The Story of Petite Fashion: What Does "Petite" Actually Mean?

Since launching Petite Femme, we've connected with many women who were not aware of petite fashion, or had misconceptions about what “petite” meant. When we hear the word “petite” in everyday conversation, we often associate it with “skinny” or “thin” but in the context of fashion, petite refers to a special size category for women who are under 5'5". To be clear, “petite” refers to height only, not weight or circumference.

Why isn't petite fashion more common?

Although petite sizing has existed since the 1950s, today it is uncommon outside of Europe and Asia. While some brands offer petite sizes in addition to their standard collection, petite ranges are usually very limited in style options. Many designers believe that the demand for petite sizing is low and the production costs are too high. This is because adding a petite collection requires twice as much work at the development stage.
Clothing manufacturers usually start with a base pattern which is developed on a fitting model. Using this base pattern, we produce multiple prototypes of the garment until we achieve the perfect cut and fit on our model. Then to create a pattern for each size in the size range, increases or decreases are applied to specific points on the base pattern. This is known as grading.
When we grade down from a Size 10 to a Size 8, the circumference decreases but the vertical length remains mostly the same. A smaller size does not correlate with shorter length, which is why, for most petite women, sizing down doesn’t usually lead to a better fit. In order to produce a petite collection, a brand must create two sets of size patterns: one for petite and one for standard height.
Since very few manufacturers have experience working with petite sizing, a brand must spend extra time developing a petite size chart from scratch. The cost of additional patterns, samples and models can quickly diminish a brand’s profit margins. In the world of fast fashion where low pricing and rapid trend replication is the norm, expanding a size range is not profitable in the short-term.
In fact, it is more cost-effective to make a single sizing system for an above-average height. The reason for this is surprisingly simple: a petite woman can still fit into a pair of pants that is made for a taller height, even if the inseam is too long. On the other hand, it is physically impossible for a taller woman to comfortably fit into pants that are made for a shorter frame due to the shorter rise. By designing for a height about two inches above average, brands are able to capture a wider market while minimising overhead costs.

Why don't fashion brands invest in petite sizing?

Many businesses try to be all things to all people in the pursuit of monopoly but by casting a wide net, they often fail to fulfil the needs of the individual. Most fashion brands make decisions based on flawed assumptions about consumer demand. They rely heavily on sales data to inform their decisions but in doing so, they lose the human touch that comes from simply starting a conversation with their customers. When businesses place profit above all, they start to lose sight of their purpose.

Where do we go from here?

Petite sizing requires much more than the development of a new size chart. It demands fashion companies to fundamentally change their business model from one that is profit-driven to one that is purpose-led. A purpose-led business is devoted to its mission, and views profit as a means to support this mission, not an end in itself. 
In the past few years, we have witnessed sustainable fashion evolve beyond renewable fabrics and recyclable packaging to encompass inclusivity and corporate social responsibility. As we lean into these values, we are prompted to ask some essential questions that go beyond how fashion is made and explores the “why.” Why are we making clothes in the first place? Who are we serving? What are their needs? 
Petite fashion is not simply about offering a petite version of a standard size dress; it's about serving the unique needs of shorter women and designing clothes that flatter petite proportions in the first place. At Petite Femme, this is our purpose. We're re-imagining the business of fashion and putting the petite woman at the centre of everything we do.