Memoir: When You’re 4 Foot 10 Inches Tall, Shopping Can Be Painful

I once owned the perfect pair of jeans: blue boot-cut LEIs. They weren’t fancy, but they were comfortable, made my butt look good and above all, required no alterations.

This may not seem like a big deal, but when you’re 4’10’’ one gets used to visiting the tailor before wearing new clothes. It was the first and only time I’ve taken pants home to wear the next day, no pinning, taping or sewing required.

As a little person, I spent a few too many years donning clothes my younger sisters had outgrown and wearing holes in the bottom of pant legs for lack of understanding the importance of a good tailor. I’d like to forget my time shopping at the Limited Too well past an acceptable age. My prom shoes had bows.

Shopping as a short teenager was not easy. It’s easier as an adult, but comes with its own complications.

It’s hard to buy clothing as-is, for one. “Petite” and “short” labels don’t work for everyone and require some alteration. Petite sections are inconsistent from place to place. Certain styles, no matter how appealing, are just not going to happen.

I can get over never wearing a maxi-dress or a voluminous skirt. If those don’t work for me, something else will. I don’t even really mind the inconsistency of petite offerings from store to store.

What does irk is the inability to, say, buy a pair of pants on a Saturday shopping trip and wear them that night. It also hurts to add $10-$20 to each purchase for alterations.

It’s not all bad. Most dresses and skirts fit just fine, no matter if they’re regular or petite. You can also avoid certain trends, like that baggy-short-with-boots look that was going around a few years back. Great on Gisele. Not so much for the rest of us.

Some tips (if you, like me, don’t have an Olsen-style budget, closet and pocket tailor):

Find a good place for alterations. This can be your corner dry cleaner or a place dedicated solely to tailoring. Start with something small, like a pair of pants, and see if you’re happy with the results. Most of the time, the dry cleaner works, but for more complicated garments like bridesmaid dresses and, I use a tailor.

Ask if they’ll use the original hem on jeans. It’s a bit more expensive, but I’ve found that keeping the original hem in place looks and holds up better than fashioning a new one.

Remember to bring the shoes you’ll wear most often with pants. If you’re a heels girl, bring them with you! The flip flops you wear to run errands do not make a good marker for pant length. Guessing does no good.

When shopping, don’t stick to the petite section. They can be great, but some can be limiting. You’re also missing out on a chance to find new uses for clothes. Capris meant for an average height person could make great alteration-free pants. My floor-length prom dress was designed for tea-length.

That said, if there’s a particular store or brand you like, visit early and often.

Some of the most consistent are:

Anne Taylor Loft

Cinderella of Boston

DKNY

Nordstrom

Piperlime

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    • Alterations Needed

      I hear ya! 4’11″ here! Adding a week and $20 to any garment purchase is a pain. But finding your perfect tailor is like hitting the lottery. So much so that I named my blog in honor of it! http://www.AlterationsNeeded.com! LOL.

    • Cynthia

      A few comments:

      1. If you’re more of a “standard” petite (at around 5’1 or 5’2), regular capris might not work. In fact, they’d be too short and would look like slightly cropped (but not really cropped) pants

      2. If you’re shopping in the regular section, make sure to look for clothing which don’t require reconstruction when altered. Many outfits (especially tops) do. I’m sure you know that hemming pants isn’t just about shortening and keeping the original hem, but also about knee breaks and rises.

      Rather than just stickin with alterations and petite sections, I think we as petites need to be louder about our issues. Body image isn’t just about dress sizes, after all. Height should be addressed, too.

    • lia

      so I’m 4’10″ (and a half!) and yes… it can be incredibly hard to find stuff ready to wear. But there is stuff out there! Delia’s “petite” length (28″ inseam!! thank you!) is absolutely perfect in some style for me – I can even wear flats with them. It’s awesome. no hemming necessary, and no sweeping the floor as I walk. Granted, the jeans are marketed towards teenagers (maybe even pre-teens?), but depending on your body type, they might just work for you.