Question | What designers or dressmakers best understand the needs of us (very) short women? I am 5'1" on my best day, know exactly which silhouettes work best on me, but struggle to find anything long or even midi length that doesn't look like I cut half or more of the skirt off—because I did. The proportions are just off when you have to remove that much of the skirt.
Answer | We get this question a lot…which almost makes one think designers are missing an opportunity.
There was a time, way back in the Working Girl 1980s and early 1990s when women wore power suits and shoulder pads, that petites had their own stores—anyone remember Pinstripe Petites? Petite Sophisticate? Anyone in 2023 want to shop at a store called Pinstripe Petites or Petite Sophisticate? Petite stores, and petite sizing went out of favor as workday casual came into style. The exacting fit mattered less, and frankly, petite women didn’t like being relegated to the short girl shop.
We know, none of this retail history is going to help you avoid looking like you stepped into Allison Janney’s hand-me-downs.
Brands to shop for petite cut special occasion dresses:
Betsy & Adam offers petite or plus, but not the two together. The Petites range from 2P to 16P
Alex Evenings, a more accessibly priced brand sold by Macy’s, Dillard’s and other department stores has a big selection of petite dresses from size 4 to 3X.
Shoshanna, (shop the dress above) a line worn by Mindy Kaling, Kelly Ripa and many other big personalities of modest stature, does not offer petite specific sizing, but is known to work well for smaller women—probably because designer Shoshana Gruss is herself petite.
Ted Baker is department store line on the more affordable edge of the designer section that tends to offer styles and fits that favor petites.
BCBG is similar to Ted Baker in its fits and styles and if you can move past the ones with ab cutouts and super mini hemlines, you just might find a winner.
- Karen Millen offers a petite collection including dresses that range from tailored to boho floral.
A few other tips for petite shoppers:
- Full gowns can swallow up a shorter person. Ankle length, midi, below the knee or high-low (shop the Sachin & Babi dress above) will likely be more flattering. You may still have to have it altered, but it’s less material to fix.
- Do check out some of the brands you might shop for casual clothes—J. Crew, Banana Republic, Ann Taylor. Every season they offer at least a few dresses or suits and petite sizes. Limited, but worth a shot.
- Remember that everyone needs a tailor, not just the short girls. You might think that your taller friends have it off-the-rack easy, but many of them experience the same problems in reverse, and it’s always easier to take fabric away than to add…which is part of the reason petite shops went out of business.
Do you have a favorite petite line? Let us know! We’ll continue to scour the market and share good options.
Top photo: Sigourney Weaver poses at an event with the Petite Squad (from left) Ali, her mom, her mom's friend, and aunt. We all have our sizing issues!