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All About Fit

Plus, Petite, Tall


For the many women who fall outside of what the industry considers standard sizes (approximately sizes 4-14, 5' 4" to 5' 8" in height), there are "special" sizes that cater to petite, plus and tall women.

As many as half of all women may actually make up these special sizes: according to a survey by Kurt Salmon Associates, one-third of the respondents considered themselves plus-size and 19% were petite.

Petite sizes

One of the misconceptions about petite sizes is that you have to be a tiny little thing to qualify.

Actually the designation refers to height, not girth: women under 5' 4" are considered petite by the industry whether they wear a size 24 or a 4.

Although many shorter women are concerned about fit (like getting a jacket waist to hit where it's supposed or finding sleeves that don't hang to the knuckles), there are issues of color, scale and proportion that make it difficult to find styles that look flattering.

Don't be discouraged if department store offerings are too old or fussy for your taste. Specialty stores, online resources and catalogs may have just what you need.

Try petite-only resources like Petite Sophisticate or merchants that feature all sizes, like J. Jill. Some smaller sized women even swear by the children's departments in the Gap for casual clothes.


Look for monochromatic or tonal dressing, sleek lines, smaller prints and scaled-for-you accessories (no huge hoop earrings or enormous bags). The same chunky knit sweater or floor-length skirt that looks so great on the runway may be overwhelming for a smaller woman. Try modifying trends to work for you (maybe a lightweight sweater with a chunky knit scarf or cap and a lower calf skirt with boots instead of extremes).

Plus sizes

Some estimates put the number of women who wear a size 14 or larger at about half of the female American population.

With so much buying power, it would seem that manufacturers would cater to full-figured women. Instead, the laundry list of complaints from the over-14 consumer keeps growing.

"I have a picture in my head of what I want to buy when I'm shopping. Why is it I can only find something sort of close in a size 4?" laments KARAOKAY in the Fashion Forum on this site.

Add these complaints: A dearth of updated styles, shoddy workmanship, few high-end labels and a general lack of respect from industry leaders like fashion editors and buyers. (Ex: Vogue editor Anna Wintour told Newsweek that she'd "have a problem with" a fashion editor working for her that weighed 250 pounds).

And the strange thing is that real-size women like model Emme (size 14) are labeled plus size, even though they actually represent the average woman according to recent demographics.

Online merchants and catalogs have answered some of the shopping needs for plus sizes. Alight.com is an excellent cyberstore; junior resources like Girlfriends LA, and casual clothes from Gap (up to size 20) are also good stops.

Tips:Go for monochromatic or tonal dressing; use bright colors and textures to show off the best part of your figure (bust, legs, waist, etc. figure flattery (go for skimming, not tight or baggy); keep accessories in scale (not too dainty); stay updated (grab a few junior large sizes for some wardrobe spunk).

Tall sizes
For women 5' 9" and over, it would seem that fashion would be a cakewalk. After all, aren't all of those lovely, tall models well-dressed?

But the reality is that a 34" inseam gal in a 30" inseam world can have trouble finding the perfect fit.

Manufacturers, in order to fit the most people, make clothes for women of average height, which is about 5' 4".

That means taller women struggle with pants and sleeves that are entirely too short.

Some tall women combat the problem by shopping in the men's department, some by frequenting tall-only boutiques. Jeans that can be ordered by inseam size are also a good bet.

Tip: If you are tall and thin, you may need to take advantage of custom-made bottoms for the best fit (try IC3D.com online).

Related Video
Women's Plus Size Wardrobe Makeover
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