The 6 Rules of Wearing Winter Coats When You're 5'4" and Under, According to Designers and Petite Women

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Your winter coat needs to do a lot of work, from signaling your style at a glance to keeping you dependably cozy. And it’s got to do all of this while fitting comfortably over an ongoing fashion show of sweaters, long sleeves and multiple layers, which can cause an issue for petite women, who don’t have much leeway between something being comfortably loose and unflatteringly bulky. Jordan Foster, style director at Favorite Daughter (a clothing line created by Erin and Sara Foster), uses her insights on the daily. “When you're a petite (as I am personally), it's so important to follow the rule of thirds,” she says. “Petites can get swallowed up quickly by a top that is too long or a dress or coat that is the wrong length; clothing can take over a petite person very easily if the fit is wrong and we never want the clothes to be wearing us.” We turned to Foster (who designed the wish list-worthy Simon Coat) as well as petite women on PureWow’s staff for their cold weather-tested rules to follow for choosing the best winter coats—and we have some recommendations of coats to shop for each. Stay warm, shorties!

Meet the Experts

Jordan Foster is the style director at Favorite Daughter, a line of denim and ready-to-wear clothing by Erin and Sara Foster.

• Tigist Ketema is founder of Tigist Petites, a designer workwear label for women under 5' 4"

woman wearing belted coat
Edward Berthelot / Getty

1. Nip in the Waist

“A nipped-in waist is an incredibly helpful tool in petite dressing,” says Foster (who is 5’4”). “If your waist is nipped, it allows for a dress to be more flowy on the bottom or blousy on the top or for your coat to be a longer length but not make it look like you're a child wearing your mom's coat.”

Shop similar styles: Michael Michael Kors Petite Asymmetric Belted Wrap Coat ($320; $128); Karl Lagerfeld Paris Belted Wool Coat ($325; $190); Sea Anita Eyelet Coat with Hood ($695)

winter coats for short women beige long streetstyle
Jeremy Moeller / Getty

2. Choose a Long Coat for Drama

“I am personally a fan of coats being longer than your dress/skirt no matter your size,” says Foster. “The average coat hits at the knee or mid-calf, and I find it always feels more casual and less of a fashion moment. The Simon Coat [from Favorite Daughter] is a duster coat, so it hits more at the ankle on most people and this style is incredibly hard to find in petite versions. For petites I never recommend a coat hitting in no man's land....i.e. between the top of a pant and the top of the knee.  Go for a style that is cropped, hits at the waistline or is knee length or longer. It's all about proportions for petites.”

Shop similar styles: Chartou Lapel Collar Double Breasted Overcoat ($69); Ted Baker Rosell Belted Coat ($575); Favorite Daughter Petite Simon Coat ($595); Khaite Filip Cashmere Coat ($3,500)

mid thigh length coat on a woman's shoulders
Jeremy Moeller / Getty

3. Mid-Thigh Length Is a Universal Win

Though Foster loves the look of a longer coat on her shorter frame, not all petite women agree. “My personal rule is that a long coat can't go longer than mid-calf on me, or it looks like I'm playing dress up in my dad's outerwear,” says PureWow editor-in-chief Jillian Quint. Designer Tigist Ketema, founder of Tigist Petites, has a slightly different tip. “When shopping for petite dresses or skirts, the age-old wisdom that you shouldn't go for anything that hits mid-calf still holds true,” she says. “Instead, invest in pieces that fall around the knee, go down to the floor or stop at mid-thigh to elongate your petite frame.”

Shop similar styles:  Sam Edelman Reefer Notch Collar Wool Blend Coat ($220; $100); J. Crew New Daphne Boiled Wool Topcoat ($278); Acne Studios Oschelle Wool-Blend Coat ($1,100)

winter coats for short women open duster
Jeremy Moeller / Getty

4. Coordinate What You’re Wearing Underneath

At 5’1”, senior food editor Katherine Gillen doesn’t shy away from volume, but takes styling seriously. “I thing looooong can work as long as the proportions are correct elsewhere, so it looks like you are wearing an oversize coat on purpose, not because it just doesn't fit you,” she says. “Personally I love a giant coat—it makes me feel powerful.” As for where her hem hits, Gillen says “This may just be personal preference, but I feel like it depends on the length of the coat. For example I always feel weird wearing a mid-length coat fully buttoned up with no glimpse of skirt/dress at the hem because I fear people will think I’m the town streaker.

Shop similar styles: ASOS Design Petite Smart Herringbone Belted Coat ($128); River Island Chuck On Coat ($160); Fleurette Long Notch Collar Wrap Coat ($1,350; $500)

winter coats for short women leopard coat
Gisela Schober / Getty

5. Shoulders and Arms Must Hit Correctly

Wearing a coat with the right fit is ”definitely not just a matter of length—shoulders and arm length are a huge issue,” advises Nicole Briese, director of commerce at PureWow. “You want the seam of the coat to fall on your actual shoulder, not behind it or in front of it). If it doesn't, it's too big, and you may need to take it in. You also don't want the sleeves to go too far beyond your hands/be proportionate to your arms.”

Shop similar styles: H&M Teddy Coat ($119); Ugg Gertrude Long Teddy Coat ($248); Proenza Schouler White Label Faux Fur Belted Coat ($950)

winter coats for short women belted grey
Christian Vierig / Getty

6. Alterations Are Everything

“As a fellow 5’0” woman, I think you should be wearing what you want and not being afraid to making adjustments,” says assistant editor Chelsea Candelario. “I’m team dry cleaners. They have always helped in fixing clothes if I need it (i.e. dress, pants).” Senior director of special projects and royals Rachel Bowie agrees: “I actually just had a long coat adjusted at the tailor and one of the best tricks was adjusting where the belt loops hit. It made the whole coat fit like a dream! And they only went up by an inch.” For example, in the shot above, 5’2” actress and artist Heart Evangelist rocks a long grey coat, but isn’t overwhelmed by it due to the perfect fit of every angle—from the shoulder to the sleeves to the waist—making it look perfect.

Shop similar styles: Curlbuity Double-Breasted Swing Coat ($84);  Sam Edelman Herringbone Wool Coat ($240; $150); Banana Republic Carys Double Face Wool ($280)

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dana dickey

Senior Editor

Dana Dickey is a PureWow Senior Editor, and during more than a decade in digital media, she has scoped out and tested top products and services across the lifestyle space...