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Petite Women Still Need a Leg Up on Clothes That Fit

Size inclusiveness may be trending in the fashion industry, but petite women are still falling short of options.

The muse of Seventh Avenue is thin, leggy and Amazonian. Just look at Kendall Jenner, Forbes’ freshly crowned highest paid model, who stands at 5 feet 10 inches.

She’s in good company, too. Of the professional clotheshorses who clomp down the runway, not one towers below 5 feet 9 inches. Never mind that this rarified group of glamorous giraffes makes up only 10 percent of the female population in the United States, according to the National Center for Health Statistics, nor the fact that the average American woman age 20 and over clocks in at just under 5 feet 4 inches. Even as plus sizing is—deservedly—seeing a higher profile, petite offerings remain tragically stunted.

It’s a state of affairs that led Avani Agarwal and Camille Moroz to found Stature, an online boutique “for the vertically challenged” woman 5 feet 3 inches or under. Based in New York, the store offers a thoughtfully curated range of clothing and accessories from independent brands such as Carleen, Dusen Dusen, Rachel Comey, Maryam Nassir Zadeh, Samantha Pleet and Wray.

“Every item features shorter torsos and inseams, narrower shoulders, higher and smaller arm holes and pants with correct ankle-to-leg ratio,” Moroz said. Shoes are stocked in sizes 3.5 and 4. If the collections they love don’t carry sizes that work on petite bodies, Agarwal and Moroz will collaborate with the designers to produce a limited selection of pieces “sized exclusively for Stature.”

Agarwal and Moroz are personally invested in the availability of shorter-than-average sizes; each of them tops out at 5 feet. They were able to easily pick each other out in the hallways of Google in Manhattan, where they both worked, because they literally saw eye to eye.

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“As it goes, short women definitely recognize and find each other in a crowd because they’re at the same eye level,” Agarwal told Sourcing Journal. “There’s the nod of acknowledgement,” Moroz piped in.

Both had been resigned to the idea that shopping in department stores would always be an ordeal, one that involved salespeople insisting that something looked “fine” or to “just get the extra-small, even if the shoulders were five inches off,” Agarwal said. That is, until a joint business trip to Japan introduced them to an entirely different experience.

“It was just this surprisingly delightful experience to walk into stores and try on things and they immediately fit,” Moroz said, describing the shopping trips they took during their downtime.

Agarwal agreed. “I don’t think Camille and I were having like hole-in-ones for every experience in Tokyo, but the thing that was interesting was that we weren’t being told otherwise,” she said. “If something was still made too big, the first thing that the store owner or retail specialist would say was, ‘Oh my God, I know, this thing isn’t working for us.’ So it was at least an openness to dialogue, which is hard to find [in the United States].”

It was that desire to bring that “feeling of delight of finding things that fit” home that led the two to launch Stature, Moroz added. That and a love of beautiful, ethically made garments that elevated wardrobes “beyond fast fashion.” 

Stocking the store’s virtual shelves, however, hasn’t always been easy. The so-called “straight” sizes, which make up the bulk of the clothing market, cater to women taller than 5 feet and 5 inches even though the 43 percent of American women who fall under that ceiling accounted for $6.94 billion in retail spending in the 12 months ending May 2013, according to NPD Group, a market research firm.

Some of what Stature does is curate pieces that don’t require pattern regrading to trim down proportions because “we just want to highlight those things that exist out there that were made quote-unquote ‘right for everybody,’” Agarwal said. Other times, they ask designers if they’re open to scaling down their specs or allowing Stature to “go in and make adjustments ourselves.”

Occasionally, they encounter resistance, particularly with small designers who have less financial wherewithal to expand into graded specifications that undercut industry expectations of what sells in stores. But they have also found kindred spirits in petite designers like Samantha Pleet and Wray Cook, who add sizing-friendly details like ribbon ties and adjustable sliders because they want to be able to wear their own pieces.

“I make sure that my clothes look good on me as well as someone taller,” Pleet, who is 5-foot-1, told Sourcing Journal. “I also have specific points where I like clothes to hit on the body, and I tend to go shorter and more high-waisted as I feel that flatters most bodies.”

Petite fits, Agarwal and Moroz stress, involve more than raising hems and shortening sleeves. Armholes need to be taken up, necklines pared back, shoulder widths narrowed, torsos truncated.

At the same time, it’s a myth to assume that petites are skinny or “itty bitty,” Agarwal said. Shorter women are just as likely to be a size 4 as they are a size 14. “If you have the proportions that work with a 00, that’s a limited subset of petites” she added. “It’s not about just getting as small as you can. There’s also short women who are big busted or bigger hipped.”

Sixty eight percent—or a little over two-thirds—of American women wear a size 14 and above, according to Plunkett Research. Which means if brands and retailers are still struggling to figure out extended sizing in their standard assortments, is it any wonder that petite pluses are getting overlooked?

The petite-plus woman is bound to find clothes-hunting on the high street fatiguing. Ann Taylor petites go up to large, which translates to somewhere between 12P and 14P. At J.Crew, the maximum petite size is 12P. Banana Republic’s wares culminate in 14P and Express in 18P.

Selections are spotty even among specialty plus-size retailers. While Lane Bryant boasts options up to 28P, Eloquii offered only one style in petite sizing at press time: a scalloped short in 16P. Torrid, which stocks clothing in sizes 10 to 30, carries zero. Only Universal Standard, a relative upstart that makes inclusive sizing its raison d’être, presents more than 40 styles that crest at 32P.

Stature has been working to expand its sizing assortment, too. “I don’t expect a woman who is size 12 to feel comfortable in the same thing that a 00 person would want to wear; I’m not naive about that,” Agarwal said. “But that’s something that we have to continue to address in ways that work with our designers.”

What the duo currently does is bring people with different body types to showroom appointments and have them try things on. It’s been an eye-opening experience, not just for Agarwal and Moroz, but the designers as well.

“For a lot of brands, grading for quote-unquote ‘non-standard sizing’ is uncharted territory,” Moroz said. 

Staying online has allowed the business to stay lean, but Stature has also hosted pop-ups as a way to get face time with customers and glean instant feedback. For two people from the tech world—Agarwal still works at Google as a user-experience designer—data is the lifeblood of their process.

“We conduct user surveys and try to understand what we could do better, what we need to change, what our customer is asking for,” Agarwal said. “If you were to come in and talk to us what you are encountering as a problem as a petite woman, we try to kind of take that into account.”