Wearing Kids Clothes: A Surprisingly Stylish Benefit Of Being A Petite Woman

Everyone has a defining feature. Mine is a lack of height. Tall women always seemed to me to have far more issues than I did, except when it came to clothes.
06/04/2012 01:28 pm ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

Everyone has a defining feature. Mine is a lack of height. I am, and always have been, petite (my word of choice, much better than tiny, short, and horrors of horrors, "perky"). Always at the front of the line in school, the top of the pyramid in gym class, and the child in school plays. As an adult, being petite has some definite advantages. I can always find a spot to sit in a crowded subway. People always let me push to the front at concerts. Airplane seats? Made for me. I never had to worry about wearing high heels and towering over a date. Tall women always seemed to me to have far more of these issues than I did, except when it came to clothes.

At 4'11" with a small frame, buying clothes has always been a challenge. There are whole stores (yes I am talking to you, Banana Republic) that do not sell a single item I can wear. Before you suggest that I investigate the holdings in the petite section of a department store, let me just say that women who are 5'4" are considered the target. First of all, from my perspective if you are 5'4" tall, you are not petite, you are merely not tall and do not belong in a special section. Secondly, these sections seem to assume that all little women do is work -- there are plenty of suits, but nothing casual. Third of all, stores don't seem to understand that petite women are also small: We can't wear large prints, pleats, and long sleeves, and very few of us want to dress like our grandmothers.

At least it is better here than in Europe. When I lived in England, I was usually dismissed, politely, of course, by salespeople as my size "simply did not exist." The worst was in a shoe store where I was sent outside, up a flight of stairs, and into the attic, where they kept the children's shoes. (Buster Brown's anyone?) Children's clothes can actually be a good choice, although they come with risks. Case in point: A truly embarrassing sneaker purchase, circa 1998. Remember when it was trendy for little kids to wear sneakers that flashed lights when they walked? Well, as a grown woman with two children of my own I accidentally bought a pair. Who checks what a pair of shoes looks like from behind? It wasn't until my kids were snickering that I realized what I had done.

When it came to buying a wedding dress, I had terrible problems. This was back in the '80s when Princess Diana ruled and clothes all came with shoulder pads, frills and flounces. The dresses I tried made me look as though I was being eaten by meringue. Unfortunately there are no children sized wedding dresses, at least not in most countries. My stylish mother-in- law (a woman who claims to be 4'10", and that was before hip surgery that has whittled her down to the size of a Pekingese) suggested I look at confirmation dresses, which was a brilliant idea. I got married in a children's size 10 white confirmation dress from Mexico. It cost under $100 and I got tons of use out of it afterwards, as my daughter wore it constantly when she was playing dress up -- until she outgrew it by the time she was 10.

Lately things have gotten easier, although it could be because I have found what works for me, and pretty much wear the same thing every day: Cropped jeans (which on me fit like regular jeans) and a t-shirt. You would think that I would wear high heels, but I never have. I figure if you don't got it, flaunt it anyway.

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