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?

October 10, 2006

Zero - the Next New Size

Today's Women's Wear Daily (WWD), the fashion trade publication, finally made note of this phenomenon in today's article, Those Zeros Keep Adding Up, by Rosemary Feitelberg. My friends know I've been talking about toying with the idea of starting a petite low-sized clothing line for months. I've even been contacted by an early reader about this idea! (Alas, the funding issue was the real problem with bringing my idea from concept to well...reality.) Everyone is now finally paying attention to the expanding and undertapped fuller-figured market...but that leaves us small people in a real lurch! But the article notes how certain designers are really cashing in on the slender framed.

"Robert Duffy, president and vice chairman of Marc Jacobs International, recently said Marc Jacobs sells more zeros than any other size in its collection and, truth be told, he has never seen a cutting order for a size 14." Lela Rose started offering zeroes because her clientele was swimming in her size twos. Nicole Miller is even planning to introduce a subzero size next season! (It was bad enough trying to explain what a size double-zero is...am I going to have to explain that I am wearing a negative two now???) What is funny is that this "sub-zero" is going to be based off of a 23.5" waist and 35" lower hip...which is what most retailers claimed their inflated zeroes to approximately be.

The article offers several explanations for the rise of the zero, including the fault of the media for focusing on the "never-too-thin mindset." The booming popularity of the zero is claimed to be a result of the overexposure of the infamous overly-skinny women of the runway. Ed Bucciarelli, CEO of Henri Bendel agrees and mentioned that "we live in a very celebrity-conscious world...[where] some are trying to emulate the girls they see on the covers." I certainly agree with Feitelberg on the unhealthy obsession of the American public on thinner and thinner models, movie stars, and socialites. (there is some counter push as well - like Madrid fashion's model ban) Regular readers know my feelings about this from my Fashion Week New York posts here and here.

What is interesting about this particular analysis is that it completely focuses on the high-end, expensive designers and the high-end fabulously wealthy patrons who can regularly afford such fare. It is crystal clear that the designers mentioned don't want anything to do with larger half of the female population. They are not catering to the masses - and the masses are generally heavier. It is not just an accident that Marc Jacobs doesn't sell to the average sized or higher woman. Marc Jacobs is notorious for micro-picking his sales staff for acceptable stylishness and attractiveness. No kidding that nothing was cut in a size 14...there's no such woman in the Marc Jacobs (or insert most any other high end label) universe!

Feitelberg offers several other possibilities that dovetail with the too-thin idea. Vanity sizing, the system in which a garment label indicates a numerial size smaller than what the same garment would have been in earlier seasons, is a major cause of consternation among the thin. "Some might be all too familiar with what a shopping challenge zero-ness poses.... Even that isn't small enough [for some people]." The thin are literally being sized out of existance by the clothing industry - or at least, for the mid-priced and lower ranges.

I am amused that Feitelberg mistakenly equates zeroness with petiteness, by completely misreferencing the Saks incident. She sees some designers expanding their sizes downward as a means to capture the underserved petites market. "The news caused such an uproar the retailer has since said the department will be reinstated. As things stand, zero is 'one of the sizes that sells out pretty quickly' at Saks, a company spokeswoman said. Theory, which also offers items in a double zero, and Alice + Olivia are among the popular labels with size-zero customers, she said." Both Feitelberg's (and possibly the high-end designers') reasoning is faulty, as the reason for the backlash (and subsequent mia culpa by Saks) had nothing to do with the lack of small options. Instead, the problem was that the petite customers were alternately deemed fat and tasteless, or expected to put up with designer labels that created smaller sized clothing (but not shorter statured). Petite does not mean thin!

The informative parts of the article actually touch upon the mass market segment of the industry. Feiltelberg highlights Jennifer Hoppe, a zero-sized, 110-pound woman living in NY (interestingly, her height is not mentioned - but I suspect she is taller than 5'4"). This interview actually highlights most of the problems that petite and/or thin people face. "She often finds herself shopping at Gap, Banana Republic and Old Navy - sometimes in the children's department - to try to find clothes." She spends hundreds annually to alter her garments because the standard sizes just are too big. She actually mentions her dream of opening a store for small people "even though [she] knows it's so politically incorrect."

Hoppe also touched upon a topic that I've mentioned in the past before too - size discrimination. She wrote an article about the "reverse descrimination she faces" in For Me, where she is the lifestyle editor (the magazine is closing, as of the Oct 2006 issue). "People often think it's perfectly OK to comment about how I'm really small and the fact of the matter is they would never say that to an overweight person." Mentioning the lack of clothing options also gathers backhanded non-sympathy from sales staff. "They'll say, 'Isn't that a great problem to have?'"

I've been arguing that there's profit to be made by means of a contrarian strategy. How can you possibly get a great return on investment if everyone's jumping in on the craze along with you? (Do we need reminders of the dot-com era as an extreme example?) Early designers (or investors) have an extremely high advantage. I have long been trying to convince people that creating a tightly focused thin petite line, particularly for professional wear, would almost guarantee loyal customers. Of course, this always bumps into the problem of production costs for smaller batches. But there's no denying that if a decently designed line was offered that fit this sub-market, it would be loyally followed. Even Kristi Yamaguchi mentions that "if I find something I kind of like, I feel pressured to get it. I know if I wait, it will be gone. Stores need to carry more small sizes." The article mentions that thin shoppers therefore must buy full-priced items, before all the goods are gone. Considering the potential savings if I calculate the value of my time, I probably should do the same instead of scoping out deals.

Under-served markets, like petites or problem sizes, are generally a captive audience. You can pretty much sell them anything and they'll buy it. (look at all the people that still bemoan the original Petite Sophisticate line...uber frumpy!) Mid-priced labels like Banana Republic and Ann Taylor are just wisely cashing in on the petite opportunity. Someone should definitely get a major jump on the under-served super-short and/or small - WWD has already started wising up to it!

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11 Comments:

Blogger Ilanna said...

while i am on the other end of the spectrum i must say "hear hear!" (or is it here here! :) ) At any rate you are entirely correct.

I will comment, that I thought it was really cool that Ralph Lauren actually has a large line of plus size clothing that is actually CUT for plus size, and not just smaller stuff blown up on a copy machine. I like the fact that some designers are catering to everyone, not just those that fit the fashion world ideal...

October 11, 2006 9:37 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I find that the only way I can get what I want is to buy things the minute they hit the selling floor. If I don't, some other size zero will. There is no such thing as waiting for things to go on sale when you're a size zero. The stores get so few of them, and, inevitably, they end up putting one of them on the mannequin so it becomes stretched out and unwearable. The same thing happens with shoes (I wear a 6.5) They get maybe two or three pairs in that size, and one of them always ends up out on the selling floor.

October 12, 2006 12:13 AM  
Blogger Amy said...

Designers have started to design on a plus-sized form instead of just grading their regular stuff up a dozen sizes. Ilanna, you are absolutely correct - sometimes it's like they stretched or shrunk the patterns out without really thinking about how a shape changes!

They honestly don't even stock shoes in size 5 or 5 1/2 anymore so I have to get them online for certain retailers. If you're lucky, someone returned an online purchase in exactly your size!

October 12, 2006 12:27 AM  
Anonymous Anderkoo said...

What overlap is there between weight and social class/income? Anecdotally I notice that wealther women tend to be thinner. How much does that end up being a factor?

There's definitely a paradox in play where the media keeps pushing out the message "thin is beautiful," yet the population keeps getting heavier. Why is that?

Finally, in response to anonymous from 10/12, this phenomena is equal for me. I've got to grab the 30/30 pants right away or else!

October 13, 2006 12:11 PM  
Blogger Ilanna said...

I think one probalby sinmplistic answer to the weight issue re: the classes is this:
Junk food is cheaper.

it is cheaper to buy a 2 liter bottle of soda than it is to buy a gallon of milk. In fact you can usually get 2 or 3 2 liter bottles for what the milk costs. Processed foods are cheaper to buy than healthy foods. Organics are actually a "fashion" fad in a lot of ways. so convenience foods are that much more available to lower incomes. sad...

October 16, 2006 11:15 AM  
Blogger charredhart said...

It seems to me that it is much harder to find clothes to fit now in this decade than it has ever been for me before. Right now, I am 5'1" and 100lbs but all through high school I weighed 96lbs. The really strange thing is that nobody ever commented on my being thin at that point but they do now fifteen years later. I have three pairs of jeans all from one store (because they fit) and one pair of work pants (that don't really fit, I wear leggings under them because I make frequent trips to the sub-zero freezer.) I can say that I am definitely NOT rich, I share a room with my mother (my son is two and NOT a good roommate) and I work in a grocery store. There are several of us "small ladies" where I work and we all have the same complaint...Where's the clothes!?! I really don't like to shop in the little girls plus sizes, I am not that fond of pink glitter butterflies or pretty princess camoflauge...I am a 32 year old mother (okay, so my boyfriend is 28, big deal) and I don't really want to look like a preteen mom. It really kills my credibility level to look this way anyway, I really don't need some truant officer dragging me over to the nearest highschool trying to find out which class I am playing hookey from. So, it kills me to think that I should have to spend more money that I don't have to buy clothing and have it altered. I have to wonder, if the american female average height is 5'4" then why don't the stores understand that the majority of women are NOT 5'8"? How about instead of a frumpy petite section, they can have an awkwardly tall section? :) Just a thought.

February 03, 2007 2:22 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Petite does not mean thin!

THANKYOU for pointing that out!
The perception that petite means short as well as thin is a constant point of contention between myself and some of my taller friends.
At 5'1" and 125lbs, I'm hardly a waif, and have been greeted with many a raised eyebrow when describing myself as petite.
Deffinately frustrating.

February 20, 2007 11:41 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I am 5', 92 lbs. I recently started a position as an attorney, and I have tried to go on numerous shopping sprees to get professional looking outfits and suits. Unfortunately, I can't find any size zeros except at stores saling suits at $160 plus for the jacket alone. It is nice to know that others are facing the same problem. And I totally agree that people do not feel any sympathy for a small person trying to find clothes that fit. Yes I like being small, but I also like to look presentable at work and in court. My budget simply does not permit buying suits at such outrageous prices, and I have reached such a point of just giving up! Something needs to be done to get more size zeros at reasonable prices. I also hate the argument that size zeros promote eating disorders. I have had two children and I eat nothing but junk, and I am still only 92 lbs and need a size zero.

March 13, 2007 2:56 PM  
Blogger Amy said...

My sister-in-law pointed out the "power chairs" in law firms and similar settings are not suited for smaller people. She mentioned that it actually aches to sit in them for long periods of time.

Small people definitely pay a "short tax"!

March 15, 2007 2:33 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

This article just mentioned everything that I have been complaining about for years. When I was in 8th grade, I was able to buy a size 3, but today I would be swimming in that size even though I weighed the same then (or a little more) as I do now, and I'm 21. I can barely fit zeros depending on what store I go to. This vanity sizing thing is getting out of control.
I think people are getting so caught up in the notion that America is overweight that they forget there are actually naturally thin people out there that need clothes too.

September 22, 2007 12:32 AM  
Blogger Chernah said...

I am 5 ft tall, 105 lbs, 50 years old, and had a double mastectomy two years ago. I like my flat chest, but I have trouble finding clothes. Small clothes for women are trendy, cutsy, or revealing. The look I'm trying to achieve is what might be called "men's business casual" - e.g., nice looking slacks, permanent-press shirts in solid colors or colorful geometric patterns. The slacks aren't a problem (approx. size 8), but I have a terrible time finding shirts. I don't wear bras, falsies, dresses or skirts; clothes with darts don't fit. Suggestions I've received are to wear men't shirts (the smallest men's shirts hang on me); look in the boys dept (all sports logos and the occasional white shirt for when grandma drags the to church); have shirts made for me (not in the budget) or make my own (don't sew).
There must be other women in this situation; I'd love to hear what has worked for you. Thanks.

October 14, 2007 10:20 PM  

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