Wardrobe 101

Petite Style Challenges

Happy day, reader dearest!

I overhear a lot of grumbling in dressing rooms. Not so much when I take a client shopping, because my job is to remove the grumble factor for them! But I frequently overhear women in other dressing rooms grumbling about how everyone else has it easier when it comes to shopping. In the interest of dispelling grass-is-always-greener syndrome, I thought I’d share some style challenges of different body variations in a few posts. Today I’ll tackle some of the issues the petite woman (or short man) struggles with on a regular basis…

Every body variation has particular fit issues! Body Variation is not the same as shape, if you want to learn more about body shape, here’s an overview article linking to my women’s body shape posts. By variations, I mean tall versus petite, large bust or small, square shoulders or sloping. It’s these variations that can make shopping and styling any body shape a real challenge.

Too Big

There are two kinds of too-big that petites can struggle with. First there’s the all over too-big that means finding a petites department. The second is for those petite petites, who with the advent of vanity sizing, find it harder with each passing year to find clothing made small enough for their small frames. Not everything can be taken in to fit!

Why does the petite need a special cut of clothing? Because when you scale down clothing to fit a smaller frame, it’s not simply about shortening the length. If that were so, it would be easy! For many petites, misses clothing means arm holes that droop and show your bra in sleeveless tops. Jacket arm holes are too big and low, and the arms are too large around. Trouser thighs bag. Trousers come up to the ribcage rather than sit at the waist. Waistbands are too wide. And finding a bra with a small enough band can mean taking out a second mortgage.

Another place where petites struggle is with too-big accessories. Jewelry isn’t usually a problem; it’s adjustable, and there’s a great variety of scale from which to choose. Purses easily cause a scale problem. Carried by a petite woman, a handbag can look like a tote, and a tote like a suitcase. (That’s why you’ll see starlets carrying such huge bags… To look smaller in comparison!) And that crossbody bag? More like a hangs-down-to-the-knees bag! Glasses and sunglasses are often too large for the woman with a petite face. My default used to be the children’s section of the optical store, but more and more brands are syndicating, or infantilizing eyeglasses. I don’t need Hello Kitty on my specs. Thank goodness Ray-Ban is making children’s frames now!

Too Long

If too-long was just trouser legs, and shirt and jacket sleeves, too long would be easy! Hemming trousers is simple. Shortening jacket sleeves may be expensive or unfeasible if detailing or button holes are in the way. Other too-longs: Knee highs become over-the-knee socks, and tights come up to the bust, or puddle in the shoes. (This is incredibly annoying and uncomfortable!)

Short men struggle with many of the same issues as petite women, although not the bra! Of special annoyance for men is ties that are too long… Finding men’s clothing made in Short is getting more difficult with each passing year.


Petite women find details placed incorrectly on misses clothing. Waistbands and darts on dresses are too low. Buttons are too large in scale, and in unflattering places! Imagine a shirt pocket with a button. On an misses sized woman, the pocket lies over the breast, with the button above. On the petite, that button can end up smack dab in the middle, looking like an exterior nipple! Embroidery or bling ends up on the bust rather than above. Necklines are scandalously low. Patterns or stitching to highlight the waist find themselves highlighting an area that is NOT the waist. Pockets end up where pockets aren’t meant to be…

Fewer Choices

I am thankful for companies that do offer petite options, but not everything in the regular/misses sizes is offered in petites. Fair enough, petites are a smaller percentage of the population. Petites find fewer cuts, styles and colors. When a sweater is produced in misses and petite,  if it is offered in 5 or so colors in misses, petites are lucky to find three (usually neutrals). I am thankful for the neutrals; when I was a young woman, the clothes in petites were often in pastels, which I found confounding. I looked young enough; baby colors were not necessary!

Many of the companies that make petites don’t stock them in their stores. You go shopping only to find you can’t actually try on the petite sizes you need. You must  order them. Also frustrating is that department store petites departments (where you can find brand variety) are catering more and more to older women with a penchant for embellished tops and stretch pants. My mother is approaching 86 and she looks at most of the styles and says they are too “old lady, thank you, no.” This is less apparent if you live in the “big city,” but for me that’s quite a drive for a casual shopping jaunt.


I had a friend in college who wore size 5 (US) shoes. That is the smallest size produced by many women’s shoe makers. If you wear a size smaller than 5, finding adult shoes is challenging and pricey! Shopping in the children’s shoe department might work for flat sandals, but like glasses, even those are becoming more and more childish looking, unless your taste runs toward pink glitter, or white patent.

Another shoe issue that plagues regular sized and tall women, too, but to which petites are especially prone is low volume feet. Just because you wear a 7 Medium, doesn’t mean your foot shape and volume is the same as every other 7M. As vanity sizing has taken over in the clothing department, shoe volume seems to be enlarging as well. And wearing a heavier pair of socks to take up the space isn’t always workable! Fortunately, insoles, and gel pads can sort the fit sometimes, but careful shopping is a must.

Another shoe issue for some women (and often petites) is a narrow foot, or heel. (Heel slippage makes me crazy!) Back in the 1950’s many shoe manufacturers used to stock at least a N or AA shoe. My mother wore a 7 1/2 AAAA. I remember Naturalizer and Ferragamo being the only companies that made shoes for her very narrow feet. Now even these two no longer make that size. Brands that make even AA or N widths are few and far between. 

So, how’d I do? Petites: Did I leave any of your struggles out? Please let me know, so I can add them in! Misses and Talls: Did you learn anything new about your petite sisters’ style struggles? Let me know in the comments below! I love to hear from you…

Stylishly yours,

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