Ever since childhood, the word “petite” was not my favorite…
To my ears, it sounds fancy yet patronizing, like a complicated pastry, or a spoon that has a very specific purpose, which is to serve whipped cream into the mouths of tiny cherubs. Even the Oxford definition of the word: “(of a woman) having a small and attractively dainty build,” makes me want to light something on fire.
Nevertheless! I have learned to make friends with petite clothing. (It was either that, or go through life looking like I just raided my big sibling’s closet.)
Officially, petite garments are cut for women 5’4″ and under, though some collections will vary. If you, like me, are too frugal to take everything to the tailor, or are known to impatiently lob off the bottom portion of your jeans with garden shears, then this post is for you. By popular demand, here are some of my go-to sources for vertically challenged fashion — and I’d love to hear yours.
For wear-them-everyday staples: Elizabeth Suzann
These made-to-order pieces come in short, regular, and tall, so you can rest assured that everything will fit just right. My black jumpsuit is one of my most-worn wardrobe items, and I’m planning to add another color to my rotation this spring. While the prices are higher than fast fashion, everything is very high quality, and comes with the assurance that your purchase supports a Nashville based, woman-owned operation.
For dates and parties: Reformation
Bless you, Reformation, for marketing your “Don’t Call Me Cute” collection using words other than petite. Though not every item of their regular collection is available in petite sizing, the selection is robust, and offers everything from dresses and skirts to vintage-inspired jeans to their bridal collection. Back in the day, trying to find a dress for formal dances or family weddings was never fun. (I recall one unfortunate incident that involved cutting a long, tulle cupcake skirt right before my cousin’s sweet sixteen.) But now, when shopping for dates or parties, this is my place to go.
For easy, everyday looks: Madewell
Sometimes, while browsing the Madewell site, I will notice that something I like is available in petite sizing and I feel seen. While not as exhaustive as other brands, they typically have a decent selection of jeans and dresses (I’ve been eyeing this for a while now) and even a jumpsuit or two.
For classics: J.Crew
J.Crew has long been a reliable source for timeless pieces, especially when it comes to work separates. I especially love their well-proportioned, just-the-right-sleeve-length blazers, which can be especially hard to find.
For special things: Anthropologie
As any vertically challenged woman knows, a notoriously hard-to-shop-for category is maxi dresses. When I stand next to a maxi dress, ten times out of ten, it is taller than I am. But if you’re after an ankle-length maxi dress for weddings or summer gatherings, Anthro has got you covered. They also have an impressive array of patterned pieces, like silky blouses and flowy skirts in lengths that will not swallow you whole or make your sleeves look like you just raided a clown’s wardrobe closet.
For on-trend pieces: Topshop
Much like their sprawling, multi-level NYC location, Topshop’s petite section goes on and on, spanning all categories of apparel. If you’re on the hunt for a specific, fashion-forward item (a certain rise of jeans or a brightly colored faux fur jacket, for example) there’s a decent chance you’ll find it here.
For office-wear: Ann Taylor
Growing up in New Jersey, my school had a dress code of white button down shirts and navy or khaki skirts or slacks (like a band of adolescent attorneys). Back then, Ann Taylor was regarded as the mecca for tasteful workwear for women slight of stature, and was the only place I could find white blouses that fit me well. For office appropriate styles, they remain a solid choice.
For everything: Nordstrom
With a wide range of styles and price ranges, Nordstrom’s selection is constantly changing. By just typing one little search term (“petite,” what else) you’ll find workwear, formalwear, activewear and casual clothing all in one place, with free shipping and returns. It’s like having an appropriately sized department store at your fingertips, because that’s exactly what it is.
The newcomer: Petite Studio
I’ve heard wonderful things about this slow fashion brand that’s exclusively designed for petite frames, but I haven’t tried any of their pieces yet. Has anyone else? Would love to hear your thoughts.
The Golden Rule for Shopping Everywhere: Know Your Measurements
Unfortunately, not all brands or stores will have dedicated petite options, but you can sometimes game the system. How long is your ideal sleeve? Measure the inseams of pants you love, and memorize those numbers. How long is your preferred length of work slacks or cropped jeans or workout pants? These little numbers will open up the world, allowing you to confidently shop the land of the cropped and the ankle length and the midi.
To wit, I wear my 23″ Lululemon leggings and cropped Levi’s straight off the rack. Never do I wonder where those “cropped pants” that look like capris on the giraffe-y model will fall on my body. I know they will hit right at my ankle. And this, my friends, is a particular kind of joy.
Fellow petite folk: Where have you found your favorite pieces? Please share!
P.S. Caroline’s week of outfits and the #1 item for making clothes look their best.
(Photo by Nicki Sebastian.)
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