By Nan Nan Liu
Northwest Asian Weekly
At 4’11” and 90 pounds, Virginia Sjahli is a petite size. Many women envy her size, but Sjahli faces obstacles in shopping for clothes.
“Most stores don’t make true petite size,” she said.
So when nothing fits her tiny frame, shopping becomes frustrating to Sjahli.
However, a positive thing that has come out of this is that she doesn’t have to suffer alone. Sjahli has discovered a growing community of petite bloggers on Blogspot — most of them Asian — who share the same dilemma.
Jen Yu and Sydney Nguyen are extra petite Asian women, just like Sjahli, and also bloggers that focus on petite fashion.
Through blogging, they help others find better fitting clothes, test sizes, and sell pre-owned items at a discount.
What is a petite size?
Generally, regular sizes are made for women who are at least 5’5″, without shoes. Petite sizes are generally for women 5’3″ or less.
A petite woman who has her eye on a regular size shirt would have to alter the shirt. In addition to altering the sleeve length, she would also have to take in the bust, waist, and even sleeve circumference. The process is not always easy and can lead to unsightly seams.
The average American woman is about 5’4″, according to the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey. Forty percent of women are 5’3″ or shorter. About 25 percent of women are 5’1″ or shorter.
Yu is the blogger behind Fast Food and Fast Fashion, which she started eight months ago. It already has nearly 300 followers.
In an effort to dress more professionally after college, Yu started the blog to document her quest to build a better wardrobe.
However, being Asian, Yu feels that she is “genetically predisposed to be smaller in build.” However, she doesn’t see this as a flaw. “[It’s] merely a characteristic I was born to work with,” she said. She has learned to work with her size 00 (double zero) petite and her 23-inch waist.
Nguyen is the blogger behind Petite Little Girl, which she started in May 2010. Like Yu, she is tiny.
“At 5’3″ and 95 pounds, I typically wear a 00P in pants and XXSP in dress or top,” said Nguyen. “My waist measures 24 inches. I am wearing a [size] 6.5 in shoes.”
Nguyen started her blog after striking out clothes shopping in stores and through online retailers.
“The biggest challenge is limited stock,” said Nguyen. “Most mainstream stores don’t carry petite sizes in-store. Even when they do carry petite sizes in-store, items seem to sell out fast. Sometimes, petite sizes are marked at higher prices than regular sizes.”
The selection for petite sizes is limited because clothing manufacturers often make clothes for the most common sizes in order to maximize profits. Promotion for petite-sized clothing lags behind plus-sized advertising. Nguyen searched for a solution in the blogosphere.
“I’ve found several petite fashion blogs through a Google search,” said Nguyen. “I enjoyed their blogs so much that after a month, I decided to start my own petite fashion blog. … Blogging is also a great way to communicate and interact with other ladies who share the same interests.”
The fit problem
Nguyen’s ‘normal-sized’ friends don’t understand her problem.
“People usually assume all petites are skinny,” said Nguyen. “That’s a false statement. They [also] think the problem will be easily fixed by downsizing. Although many brands offer clothes with a short inseam, the best fitting clothes are scaled especially for petite women. Petite sizing and extra small are not the same. I don’t think they would understand the difference between the two unless they’re petites and running into the same issues.”
U.S. clothing sizes used to be standardized by using the American Society for Testing and Materials (ASTM) specifications, which were developed from statistical data. However, today, sizes will vary between different designers, manufacturers, and retailers due to the prevalence of vanity sizing, or size inflation, particularly in women’s clothing.
According to SizeUSA, a 2003 survey by research group [TC2], the average American woman is about 155 pounds and 5’4″. She is also about 20 pounds heavier than she was 40 years ago, though she may still wear a size 10.
Also, the average American woman’s ethnicity is changing. As the Asian and Latino populations in the country continue to grow, clothing manufacturers change their offerings to reflect the demographics.
Some have suggested that the 00 size was introduced partly because of the rise of Asian markets. In a Newsweek article, Jim Lovejoy, industry director for SizeUSA, points out that different clothing developers cater to different markets, so fits in particular markets will vary from brand to brand.
All of this leads to a headache when it comes to finding the right clothes.
“My biggest challenge when shopping is finding pants that fit in a flattering way,” said Yu. “My legs are rather muscular. It’s always a struggle finding pants that fit my waist that also fit my thighs.”
With detailed pictures and descriptions, Yu’s blog posts display her trials and errors with different sizes and brands to inform others of what has worked and what has not.
One of her latest entries had a photo of her in a size 00 skirt from J. Crew. To show everyone how ill-fitting the skirt was, Yu took a picture of herself sideways, stretching the waist to display how much room lies between the skirt and her belly.
“I hate their (J. Crew) size inflation,” said Yu. “I bought this in a size 00, thinking that I might only barely fit in. Turns out even I was sized out by this skirt. Not a mini on me at all.”
Nguyen sometimes resorts to online shopping, which she says isn’t reliable.
“Online shopping can be frustrating when you don’t know what to expect in terms of the fit and the quality,” she said. “[But] often times, I depend on online reviews from other petite fashion bloggers. After seeing the reviews, I have a pretty good idea in terms of how this item would fit on me before purchasing the item. With that, it eliminates the hassle of online shopping.”
Building a community
On her blog, Nguyen reviews certain brands and stores, and she lists her likes and dislikes. At the end, she gives a verdict, that is, her honest opinion of the merchandise at hand.
So far, she has gained more than 400 followers, and her readership includes more than just petite-sized women.
“I always appreciate comments and feedback from my readers,” she said. “They have helped me tremendously.”
Because of petite Asian bloggers like Nguyen and Yu, the petite blogging community has grown exponentially. A year ago, there was only one blog on Blogspot that focused on petite style (AlterationsNeeded). Now, there are about 50.
Ping Luu, owner of fashion blog All about Fashion Stuff and also a petite Asian woman, follows both Fast Food and Fast Fashions and Petite Little Girl. She resorts to these blogs for size information, ideas, and inspiration.
“I always value and trust their opinion on what fits. They have introduced me to brands that I’d never consider shopping at.” ♦
Nan Nan Liu can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.