have their exceptions. There’s no reason you shouldn’t be one of them.

Option Two: You do not look as good as you think you do. Before you get on your huffy bike, remember we’ve all been there. Unless you were born fully-formed and immaculately-clothed at age 37 out of Yves Saint Laurent’s forehead, you’ve doubtlessly got some badly-dressed skeleton in your closet that, at one time, was just the best thing ever. Do I need to bring up my gold lamé toreador outfit complete with black stretch satin capris and bugle bead trim? Personal style evolves.

Option Three: I am wrong. It’s happened. Not often, but it’s happened. Witness again the bugle beads.

With that out of the way, let’s venture bravely forward. Mind the low branches.

The lilliputian among us must approach ankle-length dresses with appropriate fear and trembling.

Done correctly you’ll look comfortable and glamorous. Done incorrectly you’ll look like a garden gnome who’s just joined a cult.

This garden gnome obeys the laws of proportion for a maxi dress. Long skirt = deep neckline.


What makes the maxi silhouette difficult for a shetland person is the proportion.

First there’s the old “Chest or Legs” chestnut: the successful outfit highlights one or the other, never both at once.

If you go long on the cleavage and short on the skirt, you run the risk of looking like your life’s work can be summed up in the phrase “ping pong trick”. Interesting on a business card, but sartorially-speaking not the ideal result.

Taking the chest or legs thing a bit further, another rule of proportion is to balance out a dramatically long skirt with an appropriately dramatic neckline.

Academically speaking this doesn’t necessarily mean the airing of the cleave –witness Hilary Swank’s business-in-the-front-party-in-the-back Guy Laroche gown from the 2005 Oscars– but as for what’s available on the retail market, you’re mostly going to get variations on the plunging V theme.

This, as you know, can be problematic for the exuberantly bosomed.

For the sake of propriety, not to mention office dress codes, a sternum-showing neckline is not the best choice to keep both Thelma AND Louise under wraps for long, but we’ll get to the seriously busty girls later this week.

If you’re a short girl dead set on wearing a maxi dress, avoid fussy patterns. You probably know this anyway, but for some reason otherwise sensible women are out and about wearing floor-sweeping dresses in patterns and colors I haven’t seen since Steven Hill bet me a week of milk money that I wouldn’t lick his pet toad.

Something like this colorblocked number from Avenue might serve you well.

The blocked stripes elongate the silhouette and give the illusion of a deeper V than the neckline actually allows. Plus, even though it’s still full length, it isn’t cut so voluminously as to overwhelm the wearer with random floating fripperies. Accessories here are minimal but significant: earrings, neat hair (long flowing dresses or long flowing hair, not both) and either a substantial bracelet if your arms are long enough not to enstumpen you or –my preference– a cocktail ring large enough to draw other, lesser cocktail rings into its orbit by gravitational pull.

If you’re dead set on an all-over pattern, try to go for something like this, also from Avenue.

The vertical stripes, though a bit of a cliche in short person dressing, still do what they’re supposed to do in creating a longer line while the criss-cross at the bust suggests the presence of a waist where once there was none. The dress is reportedly 56″ long so you could conceivably hem off the entire bottom pattern.

If you’re looking for something dressier and don’t mind baring arms, you could trot out the Eva from Igigi. The mono-shoulder seems to be an enduring trend so if you weren’t old enough to wear it in the days of disco, now’s your time. Also, it’s not camo but a rather lovely slightly orientalist floral.

From my experience with Igigi, admittedly several years ago, they are VERY generous on the vanity sizing so order smaller than you’d think. Also, be prepared to hem.

Okay gang, that’s my thousand words on plus size maxi dresses for short girls. Stay with me the rest of the week and if you’ve got thoughts or questions NOT covered by my derailment at the top of the post, stick ‘em in the comments.

20 Responses to “Plus Size Maxi Dresses for the Short Girl”

  1. Leah July 17, 2012 at 10:28 am #

    That Igigi dress has an awesome pattern! From the thumbnail it almost looks camo, but up close it’s this gorgeous stormy line art. Very nice pick, Miss P.

  2. hilbot July 17, 2012 at 10:39 am #

    Plummy- love this site, but that whole bit about short women and miniskirt/tall boyfriends, it’s tired. First, it’s tired because you must say it every other day. But it’s also tired because with your posts- it seems like every post about fashion says, only I and women built exactly like me can really pull this off, and that’s getting boring. Fat women have been told for so long that we can’t wear ANYTHING fashionable, stick to black blah blah flatter blah. It’s not really helpful to check out a fat fashion website and be told, well, you shouldn’t wear this, not because you’re fat! It’s because you’re short! The bit at the end, where you give advice as to what to look for is helpful, but kind of takes the fun out it by first saying we shouldn’t. I also think you may actually hate short people if you’re trying to get them to wear a one-shouldered camo maxi dress. That thing, it’s just. not. no.

  3. Kate K July 17, 2012 at 12:12 pm #

    You are just about my favorite person in the entire world, Plumcake. Dear god. So many quotable lines and I was just given the evil eye by a coworker for my very very loud guffaw over your “huffy bike” comment.

  4. Constance July 17, 2012 at 12:23 pm #

    Do tell me why so many maxi dresses are adorned with a ruffle or border print at the bottom? The ruffle, flounce, whatever, makes the dress look like a nightgown. Both make the dress difficult to hem.

  5. Missie Sue July 17, 2012 at 12:33 pm #

    Honest, funny, doable advice. Thanks again.

  6. Liz July 17, 2012 at 1:02 pm #

    Yeah, I think I’ll stay away from them. I’m under five feet tall, and maxi dresses for very short women require a certain attitude, aside from everything else. I’m told I’m “adorable”, “baby faced”, and “sweet”, so I don’t have that attitude.

  7. Miss Plumcake July 17, 2012 at 2:42 pm #

    @Hilbot: I’ve said the miniskirt thing three times in the history of the site excluding today, most recently on March 7 of 2011, January 13, 2011 and January 7, 2009. If that’s how long two days are where you live, I’m delighted to have intergalactic readers! Also if a slightly orientalist –in style of Paul Poiret or similar– floral pattern is what your standing army use for camouflage, your planet must be fabulous and I want to move there immediately.

    Secondly, I didn’t invent math. Just as we often forget that successful baking is chemistry more than anything else, successful dressing is geometry.

    It’s a matter of proportion and because there is more room to play with proportion and get it right on a tall person than a short, the taller person has an easier time of it. Why? The visual distance between design elements on someone who is 5’11 is greater than on someone who is 4’11 so your design can be less-than-perfect mathematically and still look pretty darn good because the acceptable margin of error is so big. When you’ve got less visual space, your
    elements have to be perfect since an inch this way or that means a lot more on a smaller canvas than it does on a big one.

    Don’t believe me? Try writing your initials in the best penmanship you can muster on a piece of paper 8 inches wide by 2 inches tall. Easy, right? Now try it on a grain of rice, 8 millimeters wide and 2 millimeters tall.

    It’s not personal, it’s just math.

  8. Miss Plumcake July 17, 2012 at 2:44 pm #

    @Constance: Lord, if I knew, I’d tell you. I hate it too and it defeats the purpose of having elegant lines. My best guess –other than sadistic designers– is they want to embrace the boho prairie skirt/sundress trend AND the maxi trend at once and the result is…that.

  9. Miss Plumcake July 17, 2012 at 2:49 pm #

    @Liz: and I’ve always envied that about short women. It might not be clinically impossible to be adorable, baby faced and sweet when you’re 5’10″ with a chic Parisian crop and withering stare, but I’ve never managed it. Plus you tiny adorable types can get away with murder and look like Shirley Temple doing it. I spend my life in good works and STILL look like a Disney villainess. Totally unfair!

  10. Ellen W. July 17, 2012 at 4:19 pm #

    @Constance- so it looks like you made them from the curtains?

  11. Jezebella July 17, 2012 at 4:32 pm #

    Actually, I am grateful for permission to give up entirely on the idea of finding a maxi-dress for my short round self. I keep thinking it looks fabulous on others, and shopping, and being miserable about it. Thanks for the backup!

  12. qbertina July 17, 2012 at 5:05 pm #

    I am still convinced most of this maxi issue hangs upon latitude of waist/length of leg vs length of torso, regardless of absolute body height.

    Or, okay, not regardless. It’s definitely way easier with greater absolute body height.

    But my point is, there is a reason so many maxi dresses try to convey the impression of a very high waist and thus a proportionally long leg. The more you can work with your maxi dress on that, the better off you’re both going to be.

    (I’m also completely down with saying f- it and wearing one anyway, just because it’s really freaking fun to wear a maxi, so whatever.)

  13. Melissa July 17, 2012 at 8:00 pm #

    That Igigi thing just screams Georgia Tent and Awning.

  14. Josie July 18, 2012 at 4:17 am #

    There are so many different fat girl blogs. This is my favourite, because I love Plummy’s voice, and I kinda love the hints on dressing like a nice southern gal who manages to go to church on sunday after being kept up all night by some athletic Latino guy. I love the whole big girl, big dog, big hermes, classic cut clothes, expensive jewels, gamine hairstyle thing. It’s not my look, but I love it. However, if I want a more feminist bent, there’s Natalie (can’t remember the name of the blog!), if I want more edgy, trend led clothes, there are Jay Miranda and Gabi Fresh. Stephanie Zwicky does an affordable french glam, and Amelia Pontes does pretty with an writerly angst-ridden edge.

    Just saying, ‘cos I feel like there are always people berating the blog for not being something that it clearly has never pretended to be.

  15. abdabs July 18, 2012 at 7:51 am #

    Plummy, you suggest maxi-dresses are well-suited to the taller, broad-shouldered, flat-chested, hourglass type. Um, so that’s me.

    I’ve generally avoided maxi’s, not least because I consider my waist one of my better assets, and I would have thought a maxi completely disguises it. And I’m so not a girly-girl.

    On second thoughts, a maxi might be my best solution – so few dresses work with my barrel ribcage, and the dress waist is generally two inches above my natural waist.

    Would you be so kind as to suggest some maxi’s that do work for those of us built like a brick shithouse, I mean, Olympic swimmer?

  16. barbara July 19, 2012 at 12:03 am #

    Thanks so much; that’s actually really helpful. I’m not exactly short (I’m about 5’7) but I’m a busty pear/ hourglass with proportionally somewhat short legs. I’ve had a heck of a time finding a flattering maxi, and I think I finally understand why! I’ll have a better idea what to look for in a maxi now!

  17. Kate July 19, 2012 at 10:36 am #

    Short plump person in a maxi, my personal rules, one: Wear heels. Yes, I know, Miss P., you say no — but here’s the thing, full-length evening gowns are worn with heels, so it’s not an absolute of proportion. The difference between me in a maxi with heels and me in a maxi in flats is the difference between a stylish person and a dumpy person who looks like she strayed from one of the nearby Mennonite farms. I keep the heels casual and chunky.

    No prints save for the tiny and repeating, or the stripe, in certain deployments. (The typical effusive Tropical Maxi Flower is not for me.) None of those shirred elastic gather things. No gathers period: shaped shoulders and upper torso, softly FLARED skirt. None of those cheap ones that are really just a tube tied up at the top; I don’t have enough length to let that flow properly. Gathers add too much bulk, and prints make me look like I’m wrapped in a sheet.

    I find done right, a maxi that’s a smooth flow from shoulder to a flared hem, with heels, is actually very flattering (and compliments suggest it’s not just me and my mirror who think so). I admit, I’m but an inbetweenie, but I’m barely 5’3″ with very wide shoulders, so my potential for “stump” is high.

  18. Lisa from SoCal July 19, 2012 at 9:50 pm #

    Let me share some of my foibles in dress so that Plummy is not alone in her toreador outfit AND to illustrate why there might be an option #4 or corollary to #3. My personal hideoddious articles of clothing that I thought looked great but actually looked like poop:

    1) drop waisted skirts. What was I thinking? I am a tall hourglass with big bust and lots of junk in the trunk. So of course what I need is to move my wait to my buttock area. OMG. The 1980s. The skirts looked so cute on everybody else, especially those girls on Square Pegs. I managed only to look like a square.

    2) box pleats. I feel a wave of nausea even mentioning it. Let’s pretend it didn’t happen. But it did. And it *haunts*.

    3) Smocked tops. Smocked tops are the drop waist problem, only in reverse. A smarter person than me would have figured this out far sooner than I did.

    So the corollary to Plummy’s you might not look as good as you think comes from the Smocked Top experience. I had a smocked top that I routinely got compliments on. I caught sight of my silhouette and nearly shrieked. I looked like perfect cube. I mulled and finally figured it out why the compliments: the shirt was in a deep magenta color that very few people wear at all, let alone wear as well as I do. People were responding to the color–it was great, and I looked pretty good—AND YET the shape was…um…ill-advise shall we say?

    All by way of saying it’s entirely possible that one is wrong when one thinks one is an exception to good guidelines, but one may be missing that fact because one is hitting it out of the park in another way with the outfit in question–the accessories, the color, etc.

    Part of the confusion I think of tall v. short concerns just what short means. Does it mean 5’4”? Which is the average US woman, I believe. I have neighbor who is teacup sized and wears max dresses quite well, but she’s careful in two ways:

    –If there is a bold print, the print appears only once, like a splash of a flower;
    –She’s super careful about the fabric she chooses. I’ve never seen her in anything but linen or very light cotton, so that the gathers aren’t bulking or anything like that; and

    –like Kate, she wears a heel–she is fond of wedges, and she picks pretty light ones with cork heels.

  19. Thea July 23, 2012 at 12:38 pm #

    What would be useful is to translate how a short woman can ‘get the look’ In my case (5’4″ rocking hourglass with DDs) I can do long if I go with a straight skirt or sarong style for a tad more tummy give, a v-neck t-shirt or simple blouse and slightly wide belt.

    When in doubt, I check in with how Asian women dress, both in business and historically (skipping Hello Kitty and Victorian Goth). You see that it’s all proportion, fitted not gathered, flare not ruffle. These looks outline the figure without overwhelming it

    Case in point to display the lines I’m talking about – Singapore airline uniform. Simple elegant lines that have sleeves, show the waistline and the girls without putting them on display. http://www.flickr.com/photos/25695087@N05/2703359608/

    And ‘squat’ is perjorative not descriptive

  20. Tovah July 23, 2012 at 7:41 pm #

    Finally! The truth about us shorties wearing Maxi dresses. It usually doesn’t work…sorry.

    “Done correctly you’ll look comfortable and glamorous. Done incorrectly you’ll look like a garden gnome who’s just joined a cult.” LOL.

    We do have styles that the shorter can pull off better than our taller counterparts, but that’s just fashion.

    No matter what size I get to, my body will never fit into anything by Prada.

    Anyway, gotta add this one to my “haute links”. I hope it’s ok with you. I’ve been dying to find something on short women working the maxi dress.

    Thank you!