Dresses are a lazy girl's dream - put one on, add shoes, go. They are a big favourite with me for this reason. And as an added bonus for a petite girl with shorter legs, they can also often be a great way to fake longer legs.
However, this does not mean that any dress will do just that - on the contrary: as dresses cover the body in one piece, there are many things that can go wrong with them and that one needs to consider carefully.
Here come my observations for choosing dresses if one is in possession of slightly shorter legs, so you can always have some flattering ones in your wardrobe, ready to save you on a lazy or rushed morning.
In terms of style, it is best if the dress has an obvious waistline, which sits on or slightly above your natural waist. This can be part of the cut, created with a belt, or achieved with a pattern or embellishment too:
Much higher waistlines [i.e. empire lines] rarely work as - unless the dress is made of a very thick or heavy fabric - the moment you move, or there is a breeze, and it becomes obvious where your hips/bum sit, it will look disproportionate:
Lower waisted [i.e. dropped waist] dresses are usually rather unflattering as they shorten legs further. Note that the same tends to happen with normal waist dresses too, if the skirt has a pattern or pleating that starts too low:
Unstructured dresses tend to overwhelm most body types with short legs, although they can be worth experimenting with as it is possible find some that fall and drape just the right way to flatter - they need to 'break' as high as possible, so they do not highlight the hip line when you move. Of course, they can be worn belted, which can create the desired waistline.
In terms of silhouette, gently flaring tends to be the best way forward [this can include straight but not clingy styles] - the aim is to create a line that makes thighs appear leaner and longer. This line is hardest to achieve if your waist is very small compared to your hips; your best bet is choosing a dress that, whilst having a waistline, is not too fitted at the waist so the flare of the skirt over the hips is minimised [see the first or last example]:
Body-con is tricky as it leaves no room for lengthening tricks: it shows off curves too much. Even long hemlines that can hide towering heels underneath do not tend to work. What can help somewhat are sturdier fabrics and a straighter, not completely body-con skirt.
Straight cuts cling in the wrong places - loose on the waist but tight on the thighs is never a good look - and can completely ruin even an hourglass figure [especially if coupled with a high neckline]:
On the other hand, skirts that flare out too much shorten thighs even further [unless they are floor-length, but how often do we get married or attend red-carpet events?] so careful with the proportions - subtle differences can make or break the effect:
In terms of length, either short [above the knee] or 'as long as it gets' floor-skimming lengths tend to work best. Note also how sheer panels can trick the eye and work in our favour:
Asymmetric cuts can be an exception even in an in-between length [asymmetry is usually a golden ticket to trick the eye, use it as much as you can]. Straight cut midis are to be avoided at all cost as they completely cut off the legs.