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Writer Genevieve Bates talks Petite from a personal perspective, sharing tips on how to shop the range.

The word “petite” conjures up images of gymnasts, ballerinas and adorable people such as Anna Kenrick and Tinkerbelle. Unlike them, I do not have wings or a handspan waist and I have never been called “cute”. Because I think of myself as average-sized and not “petite” in the dainty sense, I was well into adulthood before I realised that the petite section was for me. It was a revelation. The key factor is height.

In the UK the average height of women is a mere 5 feet 3 inches (161.6cm) according to the Office of National Statistics. So why do I, at 5 foot 4 (162.6cm), feel like an itty-bitty Smurf when I try on clothes? It’s because “regular fit” clothes are typically sized on the generous side, at least in terms of length. Perhaps it’s because it’s easier to roll sleeves and hem trousers than to lengthen them. I’m grateful to fashion labels for giving us this extra fabric to play with but it would be even better to pluck a blazer or trousers off a rail and have them fit just the way they are.

Petite Leah Trousers

Of course, we all adapt based on what’s available, choosing tops designed with ¾-length sleeves and cropped trousers. And over the years I’ve developed a set of rules about what I “can’t” wear: midi and maxi dresses, tailored wide-leg trousers, big prints, chunky knits, coats without fitted waists. It turns out that these styles only swamp me if they’re made for a taller frame. If they’re scaled to fit someone my size, then – shocker – they look perfectly smart. Ditto flat shoes. You don’t need to cripple yourself with heels to add artificial height if your clothes fit the proportions of your body.

Petite Livvy Dress

So, should you be buying from the petite collections? If you’re up to 5 foot 5 inches (165cm) the answer might be yes. I say “might” because it depends on the piece. For example, a regular-fit short-sleeved T-shirt will look fine on most people but a sleeveless tank top in a standard size might have long armholes that leave someone shorter with too much side-boob exposed. It’s easy to hem jeans if your only problem is extra length in the legs but shortening the rise of a pair of trousers is not worth attempting. And altering a tailored coat is a massive task, even for a professional. Think of all the elements that need to fit, from the width of the shoulders to the length of the body, and the cuffs, which might have vents and working buttons.

Left: Petite Marlow Coat   Right: Petite Brooks Coat

The realm of tailoring is where fit matters most. So it’s good news that more fashion labels are creating collections suited to a wider range of body types. This means that I’m starting to wear styles previously considered out of bounds – hello midi dresses – and especially looking forward to shopping this season’s crop of blazers and coats.