It is a common misconception that women who are classified as having a petite body shape are lean and skinny and fit nicely into a size 10 or below. This misconception may be because the word “petite” actually means small but “petite” when used in fashion has nothing to do with size or shape and everything to do with height. And though there are petite women who can fit into some designs in smaller sizes, being a smaller size doesn’t always mean the smaller sizes fit properly if you are also short.
So for women, the word “petite” when used in fashion refers to having a height that is under 5’4″ (or under 162.5cm). There is no one petite body shape as petite women come in different shapes and sizes and the same rules that apply for dressing for other female body types, applies for dressing a petite body shape too but petite women have additional challenges when finding clothes that actually fit due to being shorter than average as this doesn’t just affect height but also proportions.
Clothing Proportions- The main challenge for petite women
Interestingly, clothes are designed and made for women who are 5’5” (some designs even taller) even though the average height for women in Australia, USA, many parts of the UK and France is 5’3½” (161.8cms) and you can imagine that the average height varies greatly from country to country. So there are a lot of petites and a lot that will find that not only the lengths of legs, arms and tops too long, depending on their body shape, other proportions won’t work either because they are proportioned to a taller woman. This can affect the armholes, shoulders, straps, collars and necklines as usually the distance between the bust and shoulders and bust and waistline is less on a petite than that of a taller woman because everything has to be condensed to fit the smaller height. Petite women sometimes go to great lengths (pardon the pun) to work around these styling issues such as learning to sew to alter items they have purchased or investing in tailoring. Though doing these things does give you more clothes options (and I do love options!), it takes time and can be costly and there are certainly some other ways to find a good fit (you just got to know where to look)!
Petite Sizing- What’s the difference?
It has been great to see that designers are paying attention to the changing bodies of women and just as there are more plus sized options for women, the range of stores that offer petite sizes has also been growing little by little (again, pardon the pun, haha). But even so, many shorter women tend to avoid the petite section, perhaps believing the above misconception (that petite means small) but also because they may not understand the differences between petite sizing and regular sizes. The reality is, though there are petite sizes for smaller women, petite sizing is available in larger sizes too and though regular brands sometimes offer “short” options, there are some unique differences about petite labeled clothes that usually do make for a better fit though of course, wear what works!
-Provides shorter lengths for arms, legs and the hem of tops etc
-Have higher armholes
-Shorter waist and rise in pants
-Shorter in-seam in pants
-Shoulders will be proportionally narrower
-Cuff holes may be smaller
-Collars and necklines higher and
-Details of patterns usually smaller.
Petite clothing makers also use designs to elongate the body too so for example, they may use vertical stripes to accentuate height or use small belt loops for skinny belts which seem to work better for smaller frames.
Extra challenge: Standards are not standard
To complicate shopping a little further, though there are International standards for sizing and many countries have their own mandatory standards (such as the labelling guide by the Australian Fashion Council for Australia), they are not legally binding and companies and designers generally do not follow them which makes for a lot of inconsistencies in sizes when shopping!
To get around this, try:
- Ignoring the tags!
Look at the garment rather than the size on the tag when deciding whether it would fit you and always try it on first to see if it fits.
- Wearing items shopping that you can use to style clothes you want to buy
High heels are often available in shops, but I try to wear a belt and separates so I can mix n match and put on a belt to heighten a waist line or create a different silhouette
- Checking size guides- when available, particularly when shopping online
- Read reviews- to find out if customers felt the item was “true to size”
Regular clothes for petites
This discrepancy in sizing can make shopping confusing for women but the GOOD NEWS is that usually brands and designers have a particular aesthetic and an “ideal customer” that they are designing for. This means that in general, their sizing stays relatively consistent across different items within a collection and often across different seasons too. They do this so that they can have return customers who will buy from their shop knowing that those designs are available. This means that once you get to know a brand or a shop that works, that are generally creating design lines and styles that suit petite women, it’s likely that they will continue to make those. Some great examples of this include the cropped cardigan in Review. A staple for many petites that has been consistently available from Review over many seasons, available in different sizes starting from a size 6 (Australian, or an XS) to 16. It has now become a signature item from Review and they bring out many different styles and colours each season.
Try something new!
It’s really fun to build a bit of a repertoire of shops and brands that seem to design well for us ladies with a petite body shape, so try keeping a bit of a list. It’s also a good idea to shop in shops you usually wouldn’t as you may be surprised by what works or at the very least, you can get ideas about the types of styles and colours that are really in fashion and see if you can hunt something similar online or in a different shop. If you haven’t already been shopping in the petites for fears that the sizes would be too small, it’s worth having a browse because there are definitely some petite lines that do offer larger sizes (usually up to a size 16). If you want even more options, consider finding an affordable tailor or learning a few basic sewing techniques to alter clothes you purchase. I’ll be sharing more of my tips and advice on this website in time so feel free to subscribe to keep updated. I would also love to hear the best places that you go to find the perfect fit and some of your staples so comment below or reach out to me using the contact page.
Thanks for reading,