Sunday, May 28, 2006

Being Petite

I am not petite, nono, not by any stretch of the imagination. I am 5'9" and quite proud of it. Except, of course, when I try to date and have to wear my low-heeled shoes because not every guy is going to be tall enough for me to wear the higher-heeled variety. And, on that note, I'm slightly sick of the high-high-HIGH heels I've seen in department stores everywhere. Sometimes it's just difficult to find a modest heel these days. It's like ballet flats, hooker stilettos, or nada.

But that's not what I meant to focus on right now. I read this article in The New York Times, about how major department stores are minimalizing or discontinuing petite lines and floor space.

"Executives at the three department stores said the decision was based on the poor sales of petite sizes, which are traditionally designed for a woman 5-foot-4 or smaller, with pant lengths and jacket proportions cut accordingly. Petite women, they said, would rather wear the more youthful, skin-baring and tighter-fitting clothing in the contemporary departments, even if it does not fit them as well. And, they point out, there is always tailoring."

Many loyal "P" customers are understandably angry, but if the stores aren't turning out a profit, I don't see what customers expect from management. Fashion is a business, dahling. My favorite quote of the article puts it quite bluntly:

"'It appears that we have frustrated some customers,' said Ron Frasch, the chief merchant at Saks. 'We are trying to figure out how many we have frustrated.'"

True, Mr. Frasch (may I call you Ron?). It's a numbers game; it's a money game. No one is claiming otherwise. If women expect service to bend to their minority needs and desires, they can go to specialty boutiques, online, or to tailors. I don't mean to sound harsh. My own mother often shops in petites for tops (and I am quite angry with her for being petite, because all of her lovely, well-preserved vintage coats from the seventies do not fit my broad shoulders or long arms at all). But big and tall women and men, as well as those with big or small feet or any number of other specialty needs have to do the same. You and I (and all of us), we sometimes go to specialty supermarkets, retail stores or other establishments to get what we want when it isn't what the majority wants. I am a health-conscious vegetarian, sometimes grocery stores don't provide amply for my needs, and I go elsewhere. It's just the way.

The article claims that some petite women feel targeted and undervalued by this change. I don't find it much more actively discriminatory for Sak's to reduce its petites section than I do the fact that no store sells Ben & Jerry's low-fat frozen yogurt Phish Food within 300 miles of me (mm, sometimes it's as though I only dreamt you). Isn't walking into a store that caters to your needs explicitly also rewarding, albeit less convenient? If the petites sections were as necessary and useful and popular as they were in the 80's and 90's, they would doubtlessly be remaining. If there were a store to which I could reasonably drive to get that Phish Food? Boy howdy, I would.

This article has some useful tips if you're a petite shopper.

Finding Clothes That Fit and Flatter on, of all places, has some helpful hints if you've had the experience (haven't we all?) of walking into a store and feeling like the clothes were meant for someone other than you.

As always, feel free to let me know what you think on the matter.

(The picture above is Kristen Bell, star of Veronica Mars, a whopping 5'1". I think she's just fabulous, and she dresses her height with flourish and grace.)


Anonymous said...

If the average American woman is 5'3.8" (National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES)), 5'4"-and-under "petites" make up more than 50% of the population, and only count as a "minority" in the same sense that we often call women a minority. I understand your frustration as a taller woman, but the fact is that only certain women shop in the "petite" section because the clothes are ugly and matronly, not because only a minority of women are so-called "petite." Ideally, good designers would make some of their clothes to fit shorter and taller bodies. Then, perhaps, I might own a skirt that doesn't stop mid-calf, making me look stubby, or need to be hemmed, in the process losing all hemline detail. All I'm saying is, just watch what you're calling "minority needs and desires."

Cara said...

Also, maybe they should update their petite lines, so I could buy clothes at places other than Banana Republic and J.Crew.
If the average woman is 5'3.8'' they should really stop making all clothes for an 'average' height of 5'7''
And much as I heart Kristen Bell, which you know I do, as she's my girl crush, she tends to dress in clothes that make her look stumpy or old. Which I can't understand, because girl's adorable.

!mp said...

you both show an astonishing, dense ability to miss the point.

The Style Bard said...

Okay. There are a few things I would like to answer concerning any offenses that might have been taken to my post.


"the fact is that only certain women shop in the "petite" section because the clothes are ugly and matronly, not because only a minority of women are so-called "petite.""

If the clothes in the petites section are ugly and matronly, then why are people so upset about the lines being discontinued or limited? If the problem is that petite women cannot find decent clothes, I wholeheartedly agree that more designers should make more sizes of all of their lines. That would be ideal, and I'm sorry that they don't and (A Dinosaur will probably agree) I am the first person who would sign a petition or go to a conference concerning the matter even though it has nothing to do with me, just because I agree that it's worthwhile. But for whatever reason petite women are not shopping in the petites section, then there is no reason for a department store to give the section a ton of floor space, right? Therefore- and I am sorry for the confusion- the needs and desires of the petites shoppers are in the minority of overall shopper needs and desires, as reflected by their declining rate of purchase. Concerning customer demand, in the supply/demand scheme of things, the majority of consumers at Saks are not buying petites. The women who are upset because they are loyal customers to the petites section and feel abandoned by the store are in the minority. The fact that the stores should be updating their lines in order to keep petites consumers is a separate issue from the matter being discussed.


Although the rule that "petites" are meant for 5'4" women and under is a common generalization, that isn't the whole story. My mother, whom I have already used as an example of a petite shopper, is taller than 5'4". But she has short arms, a narrow top. Many women shop in petites for separates. Petite clothing is designed based on, for example, the width of the back and the length of the arms of the garment, not the overall height of the woman, per se. Women who are 5'4" and under tend to meet the required measurements more often and therefore become the dominantly targeted client.


The average of a set of numbers does not necessarily imply that there is 50% on either end of the spectrum. That is the median.

From Wikipedia: "Most people have an above average number of legs - think about it. The mean number of legs is going to be less than 2 (because there are people with one leg and people with no legs). The mean is probably 1.999997 or somesuch figure. So since most people have two legs, they have an above average number!"

Regardless, the stores would not be making this kind of a rash decision unless most consumers were shopping in sections other than the petites section.


"And much as I heart Kristen Bell, which you know I do, as she's my girl crush, she tends to dress in clothes that make her look stumpy or old. Which I can't understand, because girl's adorable."

I heart her too! But even though we've seen her looking frumpy a few times, I've seen her looking cute many, many more times. I wonder if one trait or the other is the fault of a stylist? But either way, in most of the pictures (especially candids) that I can find, she looks adorable.

If anyone has some examples of her looking questionable, or just opinions on Ms. Bell, send 'em my way. This could turn into a whole separate post.

!mp said...

and the fact that petite clothes are ugly is addressed in the article, including the part quoted, which states that women wish to shop for the more contemporary clothing, even though it may not fit as well.

Cara said...

I'm mostly talking about what she wears to award shows. Just IMDB her and almost everything she wears looks too big or like a Dynasty castoff. Though sometimes that's just because she happens to have very tall hair that night.
If it is the fault of a stylist she should really, you know, hire a new stylist. Since she has eyes and all.

NarrowShoulders said...

Sure it's easy to say, "shop at a specialty store." But the only petite specialty store in my area was Petite Sophisticate, and the entire chain (with it's regular-size partner, Casual Corner) has now closed. When my local department store stops selling petites, how long will I have to wait before some enterprising person opens a specialty shop where I can buy a shirt that fits my narrow shoulders?

On my budget, I can't afford to have every shirt I buy tailored, but I have to have nice things for the office. And can sweaters even be tailored? Maybe I'd better learn to sew and knit.

The Style Bard said...

It isn't fair, Narrow Shoulders. Please read my post, the article again and the comments. I'm not marching around with a sandwichboard advocating the closing of petites sections, mwuahahaha. But I have yet to hear an argument other than personal inconvenience (even if it is a vast inconvenience) that makes a better argument than the stores, who argue that if the petites customers shopped more and had enough of a need to produce a profit for them, then they would absolutely leave the petites sections in place.

You work in an office. Do you think your office could function if it catered to clients who, in effect, couldn't pay them? I doubt it. Department stores can't play pro bono.

But, as the only petites line in your area, there's a more reasonable chance that your petites section would never close as one would, say, in New York City or South Florida, where the alternative options are plentiful. Which is a point the article makes- whenever other options are present, the petites market is taking them. Out of curiosity, how often do you buy clothes from the department store petites section in your area?