Tips for Choosing Petite Winter Coats

Crystal Schwanke
Petite Wool Melton Toggle Coat
Petite Wool Melton Toggle Coat

Most designers realize that the best petite winter coats are designed with the smaller woman in mind, rather than just being smaller versions of a regular coat. This means that shopping for a great garment doesn't have to take a lot of time if you know what to look for.

1. Get Warmth Without Bulk With Wool

Puffy coats and jackets are popular and practical - they are warm and easy to care for. Thickness, however, can shorten, so petite women are often better off looking for something that has a slimmer cut. Look for coats made of a wool-cashmere blend or other wool blend, which tend to be extremely warm without adding unnecessary bulk. The best of these coats will hold up to rain and snow beautifully. Some options to try include:

2. Accent Your Waist

A peacoat or trench coat with a decorative belt or other feature that highlights the waist will keep you just as warm but also create a sleek silhouette. A bit of a flare below the belt or waistline can look classy, flattering, and feminine, but try to avoid exaggerated A-line styles, whether the flare begins at the shoulders or the waist. Styles that hug your silhouette will keep you looking your tallest.

The MICHAEL Michael Kors Petite Waterproof Trench Coat from Macy's (regular about $165.00) cinches in at the waist to add shape back to your body despite the layers, and has a slight flare at the hips.

3. Look for Slenderizing Lines

If you have your heart set on a puffy coat for those rambunctious days in the snow with your kids (or just because you like the way they look), some styles work better on petite frames than others. When you shop for styles that feature down lining designed to offer as much insulation as possible with as little bulk possible, you can get the same warmth and flattering fit that the wool blends provide. Consider:

  • Eddie Bauer's Women's Astoria Hooded Down Parka (about $200.00) which has a slenderizing pattern, so even though it's technically a "puffy" jacket, the lines work against that typical style to make you look slimmer. Because of that design you won't end up with a lot of visual bulk, and a petite frame will be able to pull this off more easily than other puffy styles. This coat comes in five colors and is designed to allow water to roll right off instead of soaking into it. It hits just below the hips.
  • The MICHAEL Michael Kors Petite Quilted Packable Down Coat from Macy's (regular around $200.00) is similar in style, but it stops at the top of the hips. You may look a little taller in this one, but you'll sacrifice some warmth. It's available in black, eggplant, olive, red and taupe.

4. Choose Single-Breasted Coats

A double-breasted coat can create thickness and thus emphasize shortness. By far the most flattering coat a petite woman can wear is slim cut and hip length, sometimes called a stroller coat. Even for a plus-sized petite woman, a single-breasted slim coat is preferable as it adds length.

What you want to avoid are baggy coats that might fit over a lot of layers but will make you look like a potato. Instead, opt for tailored, single-breasted coats that fall no further than the knee. A princess cut which nips the waist, or an empire cut will create the appearance of longer legs and a more willowy silhouette.

Consider the Calvin Klein Petite Hooded Single-Breasted Trench Coat (about $100 at Macy's), which is available in Truffle or Black and hits at the top of the thigh. It also offers a hood and a belt so you can cinch it in at the middle and emphasize your shape. This coat is lightweight and made from polyester.

5. Get the Right Length for Your Climate

You have to balance the width with length and consider your needs based on where you live and how cold it gets. In areas with fierce winters, including nasty winds, it's harder to keep warm in a coat that finishes at the top of the hips.

Consider the L.L.Bean Classic Lambswool Polo Coat, Three-Quarter (just over $200.00), which is a good option because it hits higher on the leg than a lot of coats on the market, and it's single-breasted so it won't add much width at all. It's available in eight different colors and is designed to offer warmth without bulk.

6. Play With Color

Although black coats are practical and there's no good reason to avoid them, a petite woman will do well to choose a coat in a strong, bright color, as this can make a body seem longer. Additionally, a nice rich red or blue can make you stand out in the crowd.

  • The Bernardo Textured Long Coat comes in burnt orange and cobalt blue (Nordstrom, about $80.00). It's a wool blend and is textured for a retro look. It's long and hits right above the knee while maintaining a slim silhouette.
  • You could also try the Ellen Tracy Wool Blend Stadium Coat (Nordstrom, about $200.00). It comes in black as well as five other colors, like Pumpkin, Kelly Green, and Marigold. This style is three inches shorter than the Kristen Blake option and hits a bit higher on the thigh.

Shopping for Your Coat

Most department stores have a petite section but if you have access to a boutique, you'll do even better. A shop like Talbots prides itself on producing quality women's wear and will have a range of excellent petite winter coats, as well as knowledgeable salespeople who can help you select your most flattering fit. Whether you want something from Land's End or Burberry, it's useful to be assisted by someone who knows what they're doing.

Shopping online, however, can sometimes be your best bet. Not everyone has access to department stores and boutiques with a variety of jacket styles, colors, and sizes. If you have to shop online, shop early enough in the year and take advantage of free shipping offers. Then you can shop the often superior online selection at your leisure and find the perfect coat or coats without wasting money from your winter coat fund. Always check the store's return policy before making your online purchase so you can return or exchange your coat if necessary without hassle.

It is best to try on an item like an overcoat before you commit to it. Before you let that return window end, make sure your new coat:

  • Will fit over your layers
  • Won't pull under the arms
  • Has sleeves that fall below the wrist bone
  • Won't ride up when you sit down

Classics Rarely Fail

Try to resist trends and instead opt for a classic cut. A classic coat made of a high-quality fabric will last you for decades. Look for the wool blends and thin down linings that provide as much warmth as possible without adding bulk. Stick with single-breasted styles or patterns and stitching that counterbalance the effects of a "puffy" coat to avoid visually subtracting inches from your height as soon as the temperatures start to fall.

Tips for Choosing Petite Winter Coats