Nikki’s Inbox: A Petite, Professional, Apple-Shaped Challenge

Hi Nikki. I am looking to restyle my closet and stumbled across your blog. I simply love it, but my body type is a serious challenge. I have the following characteristics:

    • Small body frame (can’t wear western sized clothing as even western XS is too big for me)
    • 4’11
    • Have wide slouching shoulders (because of swimming)
    • Have big arms
    • Generally meaty around the waist (so I can’t use tight-waisted or peplum tops)

I was recently promoted, and was told that I need to ‘smarten’ up my dressing to match my position, but I have a kiddy demeanor which makes me look good in cute dresses but childish at the same time. So I find it very hard to find ‘professional’ looking clothes without looking like I borrowed something out of my mom’s closet.

I sincerely hope you can help me, thanks!

Diane, 29/Malaysia


Bob Parr, a.k.a., Mr. Incredible
Image: The Incredibles,
Pixar Animation Studios/Walt Disney Pictures

Oh Diane darling, we live in a world where fashion is built on cookie-cutter body sizes and woe to us who don’t fit that mold! But you know, it’s not body sizes or clothing sizes that’s the real deal. It’s who you are and what you can do! I mean, just look at yourself for example – a job promotion and now on the path to bigger and brighter things. So yes, dress the part, rock your newfound responsibilities and abilities and show ’em!

While you and S.D. share similar height and body shapes (apple/inverse triangle), the circumstances are certainly different. For you, upgrading your wardrobe is part of your new job responsibilities, because the truth is that we do need to conform when needed and behave like an adult and a professional.

Streamline and Customize

Wearing tailored tops with darts and princess seams will help sculpt your upper half better. Doing so can help avoid looking like a body-builder, or Mr. Incredible as an example. But because you’re petite and even western XS sizes don’t fit, the only solution I can think of is finding a good tailor or seamstress nearby who can create a capsule work wardrobe for you. Most people view this as an extra expense when buying off the rack is so much easier, but I’ve learned that clothes look so different on yourself when they’re actually measured and cut to fit your exact dimensions. You won’t get that in a fast-fashion brand or a regular brick-and-mortar store. So consider this an investment in your career, Diane, and I guarantee that you will reap the benefits of having a wardrobe that’s uniquely yours.

KOKA : Skyheart : Rocho

Strategic Embellishments and Show of Skin

Scoop necklines, V-necks and strapless tops expose just enough skin so you look less bulky. But that’s not something that will always be ideal in the office. Be sure, check your dress code at work first to see if such necklines are allowed (strapless is definitely a no-no). If they are, opt for a more modest cut for these necklines because all you need is show a hint, not spell out the entire sentence, darling. Embellished necklines will also work for you as long as they don’t overwhelm your entire outfit or your face.

Saranghae : Fundae : Orange Bear

I understand your fear about looking like you’ve borrowed your mother’s clothes. The only way that could happen is if you share the same style as your mom. But you’re writing to me, so I guess that’s not true! 🙂 You don’t have to stick to plain colors and boring patterns all the time. Feel free to pick tops that have lovely beading, ruching, color-blocking or lace. Just make sure these are not placed on areas you wish to downplay, which are your shoulders, arms and waist. Vertical pintucks can help camouflage a thick waist, while carefully placed color-blocking can create more slender arms or shoulders.

Dabuwawa : Twinkle Star : Shiga

Lengthy Considerations

Every inch of your 4’11 frame should be put to good use. Blazers, jackets and cardigans should hit your waist or at least the top of your hips. Any shorter or longer might make you look more bulky or shorter. For sleeves, anywhere from elbow-length to wrist length should be fine for work. I know Malaysia is humid so choose your fabrics well. The nice thing about long sleeves is that they can easily look elegantly formal or casual by the simple expedient of folding/rolling them up. With your skirts, please make sure they are at least above the knees so you can show off your legs, which are often the most gorgeous assets of apple-shaped women.

Hanaya : chuu : chuu : kitsch island


chuu : DABUWAWA : Zundiao : Ticoo

If you wear all of these, does this mean you won’t look cute or unique? Heck no! Even if you need to wear a trouser suit 24/7, all it takes is a few choice accessories, perhaps discreet or occasionally loud (if you can get away with it). Team that serious suit with a brightly-colored or quirky scarf, wear a unicorn necklace or bracelet, or rock a fuchsia pink leather handbag. And most of, be confident of who you are and your abilities. Adulting is already hard sometimes so make it fun!

P.S. If you’re sending a question, please don’t forget to include any helpful information about your body type or shape, your tastes or personality. You can include a selfie (link only please) or a photo of your clothes (which I will never publish without pre-approval). Thank you!

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