In the past couple of years, it’s become abundantly clear to retailers that the plus-size market is one that is grossly underserved and thus a major growth opportunity. But there is another niche size category that could be given more attention, and that is petites.
The average woman in the U.S. is just under 5’4.” Petite-sized clothing is typically designed for a max height of 5’3” (sometimes 5’4”), depending on the company. Straight-size clothing is typically designed for women of at least 5’5". And yet, only a handful of retailers are selling petite-sized clothing.
As a 5’2” lady, this is a personal issue. I’ve taken to figuring out out little tricks for finding clothes that fit, like buying “cropped” jeans (that are normal length on me), shopping at stores like Urban Outfitters that cater to teens, and even sometimes shopping the kids' section.
So far, the British have proven quicker to cater to the petites market than U.S. brands. High street retailers like Topshop, ASOS, Dorothy Perkins and Marks & Spencer all offer clothing that is not only cut in petite sizes, but also stylish.
The U.S. is starting to catch up, though. At the forefront of brands offering stylish petite clothing is Anthropologie. The company launched the category in 2012 with about 70 styles and now, the brand boasts a growing selection of more than 500 — each of which is designed to fit us shorter ladies to a T, with better-fitting armholes, proportional necklines and higher knees. Anthropologie has a great selection of stuff like jumpsuits, pants, mini dresses, shift dresses and maxi dresses, the regular sizes of which would not fit a short person correctly. (Jumpsuits hit at the wrong place, pants and maxi dresses are too long, mini dresses aren’t mini, shift dresses have the wrong proportions.)
"When looking at the existing apparel industry, we noticed a large void in the market that caters to this customer and there was certainly a lack of novelty and fashion forward pieces for a petite customer," says Sarah Wagner, petite buyer at Anthropologie, adding that petites represent a huge portion of the company's customer base. "We jumped at the opportunity to make petites sizing relevant again." While the Urban Outfitters-owned company has worked with other designers, including Whitney Pozgay of WHIT, to create exclusive petite styles, Wagner admitted that it has been difficult getting other brands on board "just in the sense that it is not something that most designers are accustomed to doing."
Outside of Anthropologie, fashion-forward petite options are few and far between. J.Crew seems to be expanding its petite offerings, which include a lot of its wedding and suiting styles; and a few denim brands, like Paige and Citizens of Humanity, have begun offering petite sizes.
A few department stores carry petite sizes but their selection isn’t great. At Nordstrom, you’ll find stylish-enough pants by NYDJ, basics by Halogen, blazers by Michael Michael Kors and decent-looking skirts and dresses by Vince Camuto. The selection at Neiman Marcus skews older. (There's Eileen Fisher, and some brands I’ve never heard of that are marketed to an older clientele). And there is nothing available for petites in the luxury market.
While offering more petite options would undoubtedly benefit me personally, it can also benefit retailers, especially now, when there is such a void. Wagner confirmed that petites have been a huge success for Anthopologie. Jessica Fioriti, a retail analyst at Verdict Research, recently told The Guardian that niche sizes give retailers new ways to compete and can also be important for customer loyalty. Customers who come to ASOS for the petites might then also buy shoes and accessories while they're there, for example.
However, the petite market has been pretty stagnant in terms of sales. According to NPD Group, total sales of petites dropped 1.2 percent from $6.86 billion in the 12 months ending May 2014, compared to $6.94 billion in the 12 months ending May 2013. (Meanwhile, sales of straight-size and plus-size clothing grew about 5 percent.) Granted, there aren't a whole lot of options out there, and a lot of people may not even know about the ones that do exist.
Thus, we've combed the e-tail sphere for best brands doing petites right now. Read on.