Some Small Sense

Shopping experiences and store reviews by a very petite woman. Indeed, it sucks. 4'10", 87 pounds, and full grown - is it a surprise I have trouble finding clothes?

May 31, 2006

FitMe Please!

I stumbled across this fabulous find the other day. Remember my posts here and here (and, well, basically this entire blog) where I fumed about sizing inaccuracy? Perhaps this is a thing of the past (but I doubt it).

The company FitMe developed a tool they call Size Genie that allows you to figure out what size you are based on your real measurements for various labels. It's a fabulous idea, but unfortunately completely unhelpful for me. As you can see from the screenshot, I am not really the right size for any standard issue clothes.

You basically plug in your actual measurements and the tool spits out what size you are for a particular brand. I haven't tested this for more normal sizes, but I'm curious how other people find it. I'll definitely be doing a run to the stores and checking out how things compare. I'm a little suspicious that the numbers that FitMe reports back are according to the inaccurate sizing charts that the stores provide, but I'll have to do an update later.

The sizing tool interface could use some definite improvement, as it is slightly awkward to use. It'd be great if you'd be able to get back a list of brands and associated sizes instead of being forced to pick through them every single time, and for each particular category of clothes (pants, dresses, shirts, etc). All in all, not bad though, awkward as it may be. Hmm. Perhaps I'll get in touch with them.

So ladies, give it a whirl and let me know if it actually works for you! Sorry guys, it's just for women's clothes. Although I guess it wouldn't be terrible to wear a plain woman's shirt if it fits right? Hey, I wonder if any guys received that suggestion when it better than having the boys section mentioned?

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May 29, 2006

Petite Vindication in the NY Times!

A monumentous thing happened while I was in far away Providence land. A news story of particular interest to me hit the 'Most Emailed' list (and, as of this moment, is still #1) for the New York Times on Saturday. "Where's the Petite Department? Going the Way of the Petticoat" details the fazing out of petite clothing lines from high-end department stores. It was one of those "HAH! I told you so" moments when the article came sailing into my consciousness. I mean, if the New York Times is covering this particular snippet of fashion/business news, it's not exactly a tiny trend here. (find the full text here if above link doesn't work)

High-end department stores blame petite women for having such an "older, unfashionable and undesirable" image. And yet, it's hardly the fault of the short consumer to resign herself to this stuff if it's the only game in town. I've totally checked out the goods myself and find them...old, unfashionable, and undesireable. Hell, I'm sure even the older women that they're trying to target with such frumpy goods are going for the look either. Petite women who dress themselves from the petite selection can't help it - they don't really have alternatives besides going into the juniors department or spending horrendous amounts getting everything altered.

In Bloomingdale's at 59th and Lexington, I was in fact, directed to check out the selection in Tahari (definitely pricey, and definitely too long/tall). I guess they thought a young woman should know better than to be shopping in Petite's for God's sake! When I mentioned that things there were too long/tall/big/etc, the salespeople just kinda gave a shrug and said I can just get things altered. Just. As if it was completely beneath them to consider the hassle, cost, and general aggravation such a procedure would entail. Before moving to NYC, I figured that I'll find plenty of stuff that fits me in these expensive shops. Surely, if the clientele is most clearly willing to pay, they'd have stuff, I thought.

Wrong. Designer's in fact, do not "care about the little people." They want them, and apparently their fat wallets, to go to a land far far away. My brother (who is 5'5") and I (a stately 4'10") used to half-joke constantly about height discrimination. Being male, he certainly has it worse. Sure, everyone knows that Presidents and C-level executives are "supposed" to be tall and imposing. Ok, you can even posit that there's some slight edge to being taller there, but other components are also weighed in, so it's not completely about height. But it's a whole other thing when we're talking about selling clothes.

It's nothing short of discrimination (no, the pun was completely unintended). The most obvious sign is that the decision to slash the smaller sized departments is completely based on faulty irrational train of thought. The sales figures are in. Petite sales are growing, and high-end stores like Bloomingdale's do not want to service them! They do not want us rushing to their registers with willing dollars in hand. They do not want to revamp the 'image issue' that they themselves helped to create. They do not want us gushing to our friends and give them free advertising and loyalty just because they made us feel like everyone else. No, they don't want any of these things because in their minds, the decision has already been made. Because what good is our tenacious loyalty (albeit, we make up a smaller share) when customers like us make them cringe?

That's right, these stores have concluded that all petite women are old, frumpy and have no taste. Yes, disregard that petite just means short, for any age, income level, or any other socioeconomic index. Yes, disregard the fact that we're willing to pay more for the same thing if it fits because we know it's going to be produced in smaller batches and it's a pain in the ass to carry. Yes, disregard that you are educating your stores to redirect them to the "fashionable" sections of the store that they spend dollars in (and at their tailors). This judgement is hardly fair, as their sense of what we are is completely based on the clothing that they themselves decided to carry in the first place! And because they need to maintain a stylish and youthful image, these short rejects must be swiftly ejected from their stores before their presence taints the stores' name irredeemably.

These stores certainly have the clout and the volume to go back to their designers and distibutors and tell them to get their act together and to supply nicer and stylish clothes for the shorter set. It's certainly not a problem with short clients' unwillingness to spend. They've more than proven that since they are willing to shell out probably 20-50% more to get the regular-sized stuff altered. But, in the mind's of the decision makers, the decision has already been made.

At a very basic level, clothing is meant to make you feel safe and comfortable - both physically and emotionally. The trend-setters of the clothing industry has been doing a very shoddy job at both of these functions. I myself know that I would pay a lot more and be incredibly devoted to a company that would make me feel good about how I dress and how I shop. Instead, I quietly (well, not so quietly) suffer the indignities forced upon me by the way things are done. I am directed to children's departments. I am given the "sorry, but we really don't have a thing for you at all" talk from salespeople who are most definitely not sorry about it. I am told that I can pay a lot more to have the hems taken up, the seat yoke taken in, the darting move up, and the sleeves shortened for a shirt that will probably still look unflattering on me when it's done being dissected.

Indeed, the issue is not about indulgence or even convenience. It is completely about parity.

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May 25, 2006

X-Girl and Uniqlo store reviews - trying my SoHo luck

X-Girl New York
265 Lafayette Street
New York, NY 10012

76 Greene Street
New York, NY 10012

SoHo and NoLita in New York are flooded with little boutiques and independent designer shops. The area is quite a great place to shop if you're looking for something different from the mainstream bunch; a few stores also serve as launching pads for up and coming designers. But buyers be warned: it's also too easy to drop several hundred without even trying.

I stepped out of the subway at Spring armed with the names of a couple of stores that a friend had given me. Both stores were Asian brands/imports. East Asians as a general rule are smaller than their counterparts in America, so it wouldn't be a bad place to start.

My first stop was X-Girl, on Lafayette. I stepped into the store finding a casual-trendy mix of urban chic Japanese designed goods. Not the sort of style anyone would normally associate with me, but I figured it would be a nice shot. I talked to the salesperson and asked if she could suggest any items that may fit me. I walked into the dressing curtain and tried them out, a little doubtful as some of the things looked a little big.

I was a little surprised at the dressing 'room' situation. If you look carefully at the storefront picture, you'll see a pinkish curtain behind the mannequin. Yup. That was where I was shucking off my clothes. Since there was no mirror to use to take a picture, I was a little bad and adjusted the curtain so sunlight came into the booth. I sure hope no one was looking a little too closely at X-Girl's window!

So I tried the stuff on. I was also disappointed and surprised that everything was too big! Their sizing is XS, S, M, L, or 1, 2, 3. Huh. Taking that small numbering system even further than I would have imagined. And as I thought, it wasn't cheap to shop there - the 'sweetheart shirt' was $106 for a frilly cotton button down! I left after learning that the sizing was supposedly the same in Japan. Huh. Well, moving on....

Next stop - Uniqlo on Greene. I knew that this particular store was a Japanese retailer, and my friend mentioned that they were in Japanese sizes. So as I stepped in, I got excited. The place kinda reminded me of a slightly funkier GAP - "casual wear that can be worn by anyone, any day." The stuff was certainly a good price; t-shirts were on sale for $9.99.

But alas, I was informed that their sizing followed US standards! Er...ok. Does it run small for American sizing, I tried to casually ask an employee. No, it actually runs large, he replies. WHAT??!?!? I was a little annoyed now. They might import the Japanese goods soon, but right now, it's American. Somehow, I thought that physical proximity to Chinatown would make a difference for sizing of their clientele. Silly me right?

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May 21, 2006

Industry Sizing Standards

Well, it comes as no surprise, but the sizing standards for women's clothing is completely all over the place - both within and between brands. In menswear, their system of sizing is, for the most part, based on real measurements - neck, arm length, waist, inseam, etc. For menswear, there's not that much playing around with the numbers for the consumer's vanity. Men get standardization. Women don't. What gives?

Women have no idea how to describe their clothing size to other people. It usually comes down to "I'm a size 2 in Banana Republic, size 0 in Ann Taylor, size 6 in ...." You have to admit, this is a little weird, not to mention completely annoying and inconvenient. I long suspected that the reason for why it's done is twofold.

First, women's shapes are so different, that standardization is hard for manufacturers. Not only are there differences in height and weight, but that weight is distributed very differently for everyone. Someone can be slender or curvy. She can have a large chest but not have wide hips, or any other combination. To be fair, there have been efforts to push standardization upon clothing manufacturers. SizeUSA is an ongoing study and standardization project jointly sponsored by the clothing industry and the U.S. Department of Commerce (Unfortunately, I'm not quite willing to pay several hundred dollars to get a report). The American Society for Testing and Materials has done the same for a variety of categories. So if some standards have been recently set, what gives?

This is the second, harder half of the answer. But basically, it's because women have shown that they like it better and therefore, don't demand a more sensible system. Women as a whole don't like admitting personal numbers, particularly weight, size, and age. And for all these things, is it a coincidence that lower seems better? The entire 0,2,4, etc. sizing scheme is a deliberate effort to add a layer of abstraction to sizing clothing. The focus is no longer on the real measurements anymore, but, again, on this floating scale of nice low numbers. It is certainly not a lack of information that prevents clothing companies from clearly indicating the actual measurements. After all, they specified the actual measurements in the first place! But rather, it's a consumer bias towards the fake scale. There is definitely a social attitude, healthy or not, that 'skinnier means better' for women. Somehow, being a size 8 sounds much more appealing than having a 28" waist. And if a size 8 sounds better, why not size 4 for the same actual waist size? If making the shopper feel slightly better about her size can tip the scale towards a purchase, why should manufacturers change the way things are done?

"Oh my God! I can't believe that I can still wear a size 6!" a woman in the dressing room next to mine exclaimed. It used to surprise me how excited and happy than woman sounded. But over the years, I've heard similar refrains so many times in dressing rooms that it's undeniable. Deep down, everyone knows if they've been gaining or losing weight, so no one's really fooled - but the women in the dressing room would prefer to keep her illusion even though she really knows differently.

Size inflation (when a label for a particular size is placed on a garment that was considered larger than that size in the past) has been rampant during the past few years. I find it particularly painful because I have, for the most part, been completely sized out of the major brands. I've noticed that Banana Republic has shifted 2 "sizes" already for skirts in the span of less than a decade, which was noted here in the cons section (stores claim that if you sort of fit a regular 4, you'd go up one size in petites). Americans have been getting bigger over the years - both taller and wider. It makes sense that clothing has shifted towards bigger people. J.Crew, for example, has special sizing to account for the trend. They carry clothes for tall people and size 16. They've also expanded their swim wear for D cups, longer torsos, and "slimming" suits. Good for them! I'm all for this. Why shouldn't taller or bigger people get things to fit? But what particularly bugs me is that A) actual small sized clothing is disappearing, to be replaced by similarly labeled clothing a lot bigger, and B) it's a real effort to figure ways of dealing with it.

The partial solution is to get women to stop buying into the current sizing system and demand standardization. According to TC2, the consulting firm that performed the SizeUSA study, companies have already readjusted the fit so that more people can purchase from their new standards, which in turn, leads to a more loyal and satisfied customer base. However, I hope that this will also lead manufacturers to adopt a universal industry standard for sizing. Or if I had my way, just tag every article with every real measurement that matters.

So how does this help me? Well, it's clear that the size demographic that I fit into is tiny (no pun intended). So I'm screwed anyway. But it's cruel that manufacturers right now give me a glimmer of hope by posting their outrageously incorrect sizing charts and by producing sizes like 00 that seem like they should work. Hey, if something's not going to fit, just let me know. It's ok - just stop lying about your sizes and I'll appreciate that I won't have to waste my time looking.

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May 19, 2006

Tube Top Fun!

The tube top that I ordered from Banana Republic in a petite xs fits and is actually wearable. And I thought I'd just be complaining that it was too big. It has one of those shelf-bra things which don't really help anyone (I still wear a padded bra for 'volume' as opposed to support). So I put it on and realized that it was a bit longer than I liked, and it was practically a dress!

And then it hit me. Hey, I could wear this thing as a dress! By pulling the inner shelf-bra out and using it as the bodice part and the real outer upper part of the tank top to cover my middle, I noticed that I could unfold it and wear the top as a pretty scandalous dress:

Not to say that I'd actually go wearing this around...but honestly, I probably could without looking too slutty. I have a pretty non-existent chest, which in this case, is an asset. Hey, in the right light, it might even actually pass for classy. With a jacket, it wouldn't even be that bad. But it only works because it's super stretchy nylon/spandex and I'm freakishly short (4'10").

This was totally one of those 'airplane seat' moments - for once, being tiny is actually an advantage! (Well, I guess in this case it's sort of questionable in terms of taste....) At $28 full price, it's not a bad buy for a night of clubbing. Heck, for $28, it's cheap as a disposable dress, even for a tightwad like me!

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May 17, 2006

Online Shopping Rocks because....

Like a lot of non-standard sized people, I tend to shop online out of sheer desperation. And yet, there are certainly a bunch of benefits to this, aside from not going crazy in the store with the unsympathetic salesperson.

  • Fun in-store shopping experiences and quirks:
    • poorly trained/unhelpful salespeople who are more inclined to gossiping with each other rather than actually helping you
    • pretty much zero selection in my size since either they don't even make anything that small for the ever expanding American population - or all the ones in store have been snatched up by equally desperate (but willing to blow more money) tiny people like me
    • long lines for the dressing room that are reminiscent of women's bathrooms and as equally enjoyable at the end of the ride
    • extra-flattering (but completely unrealistic) lighting and mirrors in the dressing room to bring out the real you
    • yappy spoiled annoying women and their pet baby puppy in Gucci handbags. No, I won't coo over your stupid dog that's wearing a matching outfit. Why the hell did you bring that thing into the store anyway? What do you think it is, your kid/boyfriend/therapist? (see NYT article here) Find a day boyfriend if your permanent boyfriend/husband/sextoy isn't around to take you shopping to spend his money. If you live anywhere but New York, I think this one is mostly avoidable (I mean the dog, not the girl)
    • Muzak playing that firstly makes you wonder what the target audience of this store is, and secondly to think, 'dear God, am I really this boring a person that I've fallen into the Adult Smooth Jazz/Soft Pop Remix category'?
  • Avoiding the children's section and teenybopper stores: Believe me, I've done this lots of times. I've gotten sort of immune to it at this point, but it really does still suck when the realization hits you again. No, it's not perfectly respectable for a grown woman (or man) to be going through GAP Kids for their evening or work attire. No one has to know that you're trying on a size 10 or 12 (as in age of kid) sweater at home. You don't even need to give the lame excuse of, "it's for my kid."
  • Wider online selection: Most retailers have better selection online since they don't have to display their wares in any physical space - they just need to keep it in some gigantic warehouse, ready to be shipped out. Most notable are that women's shoes in size 5 or 5 1/2 are almost never carried in stores anymore, and that petites or size 00 are available online (yes, that farce of a size does actually exist - more on that one later). If you're smaller than a 5 in shoes - suck. If you're smaller than a 00, cozy up to a good tailor.
  • You can be lazy: No need to actually carry all that stuff home with you - it gets shipped straight to your door.
  • You potentially save money: Online shopping is a good economical approach. You're seldom tempted to buy something by sheer emotional want when you can't touch it or try it on. Of course, only 5% of women's clothes should even be considered on such a basis anyway, but hey, you tried to save a buck.
Ok, to be fair, check here for the crappy aspects.


Online Shopping Sucks because....

As essential as online shopping has become for me, there are quite a few problems I find with online shopping, as much as it is great. Here are my person favorites:
  • Touching is believing: I still want to touch/try on/look at closely the thing I'm purchasing. Texture, drape, and quality of the garment are incredibly important to me. If I'm in the store, I can reject in about 10 seconds something that is overpriced for quality, ugliness, the wrong color, etc. Sure, I have to lug it home, but there's less of it to lug.
  • I want a normal shopping experience too: Who the hell wants to feel completely left out of the shopping loop? It completely sucks to walk into a store and realize you really like their clothes, but everything, and I mean everything, is way too big. As one oh so helpful salesman at a Brooks Brothers snarkily told me, "you should be grateful that we even carry petites, even though it's a little big on you. Frankly, our stores lose money because we don't make enough of a profit from people your size."
  • No instant gratification: I need something now. Or tomorrow. For now, I just can't wait to have the thing sent. For tomorrow, no, I don't realy want to pay an extra $30 for rushed (and sometimes not guaranteed) overnight delivery. If that's even possible.
  • Sizing charts online lie: They lie a lot. Especially for small sizes. Check out the chart below from Banana Republic. On a super thin day, I maybe have a 23 1/2" waist, 28 1/2" around the bony bits of my hip. So, according to this chart, I'd fit a 0P reasonably well. Wrong. BR offers a size 00P, which is still too big for me. The skirt I ordered from them is also below, in a 00P. It hits a tiny bit past my hip bone, which I guess I can wear, but I really don't like to. Measured straight across the waistband, it's exactly 28". I still have a silk skirt I bought from them in '99 that is exactly 24" in the waistband, and it was a regular (not petite) size 0. What the heck? This size chart is about 7+ years out of whack.

  • Unavoidable Returns: You gotta lug all that stuff you just mail ordered back to the physical store or post office. Because they lied about the size. Or because it's uglier than you thought possible.
  • Environmental anguish: You just killed 1/100 of a tree for the shipping materials and probably a gallon of gas having this stuff shipped from their distribution warehouse in Ohio. This is a very similiar feeling to the horror I felt when one of my friends, who shall remain nameless, told me he regularly orders Q-Tips online because Amazon offered free priority delivery if you pay a flat rate for the year.
  • Overbuying is easy: You forget how much you got because you don't have to carry it around to the cashier. So you return it or you wind up paying a lot more than you wanted to. You often buy multiple sizes of the same thing because you aren't sure about fit - which is a return guarantee.
  • Online Selection still sucks: I still can't really find things that look good on me and/or fit online. My friends know that I keep talking about going to Asia to go on a crazy shopping trip. Completely not practical unless you're willing to blow a lot of money for a very very long plane ride. With no guarantee of anything once you get there.
For a fair shake for the other side, please read here.


Online Clothing Shopping for the Short Folk 101

I just got a shipment of stuff from Banana Republic this evening. Luckily, I was home so that I didn't get another UPS sticky note attached to the front door of my building - I just moved to a doorman-free building so I keep forgetting that I actually have to be home to pick up my stuff. I have a pretty love/hate relationship with mail order shopping. I started doing it when retailers began offering free shipping and returns a few years ago.

Basically, it still comes down to some semblance of convenience. It’s just completely inefficient to go shopping in most retail stores for me, even though for most people, it’s the best way to find new stuff. I can usually find a better sizing selection online and I get to avoid the ton of annoyances that come with in-store shopping.

But still, I wish there was somewhere I can shop where I don’t feel freakishly small. I mean, think of all the things you give up when the brown UPS truck becomes synonymous with high fashion.

In the end, I still hate shopping online because the conclusion usually sucks. Here's the damage: After having ordered 8 different pairs of shoes in various sizes, I have decided to keep one pair of sandals. I'll be bringing back the other 7 pairs, a dress that's too big, and the skirt that's too big. To keep: a string bikini set in XS that went on sale that fits perfectly except that the bottom is made for someone with a slightly fuller bottom (the usual resigned – “it's good enough”), a tank top in PXS, and the shoes that I'll finally resign myself to paying full price for. Nothing like a little exercise with 7 shoe boxes and other paraphernalia.


May 16, 2006

A Petite Mission

I live in New York - one of the most diversely populated cities in the world. People of all sizes, shapes, ethnicities, and tastes live here. In this city, you should be able to find anything and everything. So, something as simple as clothing that fits me should be a cinch, right? I mean, for goodness sake, it's Manhattan! The Big Apple! Fashion Capital of the World (or at least, the States)! Really, I can't be that small!

Wrong. I have decided that Fifth Avenue has abandoned me and everyone else outside the average sizing categories. I've been to the H&Ms, the Banana Republics, and even the Bergdorf Goodmans. The trendy indy boutiques in downtown are also not helping me. Fans of Project Runway, I've even stepped into Emmett McCarthy's store EMc2. "My, you're tiny, aren't you?" he asks me, and then proceeds to let me down by telling me nothing in his collection will fit me. (He was very nice about it.)

Clothes should make you feel good about yourself. The right suit will make you more confident for important meetings. That sexy dress will certainly help turn heads. But wait, that's not for people like me. How comfortable do you really feel if that jacket is too big in the shoulders and waist? Still just trying on your mom's clothes? How seductive do you feel when every dress you try on is baggy and saggy? Doing the little dance in the dressing room to pinch and pin down all the parts that need a little nip, tuck, or hem lift (and hoping that tailor will actually do a good job)? I find it insulting that I regularly make it a habit to check the children's section since the "grown up clothes" don't work for me. Sound familiar?

This abnormally short, skinny girl must figure something else out. With no steady dealer of product, I have decided to finally step into the blogosphere and share with the world what I know best about fashion:

The trials and tribulations of the chronically undersized female shopper.

And maybe I'll pick up a hint or two from the rest of you out there.

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