Advocacy

Yes, you can be petite and plus sized

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.

10 thoughts on “Yes, you can be petite and plus sized

  1. Sorry but no, you can not.

    While you fight for YOUR type of body to be more represented it also diminishes the struggle actual REAL petite women also face. Everything is plus size now, everything is larger, just try to find a narrow calf boot.

    Petite literally means that your body structure is SMALLER. Shorter torso, shorter legs (yes plus size can have that) BUT here’s the difference, shoulder width, upper arm and calf diameter. The arm holes on petite clothing should be smaller, try to get a plus size arm in there?! The leg diameter on true petite pants should be smaller, try to get a plus size leg in there?!

    Simply put there is a difference and while I get there is a struggle for you it’s also a struggle for average true petites since everything is getting bigger.

    While it seems the world is all for the body positivity movement it only seems to apply and be positive towards plus size people. It seems like it’s still very acceptable remark on petite women and believe they are being represented by the average model or plus size model.

    1. Sorry, but you are wrong. Did you read the article?

      Petite means under 5’4″. It is a term that refers to HEIGHT, not weight or size. There are women of all shapes and sizes who are under 5’4″. And for plus sized women, being petite adds an extra challenge or component to shopping that makes plus sized clothing made for taller women not fit properly. As you pointed out, things like arm holes, length, shoulder width, etc. are all challenges that petite plus women face, too.

      I’m a petite 2 or 4, so not in the petite plus category personally. But MILLIONS of women are, and your attitude shames and dismisses them. This blog is for petites of all sizes, not just the ones you think that the petite label applies to.

      Check your own biases and judgments, please. This sort of shaming and body-negativity has no place on this blog.

      1. I read the above comment that you clapped back on. And I think you should do an article on Fit Models. Because arm/sleeve circumference, calf circumference, leg opening circumference – those are all things that are part of paring down sizes from “regular” fit to petite fit. There is no standard way to downsize length without width. And that is an important point that the original replier (above) was explaining. If you want to advocate for petite-plus accessibility to fashion, you have to address this professionally and sacrifice sensitivity for results that will ultimately benefit the people whose welfare and inclusion you are championing.

        We DO need a measurement standard for Petite-Plus so well made clothing can be downsized appropriately and mass produced. Obviously, the problem is that body-fat distribution is a greater variable the more you have. It’s easier to make a simple rectangle for a straight skinny body than it is to guess at the variety of curvy shapes in a less-straight body.

        Are there any designers who are tackling that, who you can feature here? I’m curious to see their solution.

    2. Please note my reply to the author. I think you are making a good point that fashion and clothing manufacturers don’t consider “Petite” to be simply “Under 5ft4” when they produce clothing, at least the well made kind. And if we want to champion clothing that actually FITS us – ALL of us, we need to adjust our definitions to demand manufacturers pay attention to measurements beyond the token bone they through us – especially those in the plus size category.

      On a side note, I’m small but I don’t really consider myself petite – just short. Because I’ve been exposed to other cultures and have seen the difference. My skeleton is sturdy, and fills out most “regular” sizes. It’s only my pant hems and sleeves that changes. But I’ve got female friends around the world that absolutely CANNOT fit into regular sizes in the West – and next to me, their skeleton and bones are CLEARLY miniature. They need a whole other approach for their clothes.

    3. Whoa, petite means short, in the fashion industry. What you describe in yourself is extra-small AND petite. Size corresponds more with circumference measurements, although manufacturers usually also make smaller sizes a wee bit shorter (or bigger sizes longer). You need to also look for intended fit (fitted vs. loose).

      If manufacturers are making boots wider in the calf, it may be because more women are demanding that, and you can always put a smaller calf into a wider boot and use boot cuffs to fill space, but you can’t put a bigger calf into a smaller boot. Even when I was a size 4, I found it hard to find tall boots that I could fit into — and I have a fairly small bone structure.

      Where clothes get ridiculous for us short women (petite in the fashion industry is usually 5’4″ or 5’3″ and under), is when we gain a few pounds and go up a few sizes, then the armholes are insanely large, the shoulders a far too wide, and the waists are way too long (hems can be shortened, but it’s a lot more complicated to take fabric from the middle, either vertically or horizontally).

      The difficulty is that we’re all so varied in our proportions. And designers and manufacturers decide who to make as their fit models. As a fashion design student, who is short and, well, fat now, I’m trying to crack the code to making clothes that look good on a variety of bodies, not just tall and not just thin.

      I hope you’re able to find more fashions for yourself that fit you well. Perhaps Asian sizes?

  2. Site Owner note: This comment has been removed due to violation of the site policy against hate speech and body-shaming. I have a zero tolerance for that sort of thing. If you attempt to do this again, you’ll be banned permanently.

  3. Curious if this article’s shopping resources could be updated for 2020? Mourning the loss of Addition Elle as one of the few places I could shop in person. Buying pants is a nightmare. 🙁 Hoping something new, especially in Canada, has popped up in the last year that I don’t know about. Are there any smaller retailers/indie brands who have gotten the message?

    1. Hi Caroline, that’s a great question. Unfortunately, the retail industry is taking a huge hit due to COVID across the board. And as usual, it’s the “niche” sizes like petite, plus, and petite plus that are taking the brunt of the impact. I don’t know of much that’s new to replace the loss of Addition-Elle, sadly. Reitmans and Penningtons have small selections, as mentioned above, but nobody’s really doing a good job of filling this niche. And with cross-border shopping opportunities highly limited due to the ongoing border closure, this is an even bigger problem now. If you hear of or know of any new brands doing exciting things in this space, please let me know!

  4. I’m so happy I’ve found your blog! I am a 5’2″ plus-size Canadian woman, who used to be a size 4p. It’s so much harder to find clothes that fit well, not that 4p was all that easy to find. I’m now a fashion design student and I hope to design for petite plus women, since there are so many of us, but so few fashion options. I, too, was disappointed with 7Seven, when I looked at their online store.

    I’m learning that designers can’t create a perfect fit for everyone, since our bodies are all SOOOO different. Truly, we need to be able to find something close, then have it altered/tailored. I hope to learn more about how to design with that in mine. In the meantime, I’m so tired of seeing only tall and usually scrawny women on the runways and, well, everywhere in the media. It’s possible to get thinner (at least theoretically), but there’s no way to get taller. There are so few petite influencers getting attention they deserve. I’d love to connect with you! Feel free to email me.

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