Hands up if you’ve heard this one before: “Doesn’t petite just mean small?”
Or how about this one: “The petite body type is very small, slim and delicate.”
Well, no. Petite sizes are not just small sizes. They’re sizes for shorter women. And shorter women come in all shapes and sizes, just like taller ones do.
Moreover, 68% of US women (and around 60% of Canadian women) wear a size US14 and up. That means more than half the adult female population is plus sized. And you better believe that not all of them are tall; plus sized women come in all heights, just like straight sized women do:
This means petite plus sizes really can and do exist. Since “petite” commonly refers to any woman 5’3″ and under, this encompasses women with a large variety of shapes and sizes. We’re not all size double zeroes. Not that there’s anything wrong with being a double-zero, mind you. But the entire petite plus segment of the market — women 5’3″ and under who wear US sizes 16 and up — is ignored to the point where people don’t even realize it exists! That’s pretty glaring when you consider that, statistically, it represents one third of the US adult female population.
Yes, really. 1 in 3 US women. That’s a lot of buying power. So why are so many people surprised to hear they even exist?
Petite plus: Yes, it’s a real thing
I’m 5’1″, and while I personally currently wear a petite straight size (usually around a 4P), I’ve fluctuated over the years between sizes 2P and 14P depending on weight gain or loss. Most of us women have changed sizes or weight over the years for a variety of reasons. And for petites, even a small weight gain will add more inches to a short woman than a tall one, since she has less vertical space in which to distribute her weight. With the gain or loss of every 5-10 pounds, I find that I go up or down a size. Whereas a taller woman might require a weight gain or loss of 15-20 pounds before noticing a size difference.
And I can personally tell you that as tough as it is to find clothes that fit me at a size 4P, it was that much tougher when I was a 12P or a 14P. Those sizes hardly exist anywhere, and when they do, they’re typically at the top of the size ranges offered by “straight petite” brands like Banana Republic or Calvin Klein. Most petite brands don’t offer any sizes above a 12, after which, presumably, you fall off a cliff or something. I don’t know. I do know that Reitmans used to be among the only retailer in Quebec to offer petite plus clothing, and when they stopped, a whole lot of women lost the ability to shop for clothes in stores entirely.
(In fact, that’s one of the worst parts of size discrimination in fashion: Straight sized women can walk into a store, try on an item, and decide whether to buy it based on how it fits. “Extended sized” clothing for petites, plus sizes, or petite plus, is almost never available in stores and must be ordered exclusively online, meaning having to deal with shipping costs and expensive and hassle-filled returns — when it can found at all. But I digress.)
The “petite” misconception
Part of the issue stems from our use of the word “petite” to mean short. Actually, petite is a French word that means small. And to a lot of people, especially those not familiar with non-standard sizes or industry naming conventions, they will assume that when you say you are “petite”, that you’re teeny-tiny.
Maybe we need to come up with a different word than “petite” in order to avoid the confusion. Or, why not just use “short?” After all, there’s nothing wrong with being short, and it’s high time we reclaimed it from being a dirty word.
Size inclusiveness, but only for tall people
Despite the fact that they represent a third of the population (and of the buying power), the fashion industry mostly likes to pretend that petite plus women don’t really exist.
At a time where size inclusiveness is trendy and where brands are scrambling to expand their plus sized offerings, and where plus sized runway models are gaining fame and traction, we still see that models are exclusively tall. Ashley Graham revolutionized the fashion world when she rocked her size 14 curves on the runway, but she’s 5’9″.
There are hardly any petite plus celebrities or fashion icons. Melissa McCarthy might be the most-cited example because she’s practically the only one that most people can think of. And yet, when 5’2″ McCarthy used her star power to launch her own fashion line, Seven7, she failed to include ANY petite plus pieces in it at all! Her line is available in sizes 4 through 28, which is a nicely inclusive range — and yet, it only comes in straight sizes! And check out all the models who are standing with her in her photo shoots, and how they all tower over her:
Way to miss an opportunity, Melissa.
One plus-sized model who is breaking the height barrier is Tess Holliday, who, at 5’4″ and a size 22, may be the world’s first highly successful petite plus model. Holliday, who launched her own career via social media, was signed to a major modelling agency in 2015 and has done fashion shoots for, among others, Vogue, and was even featured on the cover of People. She’s partnered with brands including H&M, Addition Elle, and Penningtons:
Tess Holliday may be the most well-known example, but social media has given rise to a number of other prominent petite plus models. One example is Stavana Blackmon, a Boston-based Instagram model and influencer who goes by the online name “Vana Black”. She’s 5’1″ and works as a petite plus model and advocate for size inclusivity.
Check out this photo of her with an assortment of other models with diverse body types, promoting a rare brand to recognize and cater to all shapes and sizes:
And yet, Holliday and Blackmon are still very much the exceptions in a world obsessed with tallness and thinness. And in a world where “petite” models are those who are 5’7″, there doesn’t seem to be any big movement towards normalizing the petite plus body in the fashion world.
Shopping resources for petite plus women in Canada
So if you’re one of the 1 in 3 women who needs petite clothing in larger sizes and struggles to find it, what to do?
While a handful of retailers offer petite plus clothing, they are very much the exception, not the rule. Most stores still insist on labelling “petite” and “plus” as two separate departments, thus implying that only tall women can be plus sized, and only skinny women can be short. Which is absurd.
Here in Canada, the challenge is even greater: We have fewer retailers who offer plus sizes, fewer who offer petites, and almost none who offer petite plus sizes. With such limited options locally, many petite plus women resort to wearing ill-fitting plus sized clothing made for taller women, or they need to deal with the expense and hassles of cross-border shopping. This despite the fact that more than 1 in 4 Canadian women fall into the petite plus category. Are you listening, Canadian retailers?
Look, I won’t lie: It’s frustrating out there. But it’s not impossible. And those brands who actually do stock stylish clothing in a size-inclusive range deserve a shout-out.
Here are a few online-only international brands who are offering at least some petite plus clothing and who will ship to Canada:
- Lane Bryant also has a handful of petite plus items — mostly jeans, tops and a few dresses — in sizes 12P-28P. Plus they ship to Canada.
- Talbots offers a petite plus range in sizes 14WP-22WP. While they no longer have any stores in Quebec, they have flat rate shipping to Canada.
- Catherines is another decent online place to shop for casual petite basics in sizes 16-34. They do ship internationally, but it’s pricey and a bit complicated.
- Macy’s has a very limited online selection of petite plus items — again, mostly pants — by brands like Style&Co, Alfani, and NY Collection.
- Eloquii ships internationally, and has a handful of petite clothes in sizes 14P-28P — though I’ve found the selection to be extremely limited.
- Lands End sells some petite plus clothes, though be warned that shipping and returns from Canada are expensive and a hassle.
- Yours Clothing is a London-based brand that sells a handful of petite plus styles in size 14-34 (UK sizes).
Closer to home, here are some local brands where you might be able to find some limited shopping success:
- Penningtons offers a very limited range of petite clothing — mostly pants — in sizes 14-32.
- Addition Elle, the go-to retailer for many plus-sized Quebec women, offers some of its pants and jeans in petite sizes. Unfortunately, it doesn’t have any tops, dresses, sweaters, or items to fit a petite top half.
- Reitmans recently brought back a limited petites range after eliminating petites altogether a few years ago. Some of its petite items are available in sizes up to 3X as part of its new “size-inclusive” policy. We’ll see how long that lasts this time.
- The Bay does offer a few petite plus items, but not in store, and due to their poor website design, it’s really hard to find them online.
But, really, this list is pretty pathetic, especially when you consider just how many women out there wear these sizes. If you have any other resources for petite plus fashionistas, please share them in the comments below.