I used to just buy the smallest size and hope for the best; but looking back at photos, I can see most clothes were too big. So last year, I turned to the blogosphere for help, and found two excellent fashion blogs: Extra Petite and Alterations Needed. Thanks to their wisdom, and some sleuthing at Toronto boutiques, I now have a wardrobe that works.
How did I do it? Here are four style rules I follow.
1. Know your size
Clothing: Thanks to vanity sizing, some retailers have stopped making smaller sizes. And, clothing isn’t standardized: a 4 at one store can be the same as a 00 elsewhere. Luckily, most companies size consistently within collections, so once I find stores with clothes that fit, I’m sure to return (see below for my favourites). Most online retailers have measurement charts, so compare yours before ordering.
Shoes: Until a year ago, I wore sizes 35 and 36 shoes because they were the smallest stores offered. Slipping into my first pair of size-33 heels was a revelation – no more gapping or blistering!
Bras: Tryst Lingerie says 80% of women wear the wrong size. Some slim petites need bands smaller than 32, and plus-size petites could need bands bigger than 40. Get measured at a store that offers a wide range (Tryst offers 28-52 AA to K; La Senza now offers size 30 bands). Also, your bra size will change when you gain or lose weight.
2. Be discriminating
To find truly flattering clothing, test each piece before buying. (You should also test clothes you already own.) Try it on, and scrutinize the fit. Do pants bunch at the crotch? Are the shoulders too wide or low? Is the waist of the garment at your natural waist? Will hemming the piece mean sacrificing its beauty (e.g. a special fade on jeans; a scalloped skirt hem)? If you were to eat a large meal, could you still sit comfortably?
And consider the construction: Is the fabric too itchy, or prone to pilling? Will it wrinkle easily? Is the skirt or jacket lined? Does it have functional pockets?
Many fashion bloggers use their phones to photograph outfits from the front, side and back before buying -- cameras don’t lie.
3. Avoid the children’s section
It’s tempting to shop the kid’s section: smaller sizes, no GST and lower prices. But children’s clothing is cut for girls’ bodies, and tends to be more youthful-looking. Not useful for looking professional. Alterations Needed has some great posts about when not to shop in the kid’s section. And Extra Petite explains when clothes can make you look too young.
4. Get things tailored
The first time I got a suit taken in, I realized I’d been wearing clothes wrong my whole life. Clothes that conform to your body always look better than off-the-rack duds, because they accentuate your best features while minimizing other areas.
I used to hem pants and stop there because of the expense. But now, I buy better-made, timeless pieces, factor in alterations costs, and plan to wear them forever – because they fit me perfectly. (And I plan to keep working out, natch.) Extra Petite has a convenient guide explaining when to alter a garment.
Never been to the tailor? Here’s what to expect.
As for choosing one, ask a higher-end boutique for a recommendation, or go with a friend’s suggestion. My boss has exacting standards, and uses Joseph Simonetta.
Oh, and read this post. It’ll make you feel 100 times better the next time you’re in a change room, and nothing fits – that’s because nothing off the rack is supposed to fit you.
Here are my favourite stores for petite women:
Dresses and tops
- Meg, 849 Queen St. W: XS runs true to size. Alterations included with purchase.
- Preloved, 881 Queen St. W: like many vintage and vintage-inspired stores, its XS runs true to size.
- Aritzia: sizes start at 00 / XXS and they carry clothes for all occasions - office wear, athletic gear, casual and dressy.
- H&M: 32 and 34 tend to fit, but sizing is inconsistent. Always try on.
Suits and pants
- Club Monaco: 00 runs true to size. Hemming included with purchase. 20% discount for students.
- Dynamite: 0/1 runs true to waist size, but length runs long. Jeans go as small as 24.
- Banana Republic: has a petite line that goes to 00P.
- Aeropostale: has “short” jean sizing.
- Garage Clothing: sizes tend to run small.
- Gap Kids: my one exception to rule #3. Its jeans go up to size 16 (waist equivalent to an 0P at Banana Republic, in my opinion) and come in slim, regular and plus cuts. They look similar to women’s.
- Pretty Small Shoes: has size 31-35 flats, mid heels, high heels and boots. Ships from the UK.
- Payless Shoes: makes children’s shoes that can pass for adult flats (bonus: only 8% tax). Some wedge heels under size 35.