The petite clothing market has a reputation for being short on fashion, but a retail shift is underway. Back in 2006, American department chains, like Neiman Marcus, Saks and Bloomingdale’s, started to quietly downsize or eliminate their petite departments (sized for women 5 feet 4 inches and under) and switch to an online-only model. The move was bold and illuminating.
Executives explained to The New York Times that their decision wasn’t based on sales floor space or height variances over time (the average American woman still hovers around 5 feet 4 inches), but on a low sell-through. Petite women were no longer interested in the buttoned-up workwear popularized in the 80s by brands like Liz Claiborne or Jones New York — and that was largely all that was available. They wanted “more youthful, skin-baring and tighter-fitting clothing in the contemporary departments.”
Slowly but surely, brands are stepping up to fill the void. In 2012, for instance, Anthropologie debuted its first petite clothing collection featuring approximately 70 styles. Today, the retailer offers a selection of more than 500 pieces, including exclusive designer collaborations with the likes of Tracy Reese and Whitney Pozgay of WHIT. But it’s not only mass-market retailers who are beginning to capitalize on the underserved category. Earlier this year, Los Angeles cult brand Reformation premiered a petite clothing line titled “Don’t Call Me Cute,” featuring jumpsuits, flirty skirts and breezy dresses that don’t need to be hemmed. And guess what? There wasn’t a button-down in sight. We’d say that’s a step in the right direction.
For a rundown of the 20 best petite clothing stores and brands right now, click on the gallery above.