What Petite Means in Women's Clothing

Plus Shopping Tips for Us Shortys

black femme in white dress


If you're 5'4" or 5'3" and under, welcome to the shorty club (read: petite). Also known as the club of sleeves that are too long and pants that drag, its members are easily identified by their frustrated expressions and ill-fitting clothing in dressing rooms across America. The thing is, even though petite fashion sizes have been around since the late-'40s, the selection pales in comparison to what is offered in "regular" sizing (sigh). Still, don't let that discourage you. There are tips and tricks for finding that perfect petite fit.

Keep reading to learn what the term "petite" really means in terms of clothing sizes, plus helpful guidelines for shopping online and in stores.

Basic Differences in Fit

When most people hear the word "petite," they assume it means "tiny."  To be clear, while "petite" does mean small, in terms of clothing, it refers to a specific height size range that is made to fit those who are shorter. Keep in mind, though, that shape also plays a role in how an item of clothing will look and feel. Petite sizing can be limiting for those of us who have bigger busts or curvier figures, and may not always make the most comfortable fit.

But if you're shopping for petite clothing, the most obvious thing you'll notice—and the most important—is that sleeves, dresses, tops, and bottoms are all shorter in length. Because clothing manufacturers cut to their own specifications, the length may be the only difference in some cases. However, some brands are going a step further by taking all petite proportions into account. This can include higher armholes, narrower shoulders, shorter rises on petite pants, and shorter bodices on petite dresses. 

Differences in Styles

black femme walking down the street


Apart from fit and sizing, petites may notice a difference in the style of their clothes as compared to that of their longer-limbed counterparts. Oftentimes, petite clothing is designed to make its wearer appear taller. So you'll find more vertical stripes, princess seams, smaller prints, smaller buttons, and thinner belts when shopping in petites. Monochrome outfits are also super flattering. On the other hand, you may want to stray away from larger silhouettes as they can overwhelm a smaller stature. Ultimately, however, style comes down to personal taste, so while these may be petite clothing trends, you're the best judge of what clothes will make you look and feel your best.

Shopping Tips

Now that you know what petite sizing and styling are all about, you're just about ready for some retail therapy. But before you go, know this: In general, online shopping tends to offer more options for petites than brick-and-mortar stores. That's because many retailers devote more floor space to "regular"-sized clothing. However, if you do head to the shops only to discover that there are no petite sizes available, fear not, as the power of a good tailor should never be underestimated. And as with all shopping, trying before buying is ideal. Obviously, e-commerce doesn't offer that possibility, so the next best thing you can do is review a clothing item's sizing details, customer reviews, and return policy, prior to checkout.

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