bathing suit for petite women guide

The Petite Woman’s Swimwear Manual

Finding a swimsuit that fits well, without saggy straps or accidental wardrobe malfunctions, can be tricky. But if you have a petite frame, it makes finding stylish, comfortable swimwear even more difficult. 

This comprehensive guide will help you determine whether you are a petite size and how to find a stylish swimsuit that fits you perfectly. 

Standard size vs. petite size

petite sizes vs standard cloth sizes

Fashion designer Hannah Troy first defined petite sizing in the 1940s after she noticed women frequently needed to alter the waists and shoulders of their dresses. In response, she created the petite sizing category.

Petite sizing caught on with Troy’s competitors, who began creating petite lines – including swimwear – for shorter women.

Generally, petite sizing differs from standard sizes with:

  • Smaller waists
  • Narrower shoulder widths
  • A slimmer fit
  • Slightly shorter rises
  • Higher necklines
  • Higher arm holes
  • Shorter sleeves, hemlines, & inseams

Are you a petite size?

how to know if you are a petite size

Hannah Troy’s original designs were created for women of all heights. She based her sizing on junior fits but with shortened waists.

But Troy’s sizes were most popular with shorter women. 

These days, petite-sized clothing is designed for women 5’4” or under but still retains some of the characteristics of the Troy designs. This can be frustrating for petite women who need shorter inseams but not slimmer styling.

Characteristics of petite sizing

signs of a petite woman
  • Women under 5’4” 
  • Shorter torsos
  • Narrower frames
  • Shorter arms
  • An inseam of 27” or less
  • A shorter rise

The ups and downs of being petite

Petite women understand the frustration of never reaching the top shelf, having people mistake you for a child, and literally getting lost in a crowd.

And when it comes to buying clothes, you need to have a good tailor because nothing seems to fit right.

  • Too-long hemlines
  • Sleeves that hang past your hands
  • Too-low necklines 
  • Falling shoulder straps 
  • Waistbands that come up to your bust 
  • Bust-shaping darts at the bottom of your ribs
  • Brands that don’t make everything in petite sizes

But…there are a few upsides to being petite. You live longer, you never have to worry about legroom when traveling, and your smaller clothes mean more space in your luggage. While clothes shopping can be a pain, you do have a few advantages, like:

  • Shopping in the petite, regular, and junior departments
  • Midi skirts and capris from the standard section are full-length for you.
  • Medium-rise bottoms can be high-rise on you without being too high.
  • Many trendy brands have started offering petite lines
  • Saving money shopping children’s lines of high-end designers

Swimwear for different petite figures

The petite women I spoke with found the lack of standardized petite sizing frustrating. With no consistency in sizing, petite women have to try on clothing – especially swimwear – because if they don’t, it feels like they are just winging it and hoping something will fit

If they can’t try on swimwear, they want to see accurate swimsuit measurements they can compare with their bodies’ measurements. This is especially important for anyone who doesn’t fit the perfectly proportioned “ideal” body type. 

Petite with a Large Bust

model with a big bust wearing a molded cup bikini top

Look for:

  • Bra sizing in one- and two-piece suits for a better fit.
  • Underwires, built-in molded cups, and bra-style seaming for more support.
  • Thicker adjustable straps and halters that don’t dig into your shoulders.
  • Longline bikinis and tankinis with extra support for your bust.


  • Bandeaus, strapless, deep v-necks, and triangle tops lacking the structure to support a larger bust. 
  • One-piece suits without built-in cups or bra-styling.
  • Too many straps and ties that are more likely to slip and shift.

Petite with a small bust

green triangle Bikini top laid on a blazer

Look for:

  • Triangle tops with padding and adjustable straps or ties to customize your fit.
  • Twisted-front styles, padding, or underwires for a subtle push-up effect.
  • Ruching, smocking, ruffles, or other detailing near the bust to add volume and draw interest. 
  • One-piece suits with deep v-necks to help shorter torsos appear longer.


  • Molded cups that gape and show more than you want.
  • Super-high necks without that can make your neck appear shorter.
  • Swimsuits with a gap between the breasts that make your bust appear flatter. 

Petite with curves

Look for:

  • One-piece suits with vertical patterning, color blocking, or side detailing to emphasize your waist.
  • Ruching and textured fabrics that camouflage parts of your body you’re less comfortable showing. 
  • High-waisted swimwear bottoms that hit at or just above the naval to slim your waist and smooth your tummy.


  • Too-tight swimwear that cuts into your skin and makes you look larger than you are.
  • Buying two-piece suits that don’t come as separates to get a better fit.
  • Thin straps, strings, or lacings that cut into your curves and don’t provide support.

Petite plus size

a plus size model wearing a high waisted bikini bottom

Look for:

  • Brands that specialize in plus-size clothing or swimwear for more choice of styles.
  • Tankinis and longline bikinis for more coverage with the flexible fit of a two-piece.
  • High-waisted bottoms with ruching that flatter the tummy area. 


  • Brands that say they are size-inclusive but only offer up to a size 14 or XL. 
  • Outdated, frumpy styles…many new size-inclusive brands are making chic plus-size swimsuits.
  • Swimwear that rolls when you sit down. Well-fitting suits should stay up.

Petite with long legs

Look for:

  • Swimwear with moderate to high-cut legs to emphasize the length of your legs.
  • One-piece suits in a solid color that draw attention to your face and balance your torso with your legs.
  • String bikinis that lengthen your torso with an adjustable fit and leg cut.


  • High-waisted styles that shorten the torso and make your body look out of balance.
  • Low-cut legs and horizontal stripes that make your torso appear wider than it is.
  • Strapless one-piece swimsuits that make your torso appear shorter.

Swimwear for different petite body types

Petite pear shape

A petite woman with a pear shape has hips and thighs that are wider than her shoulders, bust, and waist. If you are a petite pear-shaped woman, try to balance your proportions by drawing attention to your upper half while keeping your shorter height in mind.

Swimwear recommendations for petite pear shapes

  • Choose two-piece suits that can be purchased separately to avoid a baggy top or bottom that doesn’t offer enough coverage.
  • If you find a one-piece that fits both your top and bottom half, try to find a style with side cutouts or a square neckline.
  • High-waisted or skirted bottoms draw the eye up and define your waist. 
  • Wear darker solid colors on your bottom half and brighter patterns on the top to help minimize your hips and make your bust appear fuller.
  • Off-the-shoulder styles, high necklines, wide shoulder straps, and halter necks can all make your shoulders appear broader to balance your hips.

Petite hourglass shape

The hourglass shape has rounded shoulders and thighs, a defined waist, and hips and bust that are proportional. Note that a petite woman with an hourglass shape can appear to have a shorter torso and look fuller-figured than she is. 

Swimwear recommendations for petite hourglass shapes

  • Your body’s balanced appearance means many swimwear styles are flattering. Choose patterns and colors that keep your natural proportions. 
  • Your full bust and hips can make swimwear seem more revealing or sexy than it is, so be aware of the placement of cutouts, straps, and lacing.
  • Look for swimwear that accentuates your waist, like one-piece suits with belts or waist seams, monokinis, and bottoms with contrasting waistbands.
  • Choose styles that offer bra sizing and underwires for more support. (See Petite with a Large Bust for more tips.)
  • Both high- and low-rise bikini bottoms look good on your shape. However, if your torso is on the shorter side, stick with low-rise options. 

Petite apple shape

Petite women with an apple body shape have a larger bust and fuller midsection with narrow hips. Also, if you have an apple shape, your arms and legs tend to be on the longer side…even if you’re petite.

Swimwear Recommendations for Petite Apple Shapes

  • Choose swimwear that creates definition at the waistline, like a wrap-style one-piece, empire waist, or a high-waisted bikini bottom that extends slightly above the naval. 
  • One-piece or tankini suits with ruching and built-in tummy control help flatten and draw attention away from the midsection.
  • One-piece swimsuits with a peplum or a two-piece with a swim skirt help balance narrow hips. 
  • Lower v-necks and plunging necklines elongate your torso and bring focus to your full bust. Remember to choose a suit with plenty of support.
  • Wearing lighter, brighter colors on the top and darker on the bottom can balance larger busts with narrower hips.

Petite rectangle shape

Women with a petite rectangle shape have a small bust, flatter backside, and slimmer frame. Your waist, hips, and shoulders are proportional, giving a rectangular appearance.

Swimwear recommendations for petite rectangle shapes

  • Try a swimsuit with underwires or pushup padding to create a fuller bust. (See Petite with Small Bust for more tips.)  
  • Ruffled, off-the-shoulder styles add interest to the bust while creating more contrast between your waist and bust.
  • High-cut legs or suits with ruffles, ties, and other detailing at the hip give the illusion of wider hips. 
  • Thongs, Brazilian, and cheeky bikini bottoms make smaller backsides look more defined.
  • V-necks, monokinis, and one-piece suits with side cutouts create the illusion of an hourglass shape. 

In conclusion

Finding a swimsuit can be difficult for petite women, but it doesn’t have to be impossible. Pay attention to your unique characteristics and choose swimwear pieces that flatter your body. 

The most common advice from petite women for choosing swimwear was to buy separates. It’s the easiest way to find a swimsuit that fits on both the top and bottom. Another top tip from petite women with larger busts was to look for suits with bra sizing.

It can also be helpful to decide which swimsuit characteristics best fit your body. Then make a cheat sheet or rough sketch you can refer to while shopping. 

If you need more help, fashion YouTuber Justine Leconte has created the perfect swimsuits for different body types. And Chi Li of Petite Dressing has recorded informative videos with tips for choosing petite swimwear.

Remember, if a swimsuit makes you feel confident and secure, that’s all you need to look your best!

What are your favorite petite swimwear styles? Please share in the comments!

Aimee is a freelance writer and editor with over ten years of professional experience writing, proofreading, and copyediting. When not covering fashion, beauty, lifestyle, and pop culture, she enjoys reading, watching K-dramas, vintage instant photography, and working on her novel.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.