Finally, designers are giving small shoppers something hip that fits.
By ERIKA GONZALEZ
Nothing can make a petite woman feel smaller than a bad day of shopping.
After trying on the 10th pair of too-long pants or that jacket with the sleeves that hang past your hips, you're realizing that Randy Newman was on to something when he sang about short people having no reason to live.
It's enough to send you running to the girls department, where you'll find a shirt long enough to cover the unicorn emblazoned on the pocket of those otherwise normal-looking khakis that don't require hemming.
"It's definitely a challenge," concedes Lindy Eichenbaum Lent, 29, the diminutive press secretary for Denver mayor John W. Hickenlooper.
"I tend to shop at stores that cater to petite sizes, but the problem for someone on the younger spectrum is that the styles are sometimes geared for an older aesthetic," she says.
Fortunately, designers and retailers are finally starting to provide some hope for small shoppers desperately searching for something hip that fits.
Banana Republic now offers a petite collection online and in four of its flagship stores. The collection covers 80 percent of its regular women's line. The retailer also plans to open five petite-only boutiques this year.
"This is totally based on customer feedback," says Banana Republic spokeswoman Michelle Hellman. "We realized that with people getting things altered, there was a huge demand for it."
Hellman says the company's research shows that 43 percent of U.S. females are petite, commonly defined as 5-foot-4 and under. Some estimates, however, put the figure as high as 60 percent.
And dressing that market is starting to become big business. Consumers bought $8.7 billion in petite apparel from December 2003 through November 2004, up 3 percent from the same period a year ago, according to the NPD Group, a marketing-information firm based in New York.
Although few designers cater exclusively to petites, some big names are starting to expand their lines to accommodate shorter-framed shoppers. Lilly Pulitzer, Dana Buchman, Elie Tahari and Betsey Johnson all provide petite sizes, although the scope of their offerings varies.
Part of the push may be fueled by petite celebrities, such as Reese Witherspoon, Natalie Portman and Jada Pinkett Smith; all have proved that they can wear high fashion as well as their taller counterparts.
Of course, those high-profile fashionistas probably don't buy right off the rack. For more budget-conscious petites, wardrobe consultant Nancy Taylor Farel urges experimentation between sizes.
"When you're outside missy sizes, you have to make the best of your resources," she says. "You may be able to buy a top in a regular size but pants in the petite department."
But Taylor Farel says petites can't afford to take as many chances on more tailored items such as blazers and jackets.
"Where you get into more trouble is when you get into more fit points," she says. "A good alterations person is still going to be your best friend."
Or if you're like Lent, your secret weapon might be a sturdy pair of platform shoes.
"When you're 5 feet tall, every inch counts," she says with a laugh.
Some tips to help you make the most of a petite frame:
UAvoid cuffed pants, which shorten the visual length of the leg.
UAvoid big handbags. "I don't think a really small person should have a bag that's bigger than them," says Neiman Marcus spokeswoman Nancy Sager.
UAccessories (earrings, necklaces) can help pull attention upward.
UDress monochromatically. "It always makes a person look taller if you dress in a single color," says wardrobe consultant Nancy Taylor Farel.
UPay attention to proportion -- longer jackets and skirts can swallow a small frame.
UFocus on body type rather than height. "If it's a heavier petite, petite clothing might be scaled too small for that person," says Taylor Farel.