Petite Confusion - What Does 'Petite' Mean?
(Sorry for taking so long to finally post again! I got a little sidetracked, but I promise to try to stick to the 'at least twice a week' posting schedule.)
There's a lot of confusion about what is meant by the term 'petite' when used for clothing. Part of that is because the word isn't well defined, and different stores mean different things when an item is labeled 'petite.' Not surprisingly, most of the guys that I talk to about this (Yes, I know, don't you feel sorry for them, being stuck in a conversation about women's clothes?) are very confused, and usually think 'Oh, it just means very small right?'
Well, yes. Sometimes. Certainly that's what people mean when they talk about someone being 'petite' coloquially. For clothing though, that's not always true. Two definitions seem to be most prevelant in the industry:
Proportion: Some labels actually carry a separate petite line or sizing which strictly refers to a shorter proportion. Brands like Banana Republic, Brooks Brothers, Ann Taylor, Liz Claiborne, Ellen Tracy, and others size their clothing down for rises, inseams, and sleeve lengths (among a multitude of other things). The standard is usually defined as 5'4" and under - although certainly some tall women are better off with petite garments, just as some shorter women fit better into regular sized clothing. While an item labeled 4P is smaller waisted/busted than a regular size 4, it is incorrect to assume that 'petite' for these brands means 'made for a slighter woman' - it only means shorter. You may now thank the fashion industry for lumping the entire range of 0P-12P+ under the euphamistic umbrella of 'petite'. I guess 'petite' is better than being called 'short', and if you're in the higher range of size, it implies a slenderness that most women seem to want. 'Plus sized petite' clothing is definitely available as well, which seems contradictory until the term is parsed.
Slenderness: The second definition agrees a bit more with the venacular sense - smaller than XS; tiny. While the brands escape me right now, I recall encountering quite a few of them in my earlier shopping days (anyone recall any labels that do this?). The size tag usually indicates a lonely 'P' all by itself. They are not sized proportionally for shorter people - they are just tighter and made to fit a more slender person.
Lastly, there're those weird oddball cases - like the Armani Exchange '0P REG' pants I own. Let's try to dicipher that shall we? A|X doesn't make any other 'P' labeled size - no '0P Short, no '4P REG' either. In fact, this pair has the same length as the '0 REG' pants, albeit a little bit tighter in fit, and with a slightly shorter rise. And yes, every other size can be purchased in with short, regular, and long inseams. Crazy no?
Who knows where A|X's particular schema came from, but it only proves the point that women's clothing sizing is arbitrary. The only reliable guarantee is that brands use sizing as a tool to charm women into liking how the label's clothes make them feel about themselves. So next time you go shopping, realize that the sizing is just a game to make you purchase - and that applies if you're a 2P or a 14 regular. No tricks here - just get what makes you look good, even if you'd like to be a smaller or larger size. No one's gonna be checking your label's size anyway. And if all else fails, you can do what I do and bring your trusty tape measure along (like me!) for a spot check between brands.