Petite, regular or tall clothing sizes are sized for your height, and the length of your limbs, torso and rise. The retail industry has created these size options by using a set of assumptions based on classifications of short, tall and regular height for women. For example, women who are around 5 foot three inches or shorter are thought of as “petite”. Women who are between 5′ 5″ and 5′ 7″ are thought of as “regular” height. Women who are 5′ 8″ and taller are “tall”. 

The beauty of these specialized clothing sizes lies in the cut. The sizing increments within one of the departments do increase the lengths a little, but they have far more impact on width measurements. The petite and tall departments, on the other hand, are all about lengths: the inseams and rises of bottoms, and the sleeve length and torso length of tops.

That said, there are also many exceptions to the petite-regular-tall sizing cut-off points, which means that shopping strictly according to your height does not guarantee a great fit. Here are some examples from my experiences with clients.

  • I have several 5′ 2″ clients who seldom shop in the petite department because they have longer arms, broader shoulders, and a regular length torso. As a result, the petite options do not fit at all. Some of these clients might shop in the petite department for bottoms because those dimensions fit better. Or they’ll wear regular bottoms and have the inseams shortened.
  • I also have 5′ 5″ and 5′ 7″ clients who shop in the petites department for tops, jackets and coats because they have relatively short torsos and arms for their height. Some 5′ 3″ and 5′ 4″ clients are on the cusp and “between departments”. Petite length clothing is often too short, while regular is too long. They usually shop regular sizes and have items altered. 
  • Clients who are 5′ 8″ or taller generally need bottoms in “tall” sizes for extra length when the items aren’t long to start off with. Most of my tall clients get their tops, dresses, jackets and coats in regular sizes. This is because their height is in their legs, and not in their torso and arms. My clients who are 6′ and taller wear a tall size on top too. 
  • Wearing high heels with bootcuts and flared leg trousers and jeans styles requires longer hem lengths. So I have 5′ 6″ and 5′ 7″ clients who purchase tall bottoms because they are particularly long in the leg and like to wear very high heels. 

There are also times when you can purchase an item in a particular size to manipulate the fit. For example, as a regular size you might get an extra-short petite top to wear over a flared skirt. Or as a petite you might get a regular sized sweater to create a longer and more relaxed look.

Finally, my clients who wear a size 14P and 16P have a hard time because those sizes are in extremely short supply, while sizes 14 and 16 in regular and tall sizes are a lot more common. Shopping in the regular plus size department when your proportions are short is not ideal unless those items are cut short to start off with. Here is a business opportunity for the retail industry. Supply customers with sizes 14P and 16P and see your sales soar! My hat off and a big thank you to the Nordstrom petite department for being one of the few retailers who regularly stock sizes 14P, 16P and 18P. 

At 5′ 6″ I shop regular sizes. Petites are always too short and talls are too long. I do find that with relatively long arms for my height, sleeves can unfortunately run short. But certain brands cut their sleeves longer and that’s how I solve that problem. Also, scrunching sleeves works like a charm when they are too short.

Let us know about your sizing experiences. Are you a petite, regular or tall person who shops in those respective departments? Or do you shop across a few departments despite your height and proportions. Are you in-between clothing departments and perpetually frustrated that proportions are either too short or too long?