Reader Request: How Does Petite Sizing Work?


Reader Wendy emailed me this question:

I was wondering if, at some point, you could discuss the particulars of petites. I’ve never understood whether it just applies to the length of the clothes or whether it affects the overall garment in some way. Does that make sense? I am short, but not necessarily “petite” in my frame, so sometimes petites work, but sometimes they don’t. I’d certainly appreciate it.

Great question, and one that isn’t often addressed directly. We associate the word “petite” with height, and that’s certainly a factor. But clothing that is designed for petite frames isn’t just shorter, it’s designed for a set of proportions that diverges from standard sizing in several ways:

Hems: This one, most of us know. Petite dresses and skirts have slightly higher hemlines, petite pants have shorter inseams.

Arms: Most petite clothing is designed with shorter sleeves.

Rise: Many petite pants and jeans will have a slightly shorter rise than regular sizes.

Waist: To accommodate a frame that is often more compact, petite dress waistlines are often a little higher than those of regular sized dresses.

Knees: If you’re working with a really good petite line, designers will have adjusted knee placement to suit shorter legs.

So if you’re a regular height person with a short waist, you can try buying petite tops. They’ll certainly be shorter in the body, but shortened sleeves may look a little odd on you. And if you’re over 5’4″ and your long-waistedness affects your pant hems, you might want to go with a short inseam instead of switching over to petite sizes.

My favorite resource for all things petite is Alterations Needed, followed closely by Extra PetiteCurvily and Petite Plus Meow offer great inspiration, but not as many tips and tutorials.

Let’s hear from the petites: Any other design details that are specific to petite clothing? What’s your greatest fit challenge? Which regular size garments can you wear, or tailor to wear? Let us know in the comments!

Image courtesy Old Navy.

**Disclosure: Actions you take from the hyperlinks within this blog post may yield commissions for See Already Pretty’s disclosure statement for more details.

Originally posted 2015-03-25 06:27:51.

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18 Responses to “Reader Request: How Does Petite Sizing Work?”

  1. disqus_lkdChzmzjm

    I’m petite, but I have large breasts, and I feel like the petite dresses are not made at all for people with larger breast. They’re often even smaller than regular tops. Petite jeans from Topshop are a godsend for me though, they’re the perfect lenght for my legs.

  2. Sarah Rain

    I have short arms and legs but my torso is pretty average, which means that petite tops/ blazers are too short on me, but regular sizes’ sleeves are too long. I tend to go for 3/4 sleeve options instead of messing with alterations.

  3. drachenpfoten

    I remember when I discovered petites- I was shopping for businesswear and ranting to my husband: “Why can’t they make versions of fitted clothes with slightly shorter arms and slightly higher waists and busts, this is bullshit, I can’t be the only person out there with-”

    At which point I realized what I had just said, cracked up, and headed over to petites, which fit beautifully.

    I’m not under 5’4″, but I am short-waisted and petite tops are perfect on me. Regular size fitted tops make me look like I am a kid wearing mom’s clothes. Thank goodness for petites. My biggest petite challenge has actually been bust seaming- with regular sizes, I can either have shoulders the right height and breasts riding above the bust seams, or breasts fitting right and shirt shoulders half an inch above my actual shoulders.

    Note: I am an American size 10/12 in regular, so I go up to 12/14 in petites, with a 34D bust.

  4. Hazel Stone

    I’m 5’7”, and a size 20 (UK), so not petite at all, but most of my weight and height is below the waist (long legs, big bum). As a result my best fitting office jacket is from a petite range. And I would never have thought of trying it one without the help of an experienced saleslady who ignored my “But I’m not petite” protestations.

  5. Katharine McArthur

    I am 5’3″ but I have a small torso with long arms and legs, so I have always found petite proportions to just not work for me.

    • Stephanie

      I’m 5’2″ with the same problem. My Mom (who’s 5’4″ but with a longer torso) spent a long time buying petite jeans for me, which I hated because they hit my ankles weirdly. I do better with “short” women’s pants (hemmed or with heels if they’re still a little long). I do sometimes have success with petite dresses, especially if they’re supposed to hit right above the knee.

      • Katharine McArthur

        Yeah, I can’t really do either short or regular pants. One is too long, the other too short. This is a large portion of why I tend to wear skirts. So I really hear your pain.

    • Sarah

      My sister struggles with this too–she’s 5’5″ and small-framed (30D bust) but has long arms and legs and an hourglass figure. Petites assume smaller proportions all around, but regular sizes often don’t come small enough. Girls and juniors sizing don’t match her curves.

  6. loubeelou

    I’m 5’5″ and usually wear a 10-14, and I definitely dabble in the petites. Some things that I have found I’ve preferred in petite – blazers at Talbots, sleeveless nicer blouses at Anne Taylor, skirts and maxi dresses in most brands. Maxis, in particular, have always been tough to fit in standard cuts – they usually come with puddles of fabric at my feet if I can’t find petites.

  7. Ginger

    Buying things in the petite department can save me the expense of a tailor to shorten hems or sleeves. Often when you have jacket sleeves shortened you lose the detail at the cuff – a placket or button. That irks me, I paid for the detail and then I have to pay someone to remove it. As the years have gone by and the pounds have settled in I find that I can’t buy petite pants, even sizing up because while I’m short, my bottom is not petite, so I stick with regular misses sizes and resign myself to shortening things.

    I think if you have petite fit issues it’s good to consider the next size either up or down because the cuts are different from regular misses.

  8. E.W.

    I’m supershort, 4′ 11″, and Petite just makes sense for most stuff. For dresses it’s a must – otherwise waists are much too low and shoulders have to be taken up, which often makes armpits too high (I’m booby and curvy too) – disaster. If I wore jackets I’d go petite too, for the same reasons – I’d just have to to get a waist-to-shoulder proportion right and not have to totally re-tailor something to get near it fitting.

    As for pants, well, depends. I don’t get to participate in the world of distressed jeans because the knee distressing is hilariously in the middle of my shin. But I don’t always go petite in pants, as petite sizes can be a little tight in the rise for my belly shape – lately I’ve been swearing by regular sizing high-rise jeans (I like Madewells) which I often hem. NYDJ petites were pretty good, but I like the cut of the madewell skinny skinny high riser better, (and the zipper, weirdly…I find the NYDJ zipper placket often flares or draws apart under, er, pressure, and that’s distracting to me).

    I guess I just sort of take for granted that I’m going to take at least 4 inches off the bottom of most things, and finding a favorite look in petite saves me the trouble!

  9. María Cristina García

    I first became aware of petite sizing in seventh grade when my brother and I tagged along on a business trip our dad was making to Costa Rica. The airline lost my luggage, and my bewildered father remedied the situation by going to the nearest mall’s petite section and buying a cashmere Liz Claiborne twinset (with coordinating ankle-length wrap skirt and one-inch-heeled sandals) to tide me over until my bag was eventually delivered to the hotel. It was a totally inappropriate outfit for the rainforest tour we took. But from then on, the petites section is where I’d look whenever I needed something more elegant/timeless/sophisticated than the juniors section could offer. As a 5’4″ adult, I still opt for petite sizing whenever possible. My quality “I’d like to be perceived as a professional, please” clothes are Talbots petites.

  10. Laura

    I’m 5′ tall with a 23″ inseam. Petite sizes aren’t done much in Australia. I’ve only ever had two pairs of trousers in my life that didn’t need hemming, & one was actually a pair of capris that I misread the label on.

  11. ara

    I’m 5’1″ and I have pretty standard proportions. The more I buy petite, the less I can tolerate “regular” clothes. I can sew, so I can hem, but other fixes are much more difficult.

    Shoulder width is important, especially for blazers. Definitely try petite blazers if you have narrow shoulders.

    The length/area between the shoulder and the bust is also an issue (I’m basically talking about strap length, but it’s a really difficult fix on garments with sleeves or even just a lined sleeveless garment).

  12. Cassandra Westfall

    Petite jackets usually are narrower in the shoulders, arm holes are placed higher and are a bit smaller to accomodate smaller frames.

    Since I veer more towards petite plus (a sizing range that is almost impossible to find off the rack), I find that I often size out of petite clothing, but “regular” sizing is proportionately too large. I have virtually everything altered – including jacket sleeves slimmed, shoulders taken in, sleeves and bottoms shortened, etc. Having the shoulders taken up on regular size sleeveless tops and dresses also helps in getting the right placement in the waist.

    I also find juniors plus size provides a better fit. Since juniors clothing is proportionately smaller, I find that while I may still have to have items shortened, juniors clothing fits better in shoulders and helps me avoid some of the more expensive alterations.


    • Wendy Leonardo

      I, too, lean more towards petite plus, especially for pants, because most lines only make petites up to size 12, or so. I have had some luck with Lands End petites as they don’t cut them any smaller, just shorter, and they tend to run large. I can wear their 18P pants and they fit better than most 14WP pants when I can find them!

  13. Bike Pretty

    I’m 5’4″ and long-waisted with long arms. I also have a big butt which makes hems even shorter. Thus Petite clothes do not work on me.

    It almost feels like a trick when marketers lure me over to that section with their “Specially designed for women 5’4″ and under” messaging.