Why do Petite Clothes Suck?

I Shouldn’t Be So Harsh I Suppose
But Coulda, Shoulda, Woulda. Real Talk: shopping for petite clothes is down right frustrating most of the time, including “petite sections.” There are fantastic designs catering to petites such as Ann Taylor, Banana Republic, and up-and-coming Jeetly based out of the UK — featured in this post. But overall, our situation as tanchis, as petite women with panzas, is challenging because of our available petite apparel options, especially for those of us in our wonderful turbulent twenties, or as I call it our ‘This Isn’t College Anymore (or Entry-Level)‘ stage in life. We have enough to deal with. ha. The shortage of great clothing options that are available for petites just puts the cherry on the top of the typical tanchi problems. 

I Want My 30th Birthday Already
I mean it though, as a woman learning to navigate the turbuelent twentites, I’m learning to be independent, cope with feelings of constant uncertainty, navigate complicated matters of the heart, and manage choices on just about everything – as simple a latte or coffee depending on my budget that week, to shopping for auto insurance and searching for a new apartment with terms and agreements that make saying “I do” cake by comparison.

I often joke and say, I can’t wait for my 30s because that is when you start to master it all. After learning so many more lessons the hard way from who to trust, who to love, and what to do with your life after college, the one thing I am proud of mastering, is curation – the way of the tanchi . To some, it may not seem that learning to dress is a huge accomplishment, as say birthing a child or closing on a property. I won’t pretend it is on the same level, but let me tell you for this tanchi – being petite and curvy – learning to dress for my style and body has been a journey. I’m proud of my closet (do not mess with it), and my ability to embrace and love my petite and curvy self – to represent a postitive image of the bella tanchi. I got one thing down in life and it took a lot of Winne the Pooh style hard thinking and trial and error to get it right. Today, I’d like to share and inspire fellow tanchis and honorary tanchis to put their best image out there in the world, despite that Petite Clothes Suck and have an understanding to the industry.


Winnie the pooh thinking icon by ~FadedxLight on deviantART

So What ‘s Up With Petite Clothes?
The heart and soul of the problem takes root in petite apparel construction. The Petite Shop has a great diagram that unveils the tweaks necessary for tanchi friendly garments:


Shorter inseams, shorter straps, shorter rise, and shorter sleeves. That’s it. It’s really pretty simple to understand us. But we are short in comparison to the 5’9 models that have become the industry norm. So how did the norm of today become the norm?

With 40% of women qualifying for petite status (under 5’4); I went into CSI mode to get to the bottom of petite gear and investigating why tanchis don’t like it. 

A Brief History on How Clothes Are Made
I own some vintage dresses of my Mama Sonia’s that were made by my Mama Luz (my grandmother) back in San Salvador, in her dress making shop. My Mama Luz learned the trade of sewing and used it as a way to rise from “campesino life,” (peasants living in camps) and eventually became one of the most sought-after dressmakers in El Salvador. It is how clothes used to made – you  found a dress maker, she took yours measurements, you came in for fittings, and then you had customized dress for your proportions. My Mama Luz is a master at making panza friendly garments and her beading work made for spectacular gowns. So cache (classy)!

Dressmaking class-Margaret Lindsay c1950s or '60s

Dressmaking Class by Margaret Lindsay c1950s or ’60s from the Lindenwood Library Archives

So what happened? Why has couture dress making become such a lost art? Even designer Yves Saint Laurent had rubbished couture — although later changed his mind as featured in this column by Colin: Is Haute Couture Poised for Reinvention or Irrelevance?


Dressmaking workshop and pattern diagrams, from the 1770’s Denis Diderot’s Encyclopedia

In looking at the history of clothing construction, couture lost its appeal because it made for inaccessible, slow and costly processes for making clothing. Even though fashion houses, such as Dior and Chanel, mastered the art and made many beautiful timeless garments post World War II and into the 50s and 60s, eventually advances in technology made it easier to mass-produce apparel. In addition to foreign trade policy, it revamped the tradition of making clothes and catered to changing tastes. Unfortunately for us petites and tanchis, it was not exactly in our favor.

The End of Everyday Couture: the 1970s Popularized “Ready-to-Wear”
“Ready-to-Wear” apparel pretty much took over and set the new stage for making clothes. It is the model prevailing in the industry today. Essentially, you go to a store where one particular item has been made from an industry norm pattern. Thousands of fabric pieces have been cut from those pattern pieces with big machinery, and thousands of pieces have been sewn together to make for thousands of the same kind of one clothing item. We hyper-industrialized apparel and this method is proven profitable.

The Petite Gap Remains in the Golden Era of “Ready-to-Wear”
Jess of Jeetly Petite shares that manufacturers aren’t interested in producing petite sized apparel because they feel it’s not worth their time, effort and cost to create new blocks for grading [when a pattern is taken and made to be smaller or larger than the original pattern]. It is far easier for them to take orders from non-petite brands that use standard size blocks. Petite woman make for a minority sector of the population, and there is little financial reward compared to the regular sized clothing industry.

Different Eras Cater to the Beauty of the Female Form
Today, “ready to wear” is on a whole other level. It has been shaped by leaders such as the Spanish company, Inditex, and has exploited this industrialization method and introduced the fast fashion conglomerates we have come to love such as Forever 21 and H&M. The end of everyday couture and the present gap for petite apparel in the golden age “ready-to-wear” is at a peak.

A few weeks ago, Courtney of the online vintage shop, Madame X Vintage featured Valentines Vintage wear in a post, A ‘Bella Tanchi’ Vintage Valentine’s Day and she reminded us that every time period has catered in some manner to the beauty of the female form. For example, the height of the 1950’s and 1960’s was the era of Marilyn Monroe, Sophia Loren, and Raquel Welch (the golden age of Hollywood) -— a time when many women were smaller and curvier.

As fashion publicist, Kelly Cutrone says in her title, “If You Have to Cry, Go Outside,” “I promise you that if 60 percent of society decided that chunky, Rubenesque women were the epitome of fashion chic, the first people to give it to them would be fashion designers. But society is into the concept of thinner, younger, faster, better. Look around; they’ve taken great American literature and turned it into Twitter.” Kelly is right in that the demand for curvier, shorter apparel could be made possible if curvier, shorter women were desired as the epitome of fashion chic.

Tanchis, “Normal Gets You Nowhere” – Kelly Cutrone
The “normalcy” of how women look in the media isn’t exactly skewed in  favor of the petite and curvy. This isn’t anything new, of course, but this shortage of representation is a problem because as Jess describes, “many petite women are not aware of petite brands because there is not enough coverage in glossy magazines and television media.” Petite brands are not dressing petite celebrities and petite women are more concerned with buying what celebrities are wearing than buying a proportioned petite style.

What’s Normal Isn’t Always What It ‘s Cut Out to Be: Not Even for the “Normals”
Nowadays, garments are constructed to industry norms suiting an aesthetic for women that have shaped the public’s consciousness. As model, Cameron Russell, said in her TED talk featured previously; she basically won the lottery with her genes at the right time to achieve such notoriety as a super model.

Really Going CSI: Investigating Pattern Making
There’s a bigger picture issue in why petite clothes suck.  To get in touch with the heart of the problem, which is in garment construction, I took a pattern making class where I learned to make industry norm patterns – I choose a size 6 top to begin. My favorite key insight I took away was dart manipulation. This graphic below shows how in flat pattern making, you can adjust to make patterns for tanchi friendly garments. It is the key to making petite curvy patterns work – at least from the waist up.

By Mina Jugovic

Interviewing the Witnesses on the case: Why Petite Clothes Suck
Dart manipulation is a crucial element in flat pattern making – my teacher Susan Suarez used to say you gotta “let loose” because this is where the design takes form. Petite patternmaking isn’t as seamless as regular pattern making, though. Danielle C., currently in the foot apparel industry at Reebok, has observed how pattern making for petites almost looks deformed– — as though, our shape was some mystery and the patterns just looked unflattering. Aimee, a reader and editor of this blog, thinks the problem is people who aren’t tanchis are making clothes for tanchis. It is about time we had apparel for tanchis made by tanchis who really understand the life of a tanchi and our needs for apparel.

The Future: An End to Tanchis Making Do with Standard Sizing
What can we do about it? As Jess puts it, if we want to see petite brands on the high street, we need to support petite brands by making a purchase and spreading the word. We need to educate petite women about petite proportions and looking their best in perfectly proportioned clothes rather than making do with standard sizing. If there is demand, petite brands will survive and the industry will take petites more seriously. Only then will we be mainstream.

The case remains open Tanchis, to see what will happen to the status of petite clothing in a petite’s world. Till then – let’s curate away – the tanchi way of life!


4 thoughts on “Why do Petite Clothes Suck?

  1. Great article. The problem all comes down to cost vs profit. In this economic climate the number of petite brands seems to be dwindling. For example, Fenn, Wright, Manson (UK retailer) recently announced it will be no longer producing a petite range.

    In the past, petite clothes were more evident on the high street but some stores such as Marks & Spencer in the UK have decided only to sell their petite range from the internet as they make more money selling standard clothes on their sales floor.

    To help spread the word on petite clothes, I’ve set up a blog to help petite women to find clothes that flatters & fits:


    • Carol, just last week I noticed bebe.com took down their petite section as well. I think publicity and accessibility play into the unfavorable profits found in the industry. The way many of these companies approach petite apparel is to “test it out”, instead of as long term investments. For example Anthropologie released a new line and then made it only available online with minimal new arrivals.

      I enjoy your blog very much Carol and thanks for the lists you provide on petite friendly brands and international companies catering to petite women!

  2. Hi, I totally agree with the blog post. we need to purchase more from petite friendly brands and spread the word. But often I don’t like any of the designs from the petite brands and end up buying from non-petite section and try to do alterations my self. I also have started my blog on Petites and will aim to publicize more petite brands.


    • Hi Deb, I couldn’t agree with you more on not liking designs. Sometimes it seems we either have to choose between design or construction. I have noticed though that more brands are successfully launching petite style and are providing more selection. Nonetheless, I’m huge fan of local business and I am rooting for our fellow petite designers to fill the gap!

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