Is petite clothing just shorter?

Apr 10, 2024

What is petite clothing?

Many people think petite clothing is designed in extra small sizes, but this isn’t the case. The term ‘petite’ is the name given to a specific sub-section of women’s fashion that’s designed and made for shorter women.

It comes from the French word for ‘little’, and that explains much of the confusion around the term, which is often misunderstood and used incorrectly.

Since we’re experts in petite clothing, let us answer all your questions about it here, and set the record straight.

Who is petite clothing for?

Petite clothing is designed for women who are shorter than average. The height cut-off differs between brands, with some designing their petite ranges for women under 5’4” (163cm), and others for those under 5’3” (160cm).

Many petite brands will give 4’11” (150cm) as the minimum height their clothing will be suitable for, simply because it’s very difficult to make clothing to fit a broader height range than that.

We design our clothing for women between 4’11” and 5’3”, although certain styles, like our midi dresses and skirts, are more flexible if you’re a bit taller or shorter than this.

Who can wear petite clothing?

Besides women within the 4’11”-5’3” (150-160cm) height range, some taller women may buy certain items from the petite range depending on their proportions.

That’s because, while some people are evenly proportioned, some people tend to be proportionately longer in the torso, and others in their legs.

So, for example, a woman who’s 5’5” but proportionately short in her torso may find petite tops fit her better, or skirts and trousers if she’s shorter in the leg.

Is petite clothing smaller or just shorter?

Because the term ‘petite’ in relation to women’s fashion is often misused, many people believe it can interchangeably mean either short or small (slim).

In fact, ‘petite’ only refers to being short in height. For that reason, petite clothing is specially designed to fit shorter women. After all, we already have a method of classifying clothes by small to large, be it with numbers (6-8-10) or letters (XS-S-M). Petite is an additional classification that just relates to height.

How is petite sizing different to regular sizing?

The size classifications (be it 6, 8, 10 or S, M, L and so on) stay the same with petite clothing. The only difference will be the lengths of the pieces.

So two women can both be a size 12 dress size, but one is 5’1” and buys her dresses in the petite range, and the other is 5’6” and buys from the regular range.

What is worth noting here is that, unlike men’s sizing, which is done in absolute measures (waist measurements for trousers, neck measurements for shirts), women’s sizing is arbitrary. In women’s sizing, ‘size 12′ has no universal meaning. It’s one size bigger than a 10 and one size smaller than a 14, but there aren’t objective measurements attached to this size.

This means different brands create their own size guides, which is why you can end up finding you’re a size 10 in one brand, and a size 12 in another. It’s also why you may find that certain brands’ clothing fits you better – their size guide is a better fit for your figure.

It’s a source of frustration for many women, and in all honesty a pretty flawed system, but worth remembering. Always check the size guide, don’t assume what size you are in a new brand, and don’t let the arbitrary numbers affect how you feel about yourself.

How is petite clothing made shorter?

It’s not just shorter hems that differentiates petite styles from their regular counterparts. All the measurements need to be shortened, since short women are a bit shorter than average-height women all over, not just in their legs.

So that means the height of the waist on dresses, the length of sleeves, the length of the crotch, the drop of the neckline. Even things like shoulder width can be narrower, since shorter frames tend to have a slightly smaller bone structure. This isn’t to be confused with overall size – waist, bust, and hip measurements can be the same between petite and regular pieces.

Making clothing patterns into different sizes is a process known as grading. It’s a technical method that requires exacting formulae, and clothing manufacturers offering styles in both their regular and petite ranges will adjust every section of the pattern length to accommodate shorter women’s proportions.

(We only make pieces in petite, so even within the design process, all our focus is on creating styles that really flatter petite frames, rather than turning pieces made for taller women into petite lengths.)

Do petite sizes come up small?

This is a great question.

The honest answer: they shouldn’t. Remember that we already have a system for classifying clothing by size (using 8, 10, 12 or S, M, L etc).

Our strong feeling is that the core measurements for women’s clothing (bust, waist, and hip) should be identical between identical sizes (e.g. a petite size 6 and a regular size 6). However, the frame of the petite piece may feel smaller because of narrower shoulders and shorter waist, arm, and leg lengths.

However, there are brands offering petite and regular sizes who have different size charts. This doesn’t make a lot of sense to us, and so our advice stays the same – check the size guide for every individual brand and don’t assume what size will be best. There can be a lot of variation between stores.

Who sells petite clothing?

Many of the big women’s fashion retailers offer petite ranges, although these are likely to be petite versions of their main collection – styles designed for taller women.

(And, we’ve noticed, normally the plainest pieces from the main range, too.)

There are very few exclusively petite brands, like us, not just making clothing for shorter women, but  designing it specifically with them in mind. It means our styles are created to really flatter and elongate your shorter frame. This doesn’t just go for the shapes but the lengths, too – our midi dresses and midi skirts, traditionally thought of as no-gos for petite women, make you look taller, with clever lower-calf hems that draw the eye down.

We thought it was about time shorter women weren’t an afterthought, which is why we make premium, limited edition pieces – both wardrobe staples and special occasion pieces.

Nice to know that everything on our website is designed especially for you, eh?