This week, I’m sharing a fantastically useful guest post written by the talented London dressmaker, Dara Stringham, of Dara Ford. Dara is a women’s tailor and designer based in Isleworth, West London. From wedding dresses to smartly tailored pieces, Dara’s designs are made to fit you perfectly. She’s passionate about creating clothes that reflect the wearer’s personality, making them feel confident and at ease – which is why we are such a good match!
In this blog post, Dara has written specifically about getting a good fit if you are petite, which so many of you have been asking me about. I found it a fascinating read and honestly, whatever your size, I think you’ll find it useful. Understanding how clothes are constructed and therefore what can and can’t be altered is really helpful to know. So, over to Dara!
Finding clothes that fit you when you are petite can seem like searching for a needle in a haystack. Many of my clients are frustrated by the lack of choice on the high street or the poorly executed petite ranges by high street brands.
Achieving the perfect petite fit requires more than simply shortening average size clothing and raising the waist or hemline. A petite figure will have a higher bust point for example and armholes need to be smaller too. On trousers the position of the knee will be different as well as the body rise.
With all that in mind – how can you get better fitting petite clothes?
Seeking out smaller petite brands that have been specifically designed for your proportions is a good place to start.
In the UK, Jennifer Anne offers stylish options across a wide range of styles. Expertly cut for your smaller frame, most designs are available in sizes 6-12. For curvy petites, a good selection of styles are offered up to a size 16.
For beautiful luxury knitwear and soft tailoring, you might look to the US brand Eileen Fisher. They offer international shipping and conveniently calculate a landed cost which means there won’t be any unexpected duties and taxes to pay on arrival.
Of course, there are a myriad of petite ranges offered by high street brands and you will probably already be familiar with most of them. In case there are a few you might have missed, this article by the Independent has a comprehensive list.
What can you do, however, when you still can’t find styles you like in the petite section and fall in love with a piece from the standard range? As you already know, simply shortening a dress or trousers will not make them fit you perfectly. And re-styling a piece can add a considerable amount of expense to your purchase.
Knowing which alterations are possible and which are more complex is a good starting point. It will help you decide where the effort is worth it and where it isn’t. Below, I’ll run through a few of the most common pieces you might come across and what can be done:
This is probably the most difficult piece to alter as making it fit your proportions will require a lot of complex re-engineering. Shortening sleeves needs to be done from the shoulder rather than turning up the hem as the cuff could disappear entirely if taken up from the lower end. Most likely the shoulders will be too wide as well which will require the back and sides to be taken in. And the waist will need to be nipped in to make it fit your shorter waistline.
Rather than go to the lengths of ripping apart a tailored jacket, for this piece you might want to consider a made-to-measure option. You’ll have the benefit of being able to choose all the details from the cloth, lining and buttons to pockets and even edge finishes. By the time you have bought a beautiful jacket and had it tailored to fit you’ll probably end up with a similar cost but a far superior fit from made-to-measure.
Alternatively look for jacket styles that are shorter to begin with and have a waist seam built into the design. It will make raising the waistline easier keeping the proportions of the hip section whilst allowing you to bring the top into better alignment.
The default option here can be to shorten the waist, but I would ask your tailor whether the dress can be shortened from the shoulder. Doing it this way will raise the waist and bust point and make the armhole smaller. If the dress has a sleeve, creating a seam down the top of it in line with what is taken from the shoulder can allow this to be made smaller too and can be a nice feature.
Making these changes can affect the neckline so do speak to your tailor about how that can be addressed.
For dress hems, consider the hem construction. Does it have multiple layers or is it a straight hem? Each layer will add to the cost of hemming. However, some hems can be easily turned up at home using hem tape which you can iron on.
For trousers, you might want to consider styles that are designed as low rise as on you they could turn into a high rise fit. Then have the sides taken in to fit your waist and the hem turned up. Depending on how much they need to be shortened, you may have to get the legs tapered as well.
In trouser patterns, the lower part of the leg (below the knee) tends to be symmetrical whereas the upper leg will be asymmetrical, e.g. the inner seam tends to curve more and allow more room to fit around the crotch. Therefore the leg shape will need to be adjusted to create a nicer line and move the knee position to the correct height.
From speaking to my clients, I know that finding a good fitting pair of jeans can be a major headache. And having jeans altered can be tricky as it’s hard to match the original stitching and sometimes specialist machinery is needed.
There are however increasing options for custom fit jeans available. A quick search turned up for example where you can select your style, enter your measurements and then choose your preferred cloth and details such as rivets.
I don’t have personal experience of using this service, so I’m not sure how good the result is, but the cost is very reasonable and worth trying out.
If you do have a pair of jeans shortened to fit you, ask your tailor to reattach the original hem by making a small seam just above it. The seam will be nearly invisible, but you will preserve the wash marks of the original hem which will make it look better than turning up a new one.
Skirts for the petite woman are probably an easier item to adjust than most others. Things to look out for are the length of the darts as they might look better shortened. To do this taking up the skirt at the waist rather than the hem could be best. Suggest this option to your tailor as they may only be looking at the hem.
I appreciate that having your purchases altered can be annoying and you might feel resentful at having this extra expense. I would urge you however to focus on the benefits and remember the following:
There is no ‘standard’ or perfect size – most women I know, whether petite or small, find it hard to buy truly well-fitting clothes on the high street. As such many women would benefit from having their clothes tailored to fit as the result really makes a big difference to your overall look.
Try also to compare the cost of your purchase and alterations to a made-to-measure piece of clothing rather than the original price as this is a more accurate reflection of your final result.
Having to decide whether a garment can be altered in a way to suit and fit you helps you to make far more considered purchases. This is better for the environment and ultimately your purse.
I hope the above is helpful and gives you some ideas on how to achieve a perfect petite fit. If you have any other suggestions or tips on what has worked for you please do share them in the comments.
And if you would like to have a chat about whether a made-to-measure jacket, dress or trousers could be right for you, please get in touch. You can reach me via email at firstname.lastname@example.org. I would be delighted to explore the options with you.
By Dara Stringham, Dara Ford