The Magic of Styling

“You don’t look like you have short legs.” That comment shows up almost every time I discuss styling mistakes I try to avoid. Playing with proportion is likely the trickiest part to get right, but I keep working on it.

A woman with a long torso and short legs will look very different from the one with a short torso and long legs, even if the two women are the same height and weight. These differences are known as vertical proportions. Horizontal proportions consider the width of the hips, waist, and bust. But we can always use tricks to fool the eye and make our bodies look more balanced.

At least one professional stylist is always on the set of a photoshoot for marketing since the model needs to wear the right clothes for her body type. The clothing also needs to be styled in a particular way. The makeup, lighting, and photography all play a huge part in convincing you to purchase that item. So you may be very unhappy with that piece when you try it on at home.

I’ve learned to ignore the hype and study the aspects of the garment, not the professional styling that went into the shoot. For example, I know that if I wear a high crew neck in a light color and tuck that top into faded girlfriend jeans and wear round-toe shoes, I will look older, wider, and very frumpy. But, on the other hand, the model wearing that same outfit looked fabulous because she is six feet tall and nineteen years old.

I took these photos minutes apart. Without styling, I’m just wearing clothes.

My goal in showing these looks was to demonstrate how styling can make us look very different.

The culottes and sweater shell are the base in each photo, but on the right, I used styling tricks to give me the appearance of long legs:
1 – Nude shoes with a pointed toe and a short block heel will visually add two inches to your legs.
2 – Showing even a tiny part of your waistline makes the legs look longer.
3 – A shorter jacket or shirt that shows the full leg length is always more flattering.
4 – Showing the ankles, wrists, and collar bones make us look taller and more slender.
These tips are also perfect for petite women.

CulottesShirtShellDenim JacketSneakersPumpsBelt. None of my items are new, so similar items are linked, and I may earn a small commission without additional cost to you.

94 Comments
  1. I really like the comparison and it is illustrative.
    I have a similar coulott, only that I have a pear shape. I am unsure of the solution around the waist. What do you suggest? Should I wear the top and short jacket too?

    1. A shorter jacket left open is more flattering on a pear-shaped body. When we try to cover the behind or the tummy, it often brings more attention because of the top layer’s line. Similarly, when we wear a long top or tunic that hugs under the tummy or the behind, it draws attention rather than concealing.

  2. Susan, I love the comparison; I couldn’t stop laughing! A picture is worth a thousand words, but your explanation clarifies your illustration. Thank you!

  3. A picture is definitely worth a thousand words! It is amazing the difference there is in showing a waist and the type shoes we wear. It looks like two totally different bodies!
    Thank you Susan for taking time to do this for us.

  4. These two pictures are worth a 1000 words for sure. What a wonderful way to actually visualize what you were trying to convey by using this means to make your point. How obvious when shown in a picture than trying to “see” it in your mind. Thanks for the visual as it truly made the point and clarified the obvious big time. I had my laugh for the day as well.
    Clara from Iowa

  5. Excellent post. Very timely and helpful advise. It’s so easy to see what you’re getting at with the side by side photos. Thank you.

  6. Sorry for taking up space with a second comment but I want to say that the denim looks so classy and even dressier than many other jackets could look. It is truly the combination of garments and the accessories one wears with the denim that continues to make it so desirable for any age.

  7. Always look forward to getting something in the mail from you. The 2 photos side by side are an incredible visual cue on what a difference styling makes. Thank you!

  8. Love the side by side comparisons! I enjoy reading each of your posts and have learned a lot on how to dress a 65 year old, far from perfect body. Thank you for all your time and thought you put into each post.

  9. A very valuable lesson. Thank you so much for sharing all you have learned. Without you, I’d have no idea where to turn to learn all of your information.

  10. Thanks, Susan, for the visual help. Sometimes we need to SEE exactly what you mean. But really, you went from Frump to Fabulous with a few of your tricks. I need to memorize these! Beth

  11. Susan, thank you for setting up the links in your posts so that they open in another tab and not the same one as your post ( I use Edge.) !

  12. Love the ‘side-by-side’ of the two styling looks as its a great visual as what to do and not do!
    My ‘pet peeve’ when people watching is a woman who wears leggins like pants! while showing her entire bottom and wearing a waist length top. IF ONLY she had worn a thigh-length body skimming (not so tight!!!) top it would make all the difference. I see so MANY women making this mistake! Maybe you could explain the ‘body skimming’ aspect of fashion for ‘larger’ women with big tummies. Which is not me but its something that makes me cringe and they could look so much better only if…

  13. Hi! I LOVE the nude pump with pointed toe look. I cannot wear heels and I cannot wear a pointed toe. I can manage a very low heel. I need stability in my shoes, grip, secure feeling. I need more room in the toe box than nearly any pointed toe shoe I’ve tried on. I have had a really hard time finding the right shoe to imitate the look above that also allows me to walk without clomping or hunching or wincing, none of which improve one’s appearance or mood. I’m too old to be uncomfortable merely for the sake of fashion – been there – and that is one reason my body won’t tolerate heels or pointed toes anymore. If you have any recommendations I’d love to see them. Thank you!

  14. Just remember, if one tucks in their top and wears a jacket worn open over the top, the waist appears to be only four inches wide. Who doesn’t love that!

  15. Wow! Those choices certainly made a difference. Thank you for the visual to go along with your explanation. That has an impact!

  16. Fabulous tips Susan, thank you. I do so enjoy your wise words on the subject of style. I feel very privileged to have found you. Thank you for generously and freely sharing your knowledge. X

  17. Susan, could you please tell me where to buy this aged balsamic vinegar. You mentioned it
    several years ago…I’ve used it since and it is the only one I prefer. I can no longer find it.
    La Piana Balsamic Vinegar of Modena Aged.
    Thanks.

  18. Amazing comparison – photos do the trick! What advise for a short retiree with a pronounced tummy? Black and open jackets are tough in warm climates!

    1. Light colors that flow across your body rather than hug under your tummy make the difference. Long tops are not the answer. If the top stops just below the tummy without clinging, it will be much more flattering than a long top that can “shrink wrap” the whole area.

  19. Very clearly shows how much styling matters. I think the question is, how do we determine what our body type is! What proportions determine ‘long torso’ and/or ‘short legs’?

  20. Getting the look right every day can be quite a challenge. Especially the feet which tend to magnify or nullify an appearance.

    I’m only 5’3 (and 70) and have wide feet with a pronounced ‘sore spot’ on the right ball (not a bunyon), so have had to give up on heels. I need to find elegant shoes for comfort and styling, and pointed toes are no longer an option as I age. (I wish they were). I DEFINITELY don’t want to wear ‘old lady’s shoes’.
    I’ve found a delightful man who stretches new shoes for me and it helps enormously, but I am now at the stage in life where I try to find classy loafers, even classier ballet flats, white sneakers and the best running shoes for long hours of walking the dog. The advantage of a true ballet flat is the slightly rounded toe.
    Do you think one can still contrive elegance without heels and a pointed toe?

    1. A woman with delicate ankles and slim calves can wear ballet flats and look terrific. However, I have thick ankles and calves, so I must wear a shoe with a bit of a heel or thicker sole to achieve balance and comfort for my high arches.

  21. I learn something from you every time. I’ve fallen a few times and have now limited myself to flat shoes. So there’s that!
    Could you show more “flat ideas” ? Thank you.

  22. Hi Susan.
    Your great examples really brought home the point that styling is important!
    Thank you for sharing your knowledge.
    Melissa

  23. Susan, thanks for this very instructive post!
    If you’re looking for pointy-toes that are actually comfortable to wear, try Bared shoes (bared.com.au) . They offer a range of heel heights, are orthotic-friendly, and have a built-in supportive footbed. I’m 5’1″, have wide feet, and can’t wear high heels, so it’s hard to find good shoes, but these have worked well for me.

  24. Excellent visual. I am one of those (long torso, short legs) vertical body types and also petite, so I try to do whatever possible to lengthen my legs, mostly remembering to show my waist, which I still have, so I try to tuck or semituck most tops, so no tunics for me. Thank you.

  25. Brilliant examples, Susan! As always, great tips and links to make it happen. I’ve yet to invest in “dress” white sneakers as I don’t have the other wardrobe items or body shape to make them look right on me. That’s OK, I can pass on this trend. With your help, I’m only investing in those pieces that are right for me. Thank you!

  26. It’s amazing what styling can do. You certainly have given us ladies great tips! I wish every woman would get styling!

  27. Thank you Susan this comparison was very helpful. I’m short 5’2” with short legs and a short waist – thankfully I am slim but it’s still a difficult combination. I’ve followed you for years and although we are not the same shape I have learned a lot from you. I now only buy pointed toe shoes, trainers with a low vamp and even little tennis shoe types come quite pointed too it you shop around. All this help lengthen my legs. I will keep watching the proportions when I’m putting a new outfit together. Perhaps you could do a few more of these comparisons? Sharon x

  28. Fantastic post!! LOVE the side by side, it really helps. What about a body that’s straight up and down? Should I still emphasize my thick waist? And I also can’t wear shoes with heals due to back issues, any recommendation maybe for platforms or sandals? I live in a mostly hot climate. Your posts make my day!!

    1. I have a thick waist too. The trick for me is to wear an open third piece when you tuck in your shirt. You can also wear a shorter layer over a longer layer. I add a long necklace to create a more flattering line on simple low crew neck tees and shirts in hot weather.

  29. What a really helpful post Susan, I am saving the images you post of how not to style, as well as clothing best to avoid buying. They are equally as instructional as the lovely outfits you show which I save to my Look Book. regards, Gail, N.Z.

  30. Wow what a difference in the two photographs. You look so glamorous in the second one. Thank you for you excellent advice.

  31. Susan, You have really demonstrated your point. As so many have said, a visual comparison is worth a 1000 words. Thank you for all your inspiration!

  32. Oh gosh! I have the opposite of your characteristics: longer legs and shorter torso; smaller bust. I can’t seem to find the opposite style for me. I don’t tuck in blouses, or wear heels. Do I just need to find someone else to advise me?

    1. I share my style and what I’ve learned, so hopefully, something will be helpful to you. But, of course, a personal stylist can always help you customize the information for your body. Look for someone who is well trained in style consulting so that they aren’t just working to sell you something.

  33. Don’t forget the elongating affect of the drop earrings you are wearing in the styled photo. They re-enforce that vertical line. Thank you for the detailed comparison. Love it!

  34. Can’t believe the difference between these two photographs! I, too, have short legs, but my top half is very different from yours. I’m curvy with an ample bosom! However, I am learning the art of styling and often use your tips to apply to my own shape. So, thank you for your posts. They are very helpful and interesting.

  35. Good Morning Susan!

    I so enjoy and love your styling tips. I’m 5ft 2″ 120 lbs. 75 years old. My problem is I have Morton’s Neuroma on my left toes which unfortunately does not allow me to wear pointed or heels anymore. I wear a size 6 shoe but I bump it up to 6 1/2 so the toe box will be more comfortable. What is your suggestion for stylish shoes for me to help elongate my stature?

    Thank you. Mary

    1. Match the tone or color of your shoes to your pants. For example, don’t wear black shoes with white pants. A nude or light tan pair of shoes won’t cut you off at the ankles as black ones will.

  36. Hi Susan, what a brilliant demonstration! Your comparison pictures say it all. You usually make your outfits look so effortless without us realising the thought that goes into your dressing. Fabulous! I’m going to print out and pin on my wardrobe door! (Although it has to be said not nearly warm enough in UK to be wearing your outfit yet …)

  37. Oh you are SO right on all of these points. This comes from someone who always says she’s 5’2″ but I’ve shrunk to 5’1″…oh the loss of that 1 inch makes me sad…haha.
    I notice that you often wear a shorter jacket, which I realized years ago, was very important for a shorter woman. I also feel that the jacket must not be boxy, but come in a bit at the waist. Since I can sew, I’ve used this trick in altering a jacket or two and I’ve taken several to a seamstress to do professionally. The belt at the waist is also SO important!
    Thanks for all of your beautiful styling suggestions.

  38. What a good post! Do you ever wear jeggings? I like to wear them, however, it seems they are always wrinkling in the thigh area as I am 4’11”, 112 lbs, so main jeans are the slim ankle jeans from Talbots. Also buy the “perfect shirts or the
    casual button down shirts from Talbots. My other question is do you ever tuck in the front of your shirt and leave the back out, as in many catalogs? If so, any certain way? I most certainly agree about not wearing your look with the culottes. And yes I am early 80;s. Thanks and I look forward to reading your posts – more than once!

    1. I don’t half-tuck my shirts anymore, but it can look OK if you have a very flat tummy. I don’t wear jeggings or skinny jeans and rarely wear leggings. I’m no longer comfortable showing the shape of my legs in such detail.

  39. Terrific examples on this subject, your examples are right on! I am short waisted, short legs and busty….I have really think through how it will look on me….you have taught me so much…..I rarely have a print….it makes me look like a giant all papered room

  40. Susan,

    Your examples today are terrific. Getting dressed vs just wearing clothes.

    Pointed shoes with a small heel are my favorite and I have foot problems. High arches and a bunion. Flats without a small heel cause backaches for me. Anne Klein makes shoes that are comfortable. They are not marketed as comfort shoes but they are to me. Maybe they will help others. A low sodium diet keeps my feet from swelling.

    Great post. Thanks!

  41. You look absolutely fabulous in the right side photo! At 5’4”, I too have a long torso & shorter legs. Please include more of these side-by-side comparisons. Susan, I saw one of your older posts on YouTube recently where you showed how to make your legs look longer. I think you adjusted a tunic (?) and pushed up your sleeves to show more skin. Could you share that post or video? Many thanks!

  42. Thank you, Susan, for the side by side comparison photos!!! I’m shorter at age 72 1/2, , now 5ft 3.5, about 135 lbs, larger bones/ build.( 10 shoe, size 8 ring. have a thick middle with long legs and short torso., size 8P Talbots jeans which you show,and .5 Chico’s.) I use and love tips from your photos and comments!!!For the reader with long legs, short torso, my suggestion is use photo on the right for ideas- using Column dressing, same color intensity or same color tops and jeans/ pants like yours since it is more slenderizing. I use black, grays, and in summer white, lt gray …with colorful accents : vests, sweaters denim jackets, capes now with wind and cold in Wyoming; love scarves, lt sweaters even in a/c in summer and fun& cool jewelry as vertical accents and neutral belts. Most of my pieces are older and I definitely am buying Quality items now to show off my turquoise and silver and many handmade jewelry items. I love your beautiful hair, Susan! As a winter w dk brown eyes, I am figuring out how to transition to silver/white from my former dk brown now lt brown highlighted hair. Love your fresh color palette for your make up also. Thank you again! Blessings to all!!!

  43. Thank you Susan for being a classy female role model. I turn 60 this year. I’m pretty active outdoors and dress in athletic wear all of the time, yet I have an entire closet of casual and dressy things. I am going to attempt to embark on a new way of thinking including my fitness routine, eating habits, etc. I moved from New England to South Carolina 5 years ago. I dislike the cold weather, and find myself even in SC dressing for warmth and comfort instead of style. I’m short, thick waisted, heavy busted and could afford to lose 15 pounds. I love wearing my husband’s wool pullover sweaters or fleece pullovers in the winter. I know they’re unattractive, but they keep me warm and cozy. Can you offer any advice on what to wear for a woman like me who never seems to get warm and is always cold? Thank you Susan!! You inspire me.

  44. Another great post Susan! I am 5’5” long waisted and short legs. I appreciate this tip immensely and will try to put a together a similar look next time I go out. Thank you for your great tips!

  45. I am very short waisted with long legs and a short neck (can’t even visit turtlenecks or scarves as I drown). You look great and always well proportioned. Can you do a post on how to style long legs and very short waisted? Thanks

  46. I tried all of your suggestions and the visual difference made such a positive change to how I added tops
    very helpful . Being short – petite on the bottom but large breasted proportionally different on the top was always a challenge. This blog was very helpful.

  47. I always benefit from your tips and this post was especially helpful. Question:. I have this same denim jacket but seldom wear it because it is so stiff. How do you soften your denim jackets?

  48. Great article. The visual is so telling. The heels give you a feeling that you had hemmed the culottes shorter.
    Please do more like this. It is so helpful.
    Do you have tricks and hints for bottom down shirts. Tuck? Leave out? Belt? That is always a dilemma for busty inverted triangles.
    Thank you so much.

    1. In the summer, I leave a few buttons open, pop the collar, roll up the cuffs and wear the shirt untucked with slim white jeans and espadrille shoes. If you have a flat tummy, tucking in all or part of the shirt solves the tent effect when a busty gal wears a woven shirt.

  49. I LOVE this post! Would you consider following it up with a few more photos of how styling clothes really makes a critical difference?

  50. Thank you so much for sharing these tips! I have the same kind of body proportions as you do. I always appreciate your good advice.

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I blogged for five years as Fifty, not Frumpy. Now that I am in my sixties, I am sharing ideas and inspiration for using and loving what you already have.

Thank you!
Susan

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