Petite Life

Petite doesn’t mean small: The challenges of being short in Quebec

Being Canadian in North America means constantly having your face pressed against the glass, teased with prices, products and selection that you can’t actually access. It means being a small fish in a big pond, and being aware that you’re shut out of most of the cool stuff available just south of the border.

Well, being a Quebecer in Canada is much of the same. And being a petite Quebecer in North America means feeling very, very small indeed.

The petite language barrier

One of the most annoying things about the fashion industry’s use of the word “petite” to describe short women is that petite is an actual French word. It means small. Hence the confusion in Quebec, where clerks blink at you confused when you request petite clothing, and merely direct you to a smaller size.

When I’m shopping in local stores and boutiques here in Montreal, I generally speak French to the salesclerks. And, even though I’m fluently bilingual, I’ve realized that there is no actual way to describe “petite” in French. Which seems ironic, considering the word is French to begin with. But, while the word has evolved to mean something quite particular in English, the modern French language doesn’t seem to have an equivalent. In fact, I don’t think there’s any acknowledgement in Quebec at all about the existence of petite-proportioned sizes for shorter women at all. I’m not sure whether petite sizes exist in France — maybe a reader could clue me in. But I do know that they don’t here.

A petite-free market

The problem, as always, In a province with only 8 million people, there simply isn’t any kind of profit to be made on niche products. American brands and stores aren’t readily available here, and most are blocked from selling online to us due to our wonderfully obnoxious language laws, too. And buying from local Quebec boutiques and designers isn’t an option, unless you fit into the standard small-medium-large size range.

Add to that a lagging economy and the fact that our retail stores carry a fraction of the selection of what’s available in the US, plus the relative lack of online shopping options available to us, and you have a situation where it’s either be a standard size or be out of luck.

I suspect that there aren’t as many short women here in my age range, because most of my friends and colleagues are tall and have absolutely no idea what kind of hell I go through to buy something as basic and necessary as a winter coat, a sweater, or even a plain t-shirt. It’s hard not to feel very, very alone sometimes.

Educating Quebec designers

The fashion challenges facing shorter Quebec women seem to be a mystery to most local designers, retailer or fashion writers. I don’t know of any other petite fashion bloggers in Quebec. I think I may be the only one.

I was able to dig up one — one — mention of petite fashion challenges in an article in Elle Quebec that dates back to 2008. Most of their suggested retailers either no longer carry petites or have since gone out of business.

There are industry events to encourage local Quebec designers, like Braderie de Mode. The featured designers use them to sell samples and overstock, and to promote their business. I’ve been a couple of times and have never found any clothes that even remotely fit. What’s more, the designers I’ve chatted with have never even heard of the concept of petite sizes — pretty incredible for people working in the industry who’ve probably been sewing and designing clothes for years. The local fashion schools don’t teach it; the industry publications don’t discuss it. The idea doesn’t exist.

It’s going to need to start with industry education. Which really should begin by having a term to define short women in French.

After all, “petite” is already taken.


2 thoughts on “Petite doesn’t mean small: The challenges of being short in Quebec

  1. Bonjour, malheureusement, l’équivalent en terme de concept et de choix/solution du “petite” anglophone n’existe pas en France, ni en Suisse d’ailleurs. D’où mes achats sur eBay UK pendant mes années d’étude pour trouver enfin des vêtements non conçus pour les grandes et larges Européennes du Nord …

    1. Oui, en effet, le défi de trouver des vêtements pour les femmes plus petites (c’est-à-dire courtes) existe en Europe comme ici au Québec. Ici, le défi est lié à notre population plus petite, ce qui signifie moins de choix dans les tailles spéciales en général. En Europe continentale, je me demande si c’est dû à la discrimination de taille? Merci pour votre contribution.

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