Dear Kathi,

I’m 42 years old, petite (5′ 1″), short-waisted, pear-shaped, and about 20 pounds overweight. To add to this fashion challenge, due to religious reasons, I do not wear slacks. So… I struggle with how to look more “in-style” in skirts and culottes, which are not necessarily the latest fad, and with the proper shoes to go with them (at 42, ankle socks and sneakers may not be the best bet!!).

By occupation, I am an executive/legal secretary. I struggle mostly with what to do about casual wear, given these parameters. My casual attire right now is pretty much either a jeans skirt or culottes.

Any advice you can offer would be greatly appreciated! I know you’re not asked this question much (if at all), but there are a lot of women out here who are wondering about this same issue.

Thanks again for your response. I wish you were in Kansas City instead of San Diego-I’m going through a mid-life crisis and could really use some help!

Brenda D. > Kansas City


As a petite, you should focus on wearing the same color on top as on the bottom. Throw in accessory colors sparingly, using the 75/25 rule, 25% being the accessory color. If you have a jacket and skirt the same color, then your blouse can be the accessory color. This will give you a longer line and add inches to your height.

Regarding your restriction against slacks, I would recommend wearing slim line culottes in lightweight fabrics that are flowy and hang softly, avoiding stiff or heavy fabrics. I don’t know about Kansas City, but this is the year of the resurgence of the culotte. There are many options on the market right now for culottes in soft fabrics.

Beware of skirts that are as wide as they are long. This is a common mistake petites make by wearing A-line and short skirts.

For your skirts, avoid any hemline at or below your ankle. A timeless hemline will end at your knee. Have a friend help pin the hem to the spot that hits at the skinniest part of your knee.

If you want to wear longer lengths, stop the hemline at the skinny part of your calf, not at the widest part; in other words, just above or below the widest place, not right on it. The longer your skirt, the daintier the shoe should be. Wear small kitten heels. Experiment with low cut vamps and sling backs. This will help you look more current while honoring your restrictions.

Hopefully you can wear a shoe with a bit of a heel. If so, wear at least a 2-inch heel, not chunky, to offset the width of the culotte leg. Sandals are the perfect accessory to skirts and culottes, although I realize you are headed into wintertime. This is probably a great time to add a few sexy sandals for next spring.

For fall and winter, a pointy-toed shoe or boot will add height to your image. Don’t rule out pointy-toed shoes before you try them. Many are ultra-comfortable. The search for a pair of sophisticated pointy-toed shoes you can wear for hours will be worth the effort in the impression you will create.

Add knee-high boots to your wardrobe. Buy brown and black and match these to your outfits. If you can match the boot color to your slacks and skirt, so much the better.

No matter what you wear, always avoid chunky shoes, as these will add weight and shrink your height to 4′ 5″ in an instant. When you wear tennis shoes, keep them small and dainty. Consider adding a few pairs of the new style tennis shoes, with interesting small clasps and straps, in dark designer colors for your casual outfits.

Wear only darker colors for your bottom half. This trick will minimize a pear shape.
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