Petite in fashion retail terms usually means proportionately scaled down clothing ranges for smaller women who are 5’3" and under. Newly set up companies like Petite Affair are challenging
the existing petite offerings from retailers.
Often the most neglected petite is wide and short, but still
with a small frame that means narrow shoulders, small wrist
bones and a small foot size. Plus size women of average height are offered a much greater range of fashion clothes. You can see some petite fashion especially from
Petites Fashion Trends Autumn 2006 page. Incidentally, the header image on this page is
also courtesy of Petite Affair and shows a party dress in damson
crushed velvet. It's size 6-14 at £89 and a petite fit.
The commentaries on this
page are related to some of the problems that petites face.
I know there are more problems, so if you have a comment about
petite fashion that
deserves airing, please write to me.
One reader recently wrote to me with the following problem, she has a wedding coming up next
year and will be the mother of the bride. Guess what - she is petite, a
size 16 and straight down, an apple shape. My
heart went out to her and her obvious despair. This is why
I have added a page on petite autumn winter fashion in the
fashion trends 2006/7
section. I have also added comments on petite women's clothes here, where one or two points may help
There is most certainly a need and a demand for petite fashion
clothes. For 20 years I have been friends with several
petite women and we have often fashion shopped together.
This is frankly useful as you tend to look at the same fashion
ranges and be happy browsing as you both remain interested. I soon began to
realise that petites were a niche market often neglected by the high street in much the same way that
sizes were ignored 40 years ago. However, the plus market has
fared better for specialist plus size shops, but the petite market has
lagged behind. Even the plus market is still not perfect.
There are plus petites and these are often ignored too by the plus retailers who seem to think fatter women must be very much taller, broader and have enormously long arms.
When people think of petite they think of a dainty little wisp
of thing like Kylie Minogue.
In reality there are also short full figure petites as well as
short slender petites and tall slender petites. Petites
always have a much more delicate quality to their physique than
the average woman. Invariably the one thing all petite
women have in common is small shoulders.
One aspect of the problem as I see it, is political correctness.
Whilst many petites are dainty, slender and delicate, what many
petite women require are clothes that fit a
short fatter figure. I feel I can say this because I don't
sell clothes and I have at times been a short fat petite myself! No one will say this, because vanity
branding is rife. Plus size petites find little quality
fashion that is special targeted at them. Age can also add
weight to a petite. I just looked up some Google images of
Charlene Tilton of Lucy Ewing
1980s Dallas fame. Charlene - now some 25 years
older, still looks good, but is wider, yet of course she is still
petite. This is the fate of many petites in middle age and
it can cause greater problems than normal, as width is not
compensated by height and so it is not hard to look compressed.
But with the internet has come opportunity for
petite women who are making their feelings known. Petites want
fashion and they want it now. A woman who is a lean 4'11", size 6 and overall petite, feels her problem is very different to a woman who is big busted, 5'3" and a size 18. It is hard for the two
to relate, other than knowing that for each, shopping is a battle.
Even a woman of 5' will find that the trousers offered in many
petite ranges, are too long because they are designed for a woman of 5'3".
The ranges need several choices of length within the petite
range to accommodate the many body types of petites.
The Petite Affair range, mentioned above does this. Consider also the woman who is taller than the 5'3" cut off for
petites, she has has narrow shoulders, tiny waist and short arms,
but long legs. Or the woman who is not 5'3", but
4'11" and still needs alterations to fit even petite garment ranges.
20 years ago, even 40 years ago, some petite collections were
available, but very few appealed to me or my friends. My friends wanted
edgy fashion clothes that didn't
remind them of something their grandmother might have worn.
They especially wanted better proportioned arm lengths and
shoulder widths for example. Existing petite ranges were
often directed at a more mature market. While the elderly petite market is important, what is needed is a clothing company that will also cater to
both younger petites, with a bridge
range in between. The
requirements for young and old petites are slightly different.
An older petite woman over 65 will most
likely have a pot belly that she has been developing since middle age.
Nothing she does will get rid of it. Even Lauren Bacall in
her autobiography refers to that inevitable waist thickening.
By contrast the
younger petite woman might have hardly any flesh on her belly and be
washboard flat and quite bony. Manufacturers might like to address these
This inadequacy in
mass produced clothes came to my notice when my mother started to ask me to alter
more and more of her clothing. For years she had run a
fashion shop business. I had also often made unique clothes
for her in my earlier years when dressmaking was my hobby. She had been
accustomed to clothes being expertly fitted to her body.
I recall she was much taller. When I moved district it was less easy to make her clothes, and also, she gradually shrank with age. On my visits
she was increasingly showing me clothing she had bought that
always had something not quite right with its fit. She
knew full well they were not quite right, but she bought the best fit on
offer in frustrated desperation. I knew they were not
right too and so would do the finest alteration I could, to improve the fit.
Sometimes individual tailoring is the only answer. Either alter the
clothes yourself or make the acquaintance of a good dressmaker.
get clothes wide enough for her actual bust size, she had to
shorten sleeves and the skirt length on just about everything.
That did not seem too awful at first, but soon I began to have to add extra
little darts at the back neck or have to lift and taper a new
shoulder seam to reduce that irritating little neckline gape.
This was because her ageing shoulders were beginning to round
slightly, her vertebrae very slowly year by year meeting each
other and her bust no longer defying gravity. All these factors began to cause gaping necklines
as her posture and muscle changed with age. Your body might be doing
just that too. Nothing will make an ill fitting garment
fit better when you get it home, but a well targeted alteration.
Often the sleeves on bought garments would be set into a
shoulder line way, way to wide hanging off her shoulder. I would unpick three quarters
of the sleeve head, cut away up to 3cm of fabric from the
main bodice armscye and reset the sleeve. Fortunately I can
pattern draft and tailor so knew exactly what area could be cut
and how to taper and cut the armscye and still leave wearing ease.
It is not a perfect solution and should be done in the early
pattern drafting stages, but some solution is better than no
solution. Needs must.
This job is less of a fiddle when it's a dress or top, but a
jacket is a major alteration job as the sleeve head is full of
stay tape, interfacing padding and shoulder pad. If you have never
done this before practice on an old garment you intended to give
to a charity shop before experimenting on a new item. Pick
a day when you feel especially patient. You can even do as I do.
unpick part of it one day and do a bit more another day.
It can be easy or tedious dependant on a particular garment. You
can read more on how to do this shoulder alteration below.
started to step outside of the normal sized fashion ranges and
looked at petite fashions. Now we usually find something to fit
her fairly well in the Eastex range. Even some of these
items can drown her on the shoulders. But this is a very
'safe' looking range paying minimal attention to fashion trends and really
simply does not begin to appeal to the young
consumer. I'm not in the first flush of youth either, but it doesn't appeal to me
But older women do have a range they can head toward they know
will likely fit. But it is not a range I want to head toward
when I get even older!
Without doubt Eastex is aimed at a much more mature market which
simply want very classic clothes that will carry from season to
season. Eastex knows their market and is a brand that
seems to do very well for the Alexon group. Since we are
an ageing population this is not surprising. Eastex
along with Alex and Co has continued good sales compared to
other sectors of that fashion group which includes Kaliko,
Minuet Petite, Dash, Ann Harvey, Bay Trading and Dolcis.
To maintain a market share I think Eastex should make efforts to
realize that anyone who passed through 1960s fashion will be
more demanding in the future and they must consider addressing
this now. Young women of the 1960s today in their fifties,
shop in places like per una which was initially directed at a
much younger group. In fifteen year time if Eastex wants to
retain a good market share it should consider this fact.
Back in the 1980s along came NEXT DIRECTORY and Principles
at about the same time. They offered some more up to date
Petite selections beyond the mature market that Alexon's Eastex
seemed to target. NEXT in particular has
really attempted to offer a medium fashion conscious mid priced
range especially of work wear for petites. As a catalogue system
it has made this fairly
easy for two decades. In fact they are hard to beat for
petite fashion wear.
Other major retailers slowly began to acknowledge that petite
proportionately scaled down high fashion items rather than just
shorter clothes. Petites want high fashion specially
designed for a petite figure and proportions too.
Major companies now addressing this petite fashion market include NEXT Directory, members of the Arcadia group - Wallis, Principles,
Dorothy Perkins, Evans, Wallis Petites and lately Marks and Spencer
who before the petite range did shorter lengths in clothes which
is not quite the same. Even these companies
mentioned who offer petite ranges do so in limited numbers of
the overall designs made.
Other labels in the Jacques Vert Group
are Precis Petit and the Alexon Group which has Minuet aimed at
younger 35+ market than their Eastex range aimed at a mature
Précis Petit have nice styles for petites, but much of the range
is getting too precious and going toward too much occasion wear.
In a discreet way newly set up companies like Petite Affair are challenging the
existing petite market. This may just be a small
company right now, but watch it grow with bigger and better
ranges. The founder of the Petite Affair
company is a petite woman.
Petite Affair understands what petite women are looking for
and is building an online business which responds to customers
comments in their search for petite fashion looks. They
recognise that there is not just one type of petite person, but
within petites, many who are wider or even smaller than those
5'3" industry set standards for the term petite. At
present they offer 3 trouser lengths with 1 inch differences and
in future hope to offer more alternative lengths.
Retailers generally are making more effort.
For example at Wallis, fashion is proportioned
with garment patterns adapted to suit the woman with shorter arms, shorter body and
narrower shoulders. The Wallis Fashion petite range jackets are
cut narrower by 1cm on the shoulder, waists are 2cm higher,
sleeves 4.5cm shorter, petite fashion skirts and dresses are 5cm
shorter, with petite trousers 7cm shorter and also 1cm less at
crotch. Marks and Spencer offer similar adjustments to
garments in their petite range.
Petite women can follow the basic image planning rules of other
women, but need to pay just a bit more attention to their body
shape. Firstly ‘know thy self’ and that means assess your body
silhouette shape plus your skin and hair colouring against the
colours you can wear with success.
Get to understand your petite body shape.
Is it boyish, lean and small chested?
Or is it curvy, round and fulsome?
Are you long or short legged?
Are you short bodied or longer in
Work with your good points and play down the bad points.
Look for articles of clothing and accessories that are
proportionate with a smaller daintier person. Emphasise
curves and avoid baggy clothes that may drown you.
You might like to compare yourself in single breasted and double
breasted jackets and coats. Single breasted garments will
make you look less boxy. But you may look perfectly ok in
a double breasted jacket if everything has been scaled down
correctly. This is often the crux of the matter - scale.
Petites need scaled down proportionately balanced pockets, cuff
depth, tabs, trimmings, collars and belts. All need to be
that little bit smaller or narrower to make an outfit look
correct. Even scarves and shoulder bags look better about
10% shorter if they are to sit well against the proportions of a
A bag that is not the largest in the shop may still have that
now look even if it is smaller, as against you a petite it will
probably look quite large. Opt for a belt that
seems sized for you because it's a little bit narrower.
Delicate straps match your delicate frame.
The trick with buying clothes is to find a brand that suits you. Then within that range some of the clothes will suit you, but
not all of them. I have found a few ranges I like for my body
type and height and almost always look at those ranges first. I
may try on 10 items and then choose 1 or 2, still rejecting many
from my favourite brands. Fashion shopping whatever your
size is hard work. Why don't men understand this.
My niece is 5' 9" tall, yet she regularly buys Principles petite
If you're 5' You might wonder why - well she has quite short arms for
her height and also tiny little narrow dainty shoulders and a
tiny waist and a graceful long neck and long face. So that upper
torso has been
compressed a bit proportion wise to her really long legs, long
neck and head – this
means she has to buy the longest of trousers, but her tops are
truly tiny with a
dainty look to the size - proportioned petite tops.
Next I’ll use myself as an example. I am just under 5'4", but I
regularly also buy long trousers. Firstly and surprisingly I have
long legs for my height, secondly I have a long waist-crutch-waist length
and if I try trousers that are from Medium or Short or Petite
ranges when I sit I feel extremely restricted and in the mirror
the legs look 'odd'. The knee seems to be in the wrong spot. I am better
buying long trousers and taking off one inch off the hem so the
proportion of the trousers hits the right body parts. By that I
mean that the knee is where the knee should be in relation to a
long lower leg from knee to foot.
So you're thinking she's average, but no, above my waist is short
and the waist is almost non existent. So in fact I can buy
some tops from Petite ranges and find great shoulder fit.
Did you think you were alone experiencing this shortcoming in
5'9" niece is tall enough to go shopping at Long
Tall Sally yet she would find their tops far too long. See what
a problem this. A height measurement is just that, a
height. Body proportion puts another slant on it. The fact is
few of us are average.
Only near the average.
So having given you two examples you may now as a petite be
feeling happier. You are I hope thinking ‘ I’m normal, other people
are like me, it's the retailers who take a mass approach to
all fashion wear that are at fault.’ So ladies go shopping knowing you are among thousands of other
women with a similar problem. But is it really so bad I wonder.
Maybe your wardrobe still manages to burst at the seams like mine! So
something out there does fit us.
Don’t regard any body defect as a fault rather as a body
difference you need to work around and dress according to that
If you are flat chested go with that look. It means you can wear
halter necks without fear of your breasts falling right out or
If you have full breasts you can wear cleavage garments with
confidence and not worry
about filling out a top with silicone chicken fillet inserts.
Then try on lots of styles
and shapes making a note of those that flatter and those which
do not. For example short waisted women like myself and
maybe like you often
look good in empire line dresses a hot fashion trend right now. Empire line dresses
focus on the upper body, draw attention to the small shoulders
and the face. Empire dresses elongate the body giving a sweeping column
of fabric that draws the eye down creating an illusion of
Princess seams also elongate the body and give waist definition
often where there is none. For the same reason I like short cropped jackets
that swing or which have princess seams that give waist shape
teamed with the elongation of lengthy trousers that cover the shoe.
If you are short trousers look best when
worn with boots, shoe boots or trouser boots, so there is a
continuous sweep of length even through the footwear.
Unless in the great outdoors, avoid lumpy clumpy trainers that
end your leg with a sudden heavy punctuation mark, cutting off
that extra length a streamlined boot finish might have given
Be aware that trousers with turn ups make anyone, even tall
people look shorter. If you are busty avoid pockets on the
chest area which again can make you look really top heavy.
Choose garments with flowing seams that all help elongate the
body rather than cropping it.
Choose for example pumps that are low cut and elongate the foot
length and therefore your leg. Avoid ankle strap shoes
that chop your leg length off. If you must wear ankle
straps and why should anyone forbid you choose those with dainty
narrow straps rather than thicker bands that will make the foot
Consider this - perhaps you
are very short, then by no stretch of the imagination will a
heeled shoe increase your height enough for others to ever think
of you as tall. Just simply join in the current fad for
ballet flats and enhance your daintiness and petite qualities by
embracing a modern fashion. It's not always about choosing
flattering clothing and creating the best optical illusion, but
also about capturing the fashion moment and if flats are the
thing why not see how you feel in them. You may enjoy
skipping about town in them as much as I do.
Check fabric colours against your skin without make up and see
which naturally lifts up your skin tone and which drains it. Some colours can be worn as long as you get the correct tone.
For example I find
fashion trends difficult to wear. But if I find the correct silver tone of grey I can wear them. Even so there may still be colours
that just make you feel better. Hone in on such colours and work
with ones that do you a favour rather than those that drain you
of vibrancy, you have enough problems already with sizing
without making your complexion look flat and lifeless by
choosing colours that don't suit you.
Get to understand your skin tone colouration and the difference
hair colour can make to you. Don't underestimate the
importance of these 2 major points.
Finally consider dressmaking alteration fixes when you have done
your very best in every other direction.
When you shop think about carrying with you a 'small' pair of shoulder pads.
See how much better or worse that jacket you try on looks with
another shoulder pad. If you think an extra shoulder pad
might help the jacket sit better and not make you look like an
extra out of Dynasty then buy the jacket and head for the
haberdashery department where you can select a pair of pads. It
is not essential to remove the lining unless you are fussy.
Just slipstitching the pads into position on the
shoulder/armhole lining may suffice.
Shoulders too wide, but everything else looks great - then
consider resetting the sleeves. If you can sew this can
still be a taxing alteration to do and get right. Be
patient. If you have never done it before try the technique on
an old no longer loved badly fitting garment!
I repeat what I said above. If you have never done this before
practice on an old garment you intended to give to a charity
shop before experimenting on a new item. Pick a day when
you feel especially patient. You can even do as I do if a
garment is very well sewn. Unpick part of it one day and
do a bit more another day. It can be easy or tedious
dependant on a particular garment.
N.B. I take no
responsibility for any errors you may make trying this
First try on your top and see how far over your shoulder line
the sleeve is flopping. Use some pins to roughly
mark where you might prefer the sleeve head to sit on your
should edge. When you are confident it would be worth
doing the alteration and only if it is feasible then start to unpick
the sleeve head. (This may involve undoing facings and
shoulder pads that are stitched to the sleeve/shoulders. It may
also have some stay tape in position that must be undone too.)
Now unpick the sleeve from the armhole to about 2cm below the
position of the lower black line shown on the bodice armhole pattern
below. Then do the same unpicking on the back of the garment jacket
N.B This picture is not to perfect scale.
With the sleeves hanging half out, next try the garment on again to check the amount of fabric that is
excessive on the shoulder armscye line that you wish to cut away. Now I have a big warning here.
You must remember to
leave a seam allowance so you can refit the sleeve and
still move your arm. You must leave wearing ease.
You may find the amount of fabric you actually remove is only a centimetre
wide at the widest part at the top shoulder
and even less below that, yet when the garment is on it will
make a huge difference to how the garment can look on you and
how you somehow feel that it looks right. The most I have
ever removed is 3cm at the top shoulder width tapering to
nothing at the lower point. Beyond that be realistic, you
should not have bought such an over large garment in the
If you lack confidence and have any doubts do this trimming
inward at about a 3mm at a time. You will notice that much
less fabric is removed lower down on the pattern image above
than at the shoulder itself.
N.B This picture is not to perfect scale.
Taper away the excess fabric as shown by
the white line on the bodice pattern thumbnail above. The distance between
the white line and the black line is your seam allowance.
The black line is your new stitching line. If you cut on the
black line you will have no seam allowance - so DON'T do that!
Repeat this trimming on the back of the garment armhole.
Check that the shoulder seam is secure by re-machining the end
of it. Now tack
(baste) the sleeve back into position making sure you ease the
excess fabric into the new seaming line. Try it on to make sure
the sleeve is eased back properly and DO NOT cut parts of
the sleeve head fullness away or you will ruin this alteration.
An expert may be able to judge the exact slither, but leave well
alone on the sleeve itself if unsure and reset it in its
Machine stitch the new seam
and neaten it. If the garment has a shoulder pad replace it if
required and refasten any lining into position.
I'll be adding a few more dressmaking alteration ideas and tips as time
permits. Most people know how to shorten clothes, but I think
this particular alteration - if you are confident that you don't
have much to lose - can make great deal of difference to the
looks of a garment.
Next time I will look at adjusting a princess side seam at a
The header image is courtesy of Petite Affair and shows a
party dress in damson crushed velvet. It's size 6-14 at
£89 and a petite fit.
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