1/6 What Fashion Tells You - an Interview with Christian Dior: for the Short Lady

For the past week I've been moving and flailing and unpacking, hence the lack of posts.  Hopefully my sewing room and closet will be organized soon, and then I'll be back up and running!  Until then, though, I'm sharing one of my favorite vintage articles I've run across, from the January 1953 issue of "Women's Home Companion."  It's a bit lengthy, so I've broken it up into the different body types Dior addresses: short, tall, plump, as well as other posts for aging, seasonal clothing, and general tips.  Today is the section for short ladies!

Disclaimer: I know that old articles dictating fashion "shoulds" and "should nots" are often deemed as bossy or body-shaming from our modern viewpoint.  However, fashion was treated as much more of a science or art rather than the free personal expression it is now.  (This concept is explored beautifully in episode 9 of the Thread Cult podcast.)  Try to be open when you hear Dior's fashion thoughts.  There ARE reasons why this guy designs are considered timelessly classic and why so many of us love him!  I have also found many of his concepts about aging, accepting and dressing the body you have now, and accentuating your best features to be really fantastic.

What Fashion Tells You: an Interview with Christian Dior

"I believe that you--that every woman--can give the effect of beauty when you wish, and that you can find your most attractive self by using the freshness that good fashion offers by using its tricks of concealing and of display.  And this may be done with a few new clothes each season, chosen with understanding of both yourself and fashion."
- Christian Dior

Every woman must discover herself. She must find out what suits her, what style of clothes makes her feel happy and unself-conscious.

I have a great deal to say about fashion and I will go into a good many details such as tricks to give height to the short figure, to flatter the woman who is short-waisted. But first of all a woman must understand the value of fashion. It is, quite simply, an art which helps you find your most attractive self.

Fashion is more than a detail of cut. It is based on what is new, created largely by the social life of the moment. The New Look, an extreme, brought back softening lines after the war--an extreme that women felt they needed. Fashion reflects the times almost before people are aware of it themselves. The woman well dressed and in fashion is expressing just what everybody has in mind.

To have your eyes open to fashion is a way of being up to date; it is to seem forever young.

It is human to want something new. An understanding of fashion assures that when you buy something new, it looks new!

You cannot use fashion until you know yourself. Good taste is to resemble
oneself. You might say, "Who else could I resemble?" but a petite blond can ruin herself by trying to dress like her friend who is a real brunette. Good taste is no more than the ability to select those things which suit your personality and are appropriate to your way of life. It is to appear natural. For this, you mast adapt items of current fashion to your own wardrobe.

You must remember of course to "keep up with yourself." The times and fashion are not only the things that change. A woman must make the most of herself as she is now--not as she was as a bride. She must take a good look at herself.

I would like to go into this first: tall or short, fat or thin, there are very few women who can do nothing with themselves--but let us start at the beginning.

Take a good clear look to see yourself as you are, so that when the tricks of fashion which apply to you are mentioned, you can say, "That is for me." 

Are your shoulders wide or narrow? Is your neck long or short? Have you a round full face or a long narrow one? These things are easy enough to discover.

The Small Woman

The small woman must be especially careful not to fall into the trap of "little girl" styles because of her size. It is one thing to arouse the protective instinct in men (and small women do in spite of themselves) and quite another to wear bows in the hair at thirty!

Did I suggest that there is something wrong with being a small woman? Well, most certainly there isn't!  It has a state with a particular charm and the right approach is to make the most of it.

These women and girls, whether they are slim or not, can afford to be more feminine in appearance than their taller sisters. They can wear more elaborate softer hair styles. They look well in softer colors.

There are points to keep in mind whatever the fashion.  Small women who have reasonably small waists can wear wide skirts; but blouses or the bodices of their dresses must be neat and well-fitting.  

A loose top pulled into a small waist above a full skirt cuts the figure in half. Even the woman who thinks herself rather plump will still look better with a neatly fitted bodice.

(From photo above)
The Small Woman can wear these:
The small woman looks her best in (left to right) a neatly fitted suit with small lapels; a coat that has a small collar, small bulk; a dress with a narrow belt instead of a wide; a ballerina-type evening dress; a bodice or blouse that is neatly fitted, rather than loose.

The Small Woman should avoid these:
- Too many colors combined in one costume cut down her height.
- A coat with a big collar, bulky sleeves, submerges her.
- The blouse-back silhouette is too heavy for her.

Waist Length

It is important to find out if you are long- or short-waisted. A measure of 16 1/2 inches from shoulder to waistline is fairly long, 15 to 15 1/2 is rather short. Long-waisted figures can wear wide or narrow belts, but wide belts are not becoming to a short waist because they make it seem shorter than ever. A narrow curved belt worn as low as is comfortable on the waistline is flattering to a naturally high waist.

Color and Styling

The careless use of too many colors--such as a black skirt with a yellow blouse and a short fuchsia jacket--chops up the figure and takes inches off the height. A tall girl might look well in such casual clothes but a small woman should match her blouse to her skirt or wear a long topcoat.

The sure way to discover the type of clothes which suits you is the reaction of friends. "How nice you look!" is valuable. If they say nothing, it is because you have not succeeded.

Flattering Lines

Short women of any width should avoid straight lines, which are very shortening in themselves.  For example, topcoats should never hang straight but should bell outward from the neat collar and shoulders to fullness at the hem or fit cleanly and precisely.

This is probably the right moment to put in a word of warning about collars and shoulder lines.  A small woman wearing a large high collar or very full wide sleeves is apt to look like a mushroom! And of course if she gets under a hat she might as well be a mushroom because she not only looks top-heavy but vanishes from sight as well.

Tunics and peplums are disastrous; floating scarves and draperies are not good.  Rather longer than mid-calf length for daytime hemlines if it's flattering.  A short evening dress can look charming on the "little ballerina."

General Don't's

There are some strong general don't's for small women which I should like to add.  At all time avoid multicolored patterned materials--especially large designs. Horizontal stripes are wrong unless you are tall. Vertical stripes are good so long as they tend to slant outward and do not run straight from shoulder to hem.

Unless you have the perfect proportions of a Tanagra figurine (and can wear anything regardless of height) do avoid any attempts at sophisticated side draperies. Hard enough to wear at any time, these sometimes untidy pieces of material over one hip make a small person look lopsided.

Someone should tell the small woman that very high heels and thick platform soles on shoes do not make her look any taller--unless she's in a crowd with feet hidden.  Another human little failing is the tendency to wear a hat with a tall feather shooting up into the air. The real art when one is petite is to dress as if you are petite. Candidly, it will be only the feather which looks tall!

The small woman may feel impatience with her size but personally I think she has nothing to worry about. Les petites femmes sons charmantes.

What a tremendous difference careful grooming and understanding of line can make to any woman!

So what do you guys think of Dior's advice?  Do you find it downright bossy, or do you think he has good points?  Have you used any of these tips in your looks? 


  1. This is wonderful! I am not petite, but know several well-dressed women who are, and they do (for the most part) follow these guidelines. Being in the middle at 5'-7", I sometimes follow the lengthening advice of one-color dressing (particularly at work, among mostly men), but I have more options like that wonderful blouse-backed silhouette, and voluminous pants are graceful...which my short friends say they can't wear, and I understand why. I suspect, though, that when you publish his advice for tall women, I won't be able to use all of that either... :D

    1. If I remember correctly, I think Dior classifies above 5'5" in his "tall" advice. People were shorter on the average back then, so you may find some of it helpful!

  2. what a lovely article. its true (to me anyway) about dressing 'unself-conscious' as if I feel my clothes are wearing me there is no point, and equally I like the bit about money not cutting it the same way as understanding.....excellent quotes, thank you for the share

  3. I'm not a short woman, so I wouldn't use these, but! They do seem to make sense. I'll try to remember to use these when costuming! I'm also excited to see what Dior says about the other body shapes.

    Amusingly, this is not the first vintage advice book that mentioned avoiding looking like a mushroom. Apparently, it was a serious concern!


  4. Yes, thank you for sharing this! There are several great quotes in the article which modern fast fashion would do well to take to heart.

    I do find this article interesting yet odd. Body shaping undergarments were the mode of the 50's in my understanding, especially being used by Dior. Ladies were supposed to fit to their clothes, and were "shaped" accordingly - not so much the other way around as we wear our clothes today. For example, many of the 50's patterns I sew with have high, full bust points and long backs with a rather flat derriere. I attribute this consistency to the shape wear of the times and the ideal body type (then adjust it to fit my modern body, oh well).

    This article does have good points, and I do love using some of the "trickery" of the 50's, too, but I also find sometimes "breaking rules" of what should and should not work for me sometime yields good results, anyway!

  5. Fantastic post! As a petite gal myself, I really enjoyed and appreciate it. As well, I am so in agreement with his quote regarding understanding trumping money when it comes to fashion that I'm tempted to frame it, as that so completely jives with my own mindset when it comes to one's wardrobe.

    Thank you so much for sharing such a big hit of Dior's advice with us. Loved it and eagerly looking forward to the others in this four-part series.

    xoxo ♥ Jessica

  6. Thanks for sharing- I really enjoyed this. I am not short, as I am an average 5'6", but there were still a lot of good tips and quotes (and amazing illustrations to gaze at!) in this post. I am looking forward to the next one :)
    The Artyologist

  7. Christian Dior`s advice are very inspiring and resonated with me. Thank you.

  8. One of the things that I really liked about the article wasn't even in the specific advice, but in the forward - good taste is to resemble oneself. That's great advice for anyone! For the specific advice, I think he has really sensible things to say about the lines and styles that are flattering on a petite woman. Don't let your clothes overwhelm you; don't cut yourself off with a strong horizontal line; look for bodices that are well fitted - none of that sounded too dictatorial to me. I'm interested to see what he has to say in the other sections.

    1. I agree, he sounded practical, not dictatorial. He does have such good thoughts in the forward!

  9. Great advice for sure. I am not sure where I would fit in as I am about 5'4 so on the taller side of small, and have "filled out" a bit lately *cough*. I have adhered to such advise mostly about large prints and too large details tending to overwhelm my frame. Though I dont like too fussy things or little details like peter-pan collars - I don't carry off twee very well with my features!
    The only thing I take issue with is his notes on 'side draperies' - I love me a good hip-swag quite a lot more than the average gal and you can pry them from my cold dead hands! ;-P