Listen up—you are about to receive some intimate personal information about neo-neocon: I’m five feet, four inches tall. And, what’s more, I tend to do better in petite sizes, despite the fact that 5’4″ is ordinarily the cut-off for petites.
Trying on dresses, I usually look like a child borrowing my mother’s clothing if I put on a regular misses size (and yes guys, you can tune out here if you like; this is gonna be bor-ing). Even if the dress fits elsewhere, the sleeves flop over my hands, the waist lies somewhere around my hips, and the shoulders are too big.
And now—quelle horreur!—I read that petite clothing sizes may be in jeopardy. Yes, three stores—Neiman-Marcus, Saks, and Bloomingdale’s—have suddenly and simultaneously eliminated their petite departments.
Bummer and double bummer, even though I don’t shop there. And I’m not alone in these feelings:
Feeling overlooked and undervalued, [petite customers] have written the stores angry letters and groused, often loudly, to salespeople. “It’s horrible, just horrible,” said Laurel Bernstein, 60, a 5-foot-1 Manhattan resident who stormed out of Saks’s flagship store in March after learning that the company had stopped carrying petite sizes. A lifelong Saks shopper, she has not returned since.
The emotional response from petite consumers has proved so strong that Saks is reconsidering its decision. “It appears that we have frustrated some customers,” said Ron Frasch, the chief merchant at Saks. “We are trying to figure out how many we have frustrated.”
Some manufacturers of more upscale petite clothing have followed suit (pun intended) and plan to stop making their lines. But what they really need to do instead is change their lines.
Because one thing I can tell you is that it is hard work finding attractive clothing in petite sizes. Long ago I noticed that petite clothing tended to be dowdy. The Times article agrees:
…petite departments gained a reputation for traditional — some would say frumpy — career-oriented clothing. Chic looks, clothing executives said, never made the leap from regular sizes to petite. So the very word petite became synonymous with many women who shopped there — working women over the age 50.
I never could figure out the reason the styles were so old-fashioned and old-ladyish, until I looked around one day while shopping in the petite department and noticed that a great many of the other customers were elderly women who appeared to have shrunk.
That’s not me, fortunately; I’m merely middle-aged, and I’m the same height I always was. And don’t tell me to go to the junior department—not any more, although every now and then I do venture in there. But even though I’m not a frump (or, at least, I try not to be), jeans that end an inch above the top of my thighs and tops that end many inches above that are not exactly what I’m looking for.
But Ann Stordahl, executive vice president for women’s apparel at Neiman Marcus, has a plan. She says that:
…designers were making clothing smaller than a decade ago and that Neiman Marcus orders extra size zeros and twos, knowing they will appeal to petite women. Even without petite sizes, she said, “there are many offerings for the smaller size customer.”
Extra size zeros and twos, how marvelous!! Earth to Ms. Stordahl: “petite” does not mean “size zero or two.” Although I draw the line at telling my dress size (revealing my height is quite enough disclosure for one day), let’s just say it’s a trifle larger than that. The same is certainly true for most petite women.
But I became curious about the serendipitously-named Ms. Stordahl. What does she look like? Through the kindly services of Google, I believe I’ve found her:
Ms. Stordahl is the attractive blond lady on the right. She certainly doesn’t appear to be a petite, although it’s impossible to be certain from a photo. But it does seem that her dress size just might be very close to a 2.
When I was younger, I don’t think they even made size twos; at least, I don’t recall seeing them in stores. Six was the lowest the sizes went, to the best of my recollection—a size I (sigh) recall wearing for a time in my ballet dancing days.
Now, though, there’s been a proliferation of miniscule sizes (what’s next, negative numbers?), as well as fashionable clothing in the Plus sizes so many women need. I suppose it’s all another example of greater diversity, and we should applaud it. Which I do. But why, oh why, can’t the petite woman be part of this trend and have some snazzier clothes?