Specialty Shops Keep the Needs of Average Petites in Perfect Proportion


Seventy percent of American women are considered by the fashion world to be “petite,” or 5-feet-5 and under, according to Ann Lauren, president of USA Petites, an organization that seeks to promote a positive image for petites and fair representation in the fashion market.

Even though the average American woman is 5-foot-3, the fashion industry considers petite clothing a specialty market and, generally, retailers don’t keep much of it in stock. This can make building a wardrobe of petite clothing a two-step task: Shopping for a regular-size item then taking it to a seamstress or tailor for alterations.

But all is not lost. Many large department stores do have petite sections, and some stores are entirely devoted to petite fashions. Specialty boutiques are also a promising source.


“Petites are looking for the style and fit of misses clothes, but proportioned differently,” said Susie Forsgren, group sales manager of the petite department of Bullock’s Mission Viejo store.

Proportion is what good fitting clothes is all about. Take the vest, one of the hot items for spring and summer.

“A regular vest would be too long and the armhole too big (for a petite woman),” said Deborah Kotchen, marketing manager of Women’s Specialty Retailing Group that represents Petite Sophisticate. “Our vests are cut in proportion to fit the petite. Remember, petite is a height, not a size.”

Here is a sampling of stores where petites can find stylish and well-fitting clothing at a variety of prices:


Bullock’s petite department carries some of the same lines as in the misses department, such as Carole Little and Liz Claiborne.

Go from errands to patio party in Carole Little’s white denim cropped jacket and jeans. Embroidery, beads and lace dress up the collar and front of the jacket with gray and white, ethnic novelty buttons adding a subtle contrast ($118, Sizes 2-14). The jeans have a zipper fly, button front with one-pleat for a fuller cut. The two side pockets are edged with embroidery and beads ($68, Sizes 2-14). A ribbed, white T-shirt in 100% machine washable cotton has lace around the scoop neckline ($38, Sizes S, M, L).

Bullock’s Expression Petite line offers a two-piece knit in cotton or rayon in this season’s popular tonal dressing. The top is a short-sleeved tunic with a scoop neckline and has matching shorts, although the pieces can be bought separately. The shorts are knee-length with an elastic waist. Colors available are coral, peach, honey or black. The tunic top ($42) comes in petite one-size-fits-all. Shorts ($36) come in petite, small or medium.

Lizwear Smooth Sailing is Liz Claiborne’s most casual grouping for the spring and summer. This three-piece outfit features a flattering, cropped jacket and a nautical look reminiscent of the 1920s. The cotton twill jacket is striped indigo blue and white with two gold buttons, chest pockets and slash pockets ($68, Sizes 2-14).

A sleeveless, cable knit, mock turtleneck goes perfectly underneath. The 100% cotton sweater is machine washable, as are the jacket and shorts. The mock turtleneck is mostly white with red and indigo blue trim on the neckline, sleeves and bottom ($46, petite small to petite large). A chambray, cuffed short comes in indigo blue or white. This soft, lightweight denim short is mid-thigh, has two side pockets, front zipper with two gold button closures and fitted waist with belt loops ($38, Sizes 2-14).

MainPlace/Santa Ana, (714) 547-7211; Mission Viejo Mall, (714) 364-3111, and South Coast Plaza, Costa Mesa, (714) 556-0611.


This shop specializes in career wear, casual weekend and special-occasion clothes with accessories and jewelry for just about every outfit, said owner Mary Kay Shelton. As an added service, Shelton will order items for her customers.

Combine business and comfort in a Joan Walters pantsuit made of 75% polyester, 35% rayon. The classic Shantung pant in seasonal colors is perfect for year-round wear.

For spring, the stitched-down, two-pleat pant with side pockets and matching belt comes in pearl blue, mauve or celedone ($38, Sizes 2-16). The matching jacket is a one-button, collarless V-neck cut to the hip line ($90, Sizes 2-16). Pair it with the washable rayon, print camp blouse. The floral print combines the pearl blue, mauve and celedone ($44, extra small to large).

If a wedding or cruise is in your plans, a Leslie Fay two-piece special occasion suit is a good fit. The jacket design is floral tapestry in soft rose, lilac and a touch of green against an ivory background. Pearl buttons and scalloped neckline complete the look of elegance. The A-line skirt is in a soft rose georgette and has an elastic waist ($120, Sizes 4-14).

Women concerned with dry cleaning costs might be interested in the Melissa Petite washable, 100% preshrunk cotton career dress, Shelton said. The classic shirt-waist dress comes in aqua and white vertical stripes with matching belt. It has buttons to the waist with a straight skirt just below the knee ($104, Sizes 4-14).

10071 Valley View St., Cypress, (714) 995-4854.


Little Shop Around the Corner has Petite Boutique, which specializes in petite fashions. Owner Linda Leighton says her store carries high fashion clothing at moderate prices for anyone 17 to 70.

From the Melissa Petite Collection comes a skirt and jacket in 100% white cotton with fuchsia, green and lavender flower designs that give the look of a French Impressionist painting. The peplum-style, cotton pique jacket has scalloped detailing down the front and two buttons. The straight skirt falls just below the knee ($98, Sizes 2-16).

Mixing and matching pieces from Oui Petites makes a versatile ensemble. Start with the collarless blazer of 50% rayon, 50% polyester in black with squares the color of strawberry ice cream ($87). A camp shirt-style blouse comes in a matching print ($52). The skirt is soft and full ($56).

A Oui Petites cardigan sweater ($72) comes with a solid, black back and sleeves with a pink front with small black squares reversing the print of the jacket. Pants are available in solid pink and are a rayon/polyester combination ($52, Sizes 4-10).

A grouping from J.G. Petite Collection by Joyce reflects the Southern California casual, tasteful style. The navy-blue jacket is a baseball style with a front zip. One shoulder sports an insert of navy and white stripes with gold buttons. At the collar, a tiny yellow triangle insert adds to the geometric look. Two low pockets have yellow banding. The jacket is 100% polyester but looks like cotton ($82, Sizes 2-16).

The top to wear with the jacket is a white, tailored polyester blouse. It has navy-blue piping on the collar and plackets and a navy-on-white front pocket ($56, Sizes 2-16). Pleated trouser pants are also in polyester and come in navy or yellow ($48, Sizes 2-16).

24662 Del Prado Ave., Dana Point, (714) 661-9171.


Petite fashions can be found in the Petite Focus department of all Nordstrom Orange County stores.

Trends for the warm months ahead include vegetable colors and neutral tones, and pants will be cut fuller, more fluid and cuffed, said Cynthia Zaun, sportswear buyer.

Dresses buyer Vicki Hauck said that dressier looks will include longer skirts, cinched waists and floral prints.

Michi Collections’ Contemporary Vintage dress will look chic for an evening out. The chemise is made from a stretch lace fabric with a matching slip of stretch polyester. The re-embroidered lace dress comes in celery or taupe ($84, Sizes 2-12).

Classiques linen blazer ($98, XXS, XS, S, M, L) and shorts ($44, Sizes 2-12) are a staple for any wardrobe. The blazers can make an easy transition from daytime to nighttime. The single-breasted jacket is worn over a cuffed short that has a set waistband and belt loops. A wardrobe basic, the suit arrives in new colors each month, Hauck said; it comes in butter, eggplant, ecru or flax as well as white and black.

Get ready for the weekend with stretch, twill stirrup pants by Joan Walter and a long-sleeve white, cotton shirt by Richard Malcolm. The easy-care cotton/Lycra spandex, stirrup pant comes in black, white, sand or sage ($38, Sizes 4-16). The 100% cotton shirt sports an embroidered crest on the pocket ($38, P, S, M, L).

Brea Mall, (714) 529-0123; MainPlace/Santa Ana, (714) 972-2020, and South Coast Plaza, Costa Mesa, (714) 549-8300.


“A woman’s sense of style doesn’t disappear just because she’s pregnant,” said Louella Hundt, vice president and general manager of Pea in the Pod.

Hundt’s forecast for spring and summer includes dresses with trumpet skirts, empire, drop or no waistlines in fluid fabrics. Wide-legged pants, tunic tops and vests will be in natural fibers. Skirts are long and full in dusty and neutral colors. Bright reds, yellows and greens show up denim and chambray materials for play clothes.

Feel and look confident in a navy or white double-breasted linen suit. The jacket has gold buttons and falls to the hip line ($152). The city “skort” has the advantage of looking like a skirt, but the easy movement of shorts ($65, P, S, M, L).

For pure comfort, the cotton/Lycra cat suit is the choice. The scoop-neck cat suit can be dressed up or down with different outer layers ($72, P, S, M, L).

Dressy occasions call for Pea in the Pod’s two-piece white pantsuit ($265) made from rayon-acetate. The jacket has a “cold” shoulder top with brass buttons down the front. The pant leg is a wide cut (P, S, M, L).

Crystal Court, Costa Mesa, (714) 957-3222, and Brea Mall, (714) 256-0900.


From the Petite Sophisticate Collection, the mock two-piece red chemise commands a professional image during the day. Fagoting detail gives the dress a more formal look for evening. The dress is a linen blend with short sleeves, drop waist and jewel neckline ($148, Sizes 0-16).

For a comfortable but stylish summer appearance, a cotton knit dress is a smart choice from the Petite Sophisticate private label. Bright fuchsia, yellow and green flowers grow out of a royal blue background. The $44 dress has a fitted bodice with a knot neckline. The gently flared skirt falls to mid-calf (P, S, M). A jacket can make this short-sleeved dress work for the office.

To achieve a long, lean look, combine the popular vest with matching trousers or walking shorts, Kotchen said. Light blue, pale pink and a hint of pastel yellow are weaved into a patchwork vest, camp shirt and drawstring walking short in 100% cotton ($32-$34, P, S, M). The vest, proportioned for the petite, is waist length and has three white buttons.

Chambray, straight-legged pants come in solid blue, pink or yellow ($34, Sizes 2-12). Add variety with cotton crew neck T-shirts available in an array of pastel and bright colors ($20, P, S, M).

Mall of Orange (714) 974-6292; MainPlace/Santa Ana, (714) 834-0832; Mission Viejo Mall, (714) 347-9360, and Westminster Mall, (714) 893-1175.