A brief history of petite fashion

Apr 10, 2024


Creating The Shortlist has meant a lot of thinking about petite fashion and its shortcomings. Recently that had us wondering where petite fashion started – who invented it and how long has it been around for?

Here’s the brief version – it’s a nice story.

How petite fashion came about

In the 1940s, US fashion designer Hannah Troy noticed that many women didn’t fit regular sized clothes, and figured that something wasn’t quite right about standard sizing.

Luckily, during WWII, the government had recorded the measurements of all women completing military service. On studying these, Hannah found that only 8% fit standard sizing’s proportions; instead, the majority of women were ‘short in the waist’ (as she put it).

And so she developed a new range, which she called ‘Troyfigure’. This was based on a ‘junior’ fit but with a more mature style, and she kept her adjusted proportions a closely-guarded secret. Unsurprisingly, it was a huge hit – more so even than her regular range. And so, petite fashion was born.

The popularity of Troyfigure quickly caught on, although each retailer created their own proportion formulae (sounds like women’s fashion to us).

Hannah passed away in 1993 and the specific proportions she used have been lost over the years.

When asked where the word ‘petite’ came from, she replied that “it just had a nice ring to it. I’ve regretted it ever since.”

We have to agree – it feels a bit twee. It gives us the same cringe we get if someone calls us ‘Miss’, or ‘young lady’. Not to mention the fact that it’s often used to mean slim, too.

Besides the word itself, being a petite fashion label feels like we’re marking ourselves out as a specialist group. But it’s not unusual to be short, as Hannah discovered – far from it. Around 40-50% of women are 5’4” or shorter. We’re not spectacular at all (unless you ask our mum).