Friday, February 14, 2014

From the Archives: What Does Petite Even Mean?

In this week's edition of From the Archives, I have a post I wrote about petite and what it means to be petite. The word is used many different ways, to mean many different things and it can be really confusing. Let me know what you think in the comments!


For as long as I could remember, I thought of the term "petite," as least when it was applied to the lady body size, as the section of clothes where my mother and sister occasionally, and begrudgingly, tried to shop in order to find things they didn't have to hem. Read: "petite" in my mind meant short. Short sizes. Small inseam lengths. That kind of thing. 

Recently, I encountered a very strange argument on Instagram regarding the opening of new Anthropologie petite sizes. Firstly, I don't shop at Anthropologie; I cannot justify a $70 pillow or a $200+ cotton dress, I just can't. And secondly, Instagram arguments are super weird and petty and always kind of funny. (I follow Kim Kardashian on Instagram literally just to read the comments people leave and to see what kind of drama happens in the comments. It's insanity.) The drama on the Anthropologie issue started over people leaving comments that seemed to be a little, well, thin-hating. That's totally not okay and also totally not what I'm writing about, but it made me think this: wait, what? The line is a line of smaller sizes or shorter lengths? Basically: are they just making smaller clothes or are they making a petites line, like the petites sections that have long existed in department stores like Macy's or JCPenny's, which have always just been conventional sizes shortened? 

As it turns out, the line is for women 5'3" and under. From what I can tell on the website, the clothes aren't necessarily smaller (except for length) and come in almost all conventional sizes. That's pretty awesome. But it made me wonder: why did the post about it on Instagram devolve into arguments about sizes (and by that I mean number sizes, not inseams), including quite a few comments that could be read as a bit thin-hating? 

I decided to google what petite meant and the definition at the top is the first definition I saw. Interesting. "Having a small and attractively dainty build." Stop, Google, you're making me blush. But seriously, is petite about being physically teeny? I have a dainty build, but some sizable fleshy parts of my body. I'm 5'2" and wear a size 8 regularly, yet I still often find myself being called the smallest person in the room (even though I know a ton of people who are smaller than me, physically, if not height-wise). Further definitions included: "small, slender, and trim; used for girls and women; a clothing size for short, slender women." Thanks, Free Online Dictionary. 

I always thought to be petite, you just had to be short. And as far as I can tell, short people come in lots of different clothes sizes, including plus-sized. I'm starting to feel there is a disparity between what clothing producers mean when they say "petite" and what people think when they say "petite" -- in fact, I think it's two different things. I think when Anthropologie posted about a new "petite" line, they immediately thought: "clothes for skinny people." Because, apparently, that's the main definition of the word petite. 

However, when you look up Petite Size on Wikipedia, it mentions that conventional clothing sizes in the United States are designed to fit a woman who is over 5'5" (which is insanity, no wonder none of my pants fit) and so petites lines and entire store sections emerged as a place for women under 5'3" to buy clothing. And that clothing came in a variety of conventional sizes with the wonder P added to indicate they were just cut differently. That's pretty awesome for ladies of the short variety (like me), except that it makes life super confusing for everyone who is thin or not thin or petite or not-petite. Can we just have all words mean the same thing, ok? Thanks, English Language. 

This reminds me overwhelmingly of the use of the word "curvy": some people mean one thing when they say it, some people mean another thing when they say it, and sometimes people aren't being necessarily nice when they say it, which is pretty sucky of them. All kinds of arguments and anger can spring up when someone uses the word "curvy" -- like if they call someone curvy or refer to themselves as curvy-- for all kinds of weird reasons. I distinctly remember referring to myself as "curvy" once in college and the person I was talking with immediately consoled me, saying, "You aren't fat! Don't say that!" Except that wasn't what I meant by curvy, but ok. 

It's really easy to get caught up in language and to let it really upset you. After reading about -- and investigating -- the Anthropologie issue myself, I found myself getting kind of weepy and upset (which I am occasionally wont to do, being a rather easily weepy and upset person) about my body (again) and feeling like my "petite" status was in jeopardy. But I'm not tiny! I lamented, looking into my closet of Medium size dresses and Medium size tops and size 8 eights. I'm just really short. DOES THIS MEAN I'M NOT SHORT? Is the petite section in Macy's a lie!? 

It turns out, it's not. There are two meanings to the word petite and unfortunately, that gets confusing most of the time. Some people will claim that petites sections in stores cut their sizes about 1-1.5 sizes smaller (so a size 8 in a petites isn't really a size 8), but that doesn't make sense and isn't really true. I find I'm the same size in petites sections as I am in regular sections, everything is just shorter (and let's be real, frumpier, because apparently department stores think all people under 5'3" are 85 years and older).

Basically, what this all boils down to is this: words are just words and you shouldn't get up in arms about them, or upset about them, unless they are used intentionally to upset you (then you should totally get your cranky face on). A chain store creating a line of petites clothes wasn't meant to offend anything; it was meant to create clothes for shorties, because sometimes it is hard to find clothes in a world where all clothes are cut for people 5'5"+. Getting cranky about a store creating a line of petites -- or plus sizes or whatever -- might be personally offensive to you if, I don't know, you really dislike short people, but it's not meant to be and so... cool it and stuff, seriously. Once a "well, I don't personally like that" turns into a "I'm gonna leave hate comment on Instagram," you've magically transformed into a jerk.

There are lots of things I personally dislike when it comes to stores. I personally dislike the amount of crop tops that are available in most stores. I personally dislike peplum skirts. I personally dislike geometric prints and anything labeled "tribal." But I realize when stores continue to make those items, they're making them because people want to buy them and ultimately, stores need to make money. Because I am not a jerk, I don't leave rage-filled comments on Forever21's Instagrams of girls in tribal gear and crop tops because that doesn't make sense. I don't like something. Ok. Move on. You don't like that Anthropologie is making a petites line because you think by "petite" they mean "skinny" and you apparently have never been in a Macy's? Fine, whatever, move on. Don't start a fight about it and confuse everyone.

In the end, I'm still 5'2" and petite, whatever that means, and I still probably won't shop in petites sections, because seriously, snore. That being said, I'm going to stop fretting about what petite means because someone starts a fight on Instagram. Because, seriously, fights on Instagram, what is that?


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