Little known fact: petites can come in all shapes and sizes. While many believe that the only qualification to be considered “petite” is that you fall below 5’4, it’s a far more nuanced and wide-reaching descriptor.
So, what makes someone petite, and what are the problems that petite women face when shopping for clothing?
In fact, petite sizing can apply to someone of just about any height, because it’s more a matter of proportions than how tall or short someone is. As we know, no two bodies are the same, so simply deeming someone “petite” leaves out a lot of information about that person’s particular sizing. The only thing people who wear petite sizes have in common is that they often struggle to find clothes that fit, mostly because they’re shorter on top, on bottom, or both. Now that we know what petite sizing is (or isn’t, rather), let’s address some common problems petites face, and how to address them.
There’s a wide range of issues petite women can face when shopping for clothing, some of them all at the same time. Many of these problems pertain to clothing length, from pants to tops to dresses. When shopping for pants, petite women may find that when they find the size pants that fit them around the waist, the inseam, or the leg length, is too long for their legs. They may also find that the rise, or the length between the waist and the crotch, is too long as well. Many women may buy the pants anyway, hoping to get them tailored, or simply planning to cuff them at the bottom. While a good tailor is an invaluable resource, as a petite woman you shouldn’t have to rely on one for your clothes to fit properly.
Another problem a petite woman can face has to do with shirt length. Many will find that their shirts’ hemlines are too long, with an unnecessary amount of fabric hanging over their pants or skirt, or bunching up when they try to tuck them in. Petite women may also find that the sleeves on their shirts are too long, that the shoulders on their shirts or dresses are too wide, or that the hems on their armholes hang too low. Buttons on shirts may be improperly spaced as well. These issues can arise for women of any height, since all women are proportioned differently. A woman may have longer legs and a short torso, or a longer torso and shorter legs. It’s all about finding the fit that suits you.
Luckily, more and more brands are making styles that work for petites, and altering their standard measurements to take a wider range of sizes into consideration. There are a variety of solutions for petite women’s clothing, from bottom to top. When it comes to petite pants, hemlines are cut shorter, to account for shorter leg length. Petite sizes are cut proportionally, so this also applies to the rise length and knee placement.
Petite women’s tops are also cut proportionally for women who have shorter torsos, with shorter hemlines, shorter sleeve lengths, higher armholes, and narrower shoulders. Women’s petite dresses are cut shorter, and waistlines are placed proportionally higher as well.
There are no style rules for petites—thanks to petite sizing, women with smaller proportions can wear just about anything they like! But there are a few tips for those looking to make the most of their relatively smaller frames. One way to elongate your frame is to pick your stripes wisely: vertical, as opposed to horizontal stripes, are super flattering for petite frames, helping to elongate your figure. When it comes to tops, try one with a lower neckline or an off-the-shoulder cut, which opens up your chest and helps to elongate your torso as well. A three-quarter sleeve shirt helps to elongate the arms, and light colors can be bright and flattering for smaller frames as well. Prints can be magic, too. Try smaller prints, which appear more proportional to your frame than larger ones. A waist-defining belt shows off your best features as well. We also recommend mixing up your silhouette—trying a form-fitting shirt with looser, wide-legged pants, or skinny jeans with a billowy tunic. All of these looks help to bring out the best in your particular shape, and to make you look ten feet tall. Well, maybe not that tall, but you get it.
Even if you’re not shopping in the petites section, there are ways to pick and choose styles that will work best with your frame. A cropped shirt or cropped jeans may fit you perfectly, or a mini skirt may fall a little closer to the knee on your body. There are always ways to make it work with a little ingenuity (and a good tailor). Check out the links below for more tips and tricks from Lands’ End!