The shrinking petite - une femme d'un certain âge

The shrinking petite

No, une femme isn’t shrinking, would that it were so.

Yesterday, Karen and I met up for a lovely brunch and a few hours of shopping. While we were making the rounds at the Century City mall, I was dismayed to see that the Talbot’s Petites store had closed their doors. This was one of the last retailers to devote a decent amount of brick-and-mortar space to their Petites line. Over the last few years, other retailers with petites lines (for women under 5’4″) have been steadily shrinking alotted real estate to the point that in most stores the Petites section (if there even is one…Saks closed theirs at the end of last year) is now a postage-stamp sized corner carrying one or two styles, and usually sold out of everything in between an XS and XL.
For those of us who are short, it’s not just a matter of buying regular sizes and hemming. Sleeve lengths, where the waist hits, where pockets and buttons are best placed and proportions in general are different for us. More and more we are being relegated to shopping solely online or making do with what items we can find in Misses sizes that work. I’ve always tried to patronize the brick-and-mortar petites stores and departments, but it seems there aren’t enough of our vertically-challenged demographic to keep these places afloat.
On the bright side, Karen found some lovely earrings and a great scarf, and I enjoyed a day of shopping without feeling particularly tempted to buy anything. However I’m coveting the Ann Taylor silk blouse that Karen was wearing (and raving about), and may have to go hunt one down.
In other Retail Reconnaissance updates: H&M still full of cheap acryllic crap (not a Choo to be seen anywhere in the store, despite the media hoopla) and water remains wet.
All original content property of

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 3.0 United States License.

Stay in touch.

Affiliate links in posts may generate commissions for See my complete disclosure policy here.


  1. November 16, 2009 / 2:36 pm

    I had to laugh when I read the full text of this post because on seeing the title I immediately homed in on what I thought was a fellow sufferer from the ‘Shrinking Petite’ syndrome. By which I mean how all those ‘petite’ clothes sizes have definitely got smaller over the years so that now I am forced to buy ‘medium’ or even, on very traumatic occasions, ‘large’. Nothing of course to do with my actual girth increasing from a (USA) 4-6 to an 8-10 over the passing years LOL!

  2. November 16, 2009 / 2:41 pm

    Why weren’t the short peeps shopping enough? A mystery…

  3. November 16, 2009 / 3:03 pm

    I’m just under 5’4″ and never found the Petites sections or stores appealing enough, quite honestly. The clothes always seemed too suited to an office life I didn’t have and while I could see they’d be useful for classic staples, they often seemd too conservative to lure me into the store. Not sure if I’m being fair or not, but that was always my impression and I could get by with choosing carefully from regular-height clothes and having alterations done.

  4. November 16, 2009 / 3:23 pm

    Sorry to hear your Talbots Petite hit the dust, Pseu. In my area they tend to split the real estate into fairly even P/W/M in their bigger stores; maybe they are revamping one of their “regular” Talbots?

    Materfamilias, I seem to know and a lot of Petites and I think all hate shopping most department Petites sections, so you’re not alone in your thoughts.

    I just helped a Petite friend with a huge closet overhaul/restock and she stuck with a few mainstream lines for basics (J Crew, ATL, Ann Taylor).

    But she also bought pretty heavily at a local store I discovered/buy from–they help one get around fit issues by including alterations in the tag price and doing custom and “customized.” [Price point is about the same as full price JCrew, BR etc.]

    She is so happy with her stuff (ditto me with mine) but it’s a splurge if one needs to shop at a lower price point. And kind of time-consuming/risky if you’re going customized vs alteration-only. We both wish we were expert sewers!

  5. Rubiatonta
    November 16, 2009 / 3:44 pm

    I know how it feels, Pseu, even though at size 18 I shop at the opposite end of the spectrum, in the Plus Dept. I remember my shock and disappointment to discover last year that the lovely, well-stocked, plus section of the flagship Bloomies in NYC had been shrunk and stuffed into a tiny little corner of their misses area. And EVERYTHING was uglyfrumpybarfy. I wanted to cry.

    I sometimes get the feeling that clothing manufacturers hope that if they just ignore those of us who are “inconveniently sized,” we’ll go away and leave them alone.

  6. November 16, 2009 / 4:10 pm

    OMG, I hope my Talbots retains the Petite side (and the women’s side for that matter even though I don’t shop there)! I use the Petites side for tops and jackets although I wear Regular for pants and skirts. Having that section makes it so much easier.

  7. November 16, 2009 / 5:22 pm

    I’m sorry for your dilemma. I’m short also, at 5 foot 2, but I found I’m not proportioned as a petite– I need regular length sleeves and I have good-size shoulders–so I don’t shop at petite stores.

  8. November 16, 2009 / 6:13 pm

    OK. So here’s what I want to know. Who DO the sizes in department stores fit?

  9. November 16, 2009 / 10:00 pm

    This is so crap! I find here too that petites have such a limited range. Hemming up a pair of pants – they never fall the same when you have to take so much out of them – the shape is altered.

    Lucky you catching up for lunch and shopping – wish I could have come!

  10. November 16, 2009 / 10:23 pm

    oops – that was me (Michelle – nail bites) wrong account – doing up a website for a friend.

  11. Sal
    November 16, 2009 / 2:35 pm

    It seems so odd that petites and plusses get relegated to online only, when those figures can often be the most challenging to fit! We still have Talbot’s Petites out here, so hopefully the entire line hasn’t vanished …

  12. November 17, 2009 / 12:31 am

    Doesn’t it make sense in a Darwinian retail environment that only the most mainstream sizes survive? Us Talls got the same end of the stick.

    Talbot’s has a huge Petites section here, but was in there today briefly and thought that Look Book lied, the clothes looked stiff.

    LPC: Missy Size 8s own the dept stores.

  13. November 17, 2009 / 5:29 am

    Sal – their online selection seems to be as comprehensive as ever, so I’m hoping at least that doesn’t change.

    Elegancemaison – oh, I have that problem too. Subject for another post. 😉

    WendyB – a mystery indeed.

  14. November 17, 2009 / 5:34 am

    materfamilias – yes, I don’t think height alone is the only determinant. Depending on the cut, I can sometimes wear regular sizes, but because of my short waist, anything with a waistline is generally too long for me unless it’s a petite cut.

    Vix – wish I could find something here similar to your local shop that will customize!

    Rubiatonta – yes, it’s frustrating, isn’t it? I hate feeling like a second-class citizen when I shop. (Another reason I tend to shop online.)

  15. November 17, 2009 / 5:36 am

    Nancy – hopefully your local store will continue to stock petites. I haven’t had a chance to check out the “regular” Talbot’s store yet to see if they’re still carrying the petites sizes.

    Cindy Kay – it’s interesting just how differently proportioned we can be, even at the same height. That was one of the great lessons I took away from the workshop we did with Imogen; there is no one “right” body.

    LPC – teenagers?

  16. November 17, 2009 / 5:41 am

    Imogen – we would have loved to have you join us. I remember back in my teens and twenties trying to hem my pants by 3-4″ and they never looked right.

    Duchesse – it does make sense, except that I have to wonder if petites or plus sizes aren’t a big enough section of the population to warrant a proportional amount of retail space. I’ve mostly been disappointed with the jackets (bulky, boxy) but some of the sweaters have been winners.

  17. Sher
    November 17, 2009 / 1:50 pm

    I’m doing more and more shopping online. It tends to be a vicious circle. I should be hunting down these stores to give them business.

  18. Denise
    November 17, 2009 / 8:32 pm

    “except that I have to wonder if petites or plus sizes aren’t a big enough section of the population to warrant a proportional amount of retail space” Ahem. By several accounts, 50 to 62 percent of American women wear size 14 or larger. So proportionally speaking, I should be walking into stores with at least half of their clothing in my size, and let me tell you, it’s not even close to that.

  19. November 18, 2009 / 7:59 pm

    You just reminded me of something funny. Long ago when I was first really getting into shopping, I used to have the mistaken notion that ‘petite’ was simply another word for ‘thin.’ Then I made the mistake of buying a petite sized dress and wearing it several times before I realized that the proportions of the dress placed the booty shaping squarely in the center of my back (I guess I wasn’t very observant back then!). It was then that I realized the whole garment is constructed differently for a shorter frame. So I can imagine how frustrating it must be to have your selections shrinking.

  20. November 21, 2009 / 2:22 am

    Sher – it *is* a vicious circle, but when one can never find the right size or color in the stores, what are we supposed to do?

    Denise – Yes, absolutely! It’s crazy! Aren’t Women’s sizes the fastest growing segment of the clothing industry? Yet so many designers won’t offer their clothing in plus sizes. One local Macy’s store has a *killer* women’s department; it has as much floor space as the entire men’s department and great labels like Jones New York Women.

    Audi – booty shaping squarely in the center of my back

    LOL, but yeah. I’ve tried on some jackets in regular sizes where the waist shaping hits at about my hip bones…

  21. May 14, 2011 / 8:29 am

    If I were going to start a business it would be a clothing store just for petites…with a second hand section. Not that I’m going to do anything as challenging as that.

    What would you think of doing a ‘Hot Flash’ about where petite persons can shop online? I’ve not had good luck with finding things that fit with online shopping, though unlike you, one of my fit problems is the lack of shoulders: mine are narrow and sloping, just like the pear that I am.

  22. May 14, 2011 / 1:49 pm

    Shelly – be sure to check back here next week; I’ll have something of interest to Petites. And I’ll work up a post in the future with some of my favorite online retailers for petite clothing.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

powered by chloédigital