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.”
And speaking of youthful, according to new research from the NPD Group, nowadays teens are moving away from the junior segment in favor of plus, petite and tall sizes. In a 2016 survey of adolescent shopping habits, 49 percent of respondents said they were shopping petite clothing as compared to 40 percent in 2012. Further evidence that a “one-size-fits-all approach doesn’t work for most clothing, and it doesn’t work for marketing to consumers either,” in the words of Marshal Cohen, chief industry analyst at NPD.
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 600 pieces and has exclusive petite-friendly designer collaborations with the likes of Tracy Reese and Whitney Pozgay of WHIT under its belt. But it’s not only mass-market retailers that are beginning to capitalize on the underserved category. In 2015, 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 22 best petite clothing stores and brands right now, click on the gallery above.