Reader Mailbag: Where to get suits for short women?

petite suits2016 Update: Check out our latest discussion on the best petite suits.

We’ve had several requests from readers on where to get great suits if you’re a petite woman. We addressed this a bit last summer, when we advised a reader how to shop for suits if you’re not in the “normal” sizes of 4-12. But we thought we’d recap, as it’s an important topic and we have more readers now, who will hopefully weigh in with more advice. From the very petite friends we’ve polled:

  • Theory is reportedly amazing (which makes sense to this author, as my normal size of 4 or 6 becomes a <cough> 10 in Theory — in other words, size 0 will be legitimately teeny, and size 00 practically minuscule.). The Max C pant is a “cult” item.
  • We’ve also heard great things about Victoria’s Secret — the pants have a lower rise and come in different inseam lengths.
  • If you’re short enough, you can resort to children’s wear. For example, CW Designs is apparently made with upscale pre-teens and tweens in mind (see some of their collections here); other upscale designers labels can work well also.
  • (Updated):  Banana Republic, J.Crew, and Ann Taylor all have petite lines as well, but we’ve heard mixed reviews from our friends who are very small in stature — from the pants coming too high for their likings to the suits being way too big.

One of our friends notes that she often has to resort to wearing separates that fit really well. For example, jackets from Nanette Lepore and Rebecca Taylor fit, but the pants and skirts can be too big. Similarly, stretchy skirts from American Apparel can be a good basic. Readers, what advice do you have for the petite professional woman? We also got a request from one reader with a unique problem (living in the Netherlands):

Here’s the problem I have: I’m short. Actually I’m not that short – I’m 5 feet 6, which is just a little shorter than most women in the Netherlands, but I do have short legs and arms. Because of that, *every* suit I try on is too long in the arms – and though I can sew a little bit, the problem isn’t just that it is too long at the wrists – it’s also that the elbows end up in the wrong place and such! To make matters worse, I’m also always cold – limiting my choices to suits with pants so I can wear woollen pantyhoses and boots underneath them and stay warm. It would be nice to have a suit that doesn’t make me look like a dwarf!

This is a really tough question. It sounds like what you may need is a brand where you can buy a petite-sized jacket but regular-length pants — you may want to check Ann Taylor or Banana Republic for those options. Otherwise, well, there’s always the bespoke route — just buy some fabric you like and schedule a vacation to India. (That’s totally doable, right?) Readers, do you have any better advice for our short-armed friend?

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  1. i ordered a bunch of pants from victoria’s secret once: every single one of them looked, as my husband said, “like something a secretary would wear”. i very much second the theory (although you’ll have to get the sleeves shortened and about a foot chopped off the bottom of the pants) they fit GREAT through the shoulders for petites and that’s not something you can tailor easily or cheaply. very surprised you didn’t mention that ann taylor, j. crew and banana republic all sell suits in petite sizes. remember that children’s clothing won’t be cut for breasts and hips.

  2. Oeh. You’ve just given me a reason to wanna visit India! :)

  3. Honestly, Theory suits are the way to go. Pricey? Yes, but I’ve had no problem finding sale suits at Off 5th, Century 21, etc. for the same price (or less) of a much poorer fitting and much less flattering Ann Taylor or Banana suit. I have plenty of the latter hanging in my closet that I won’t wear now that I have 3 basic ones from Theory.

    I had a fantastic Trina Turk suit from 2004 but unfortunately she hasn’t made anything that conservative since then. Shame.

    (I’m 5’2 and top heavy and find I have to waiver between a 0 and a 4 in Theory depending on the cut of the suit so always try them on!)

  4. Find a good tailor–spending the extra money to have it fit well is a better option than wearing something for children. If you are small, you are not doing yourself any favors by wearing clothes that don’t fit or are made for children, especially if you look young as well.

    I thought the Victoria Secret clothing looked cheap and was made of cheap materials.

    JCrew, Ann Taylor, and Banana Republic petites are very good.

    I was sized by a rep from Tom James–the clothes are custom-made for your measurements. And I believe their pants were in the $200-400 range (depending on the fabric).

  5. Banana Republic Petite Suits are my lifesaver — they’re moderately priced, you can get three pieces to alternate (jacket, pants, and skirt) and you can find a few really good sales a year and stock up.

  6. Ooh, could you do one next for the amazons among us? Most brands are getting good at making pants in longer lengths, but have yet to offer longer lengths in shirts and jackets. The only company that comes to mind is the Gap, which offers “tall” tops. I can occasionally have a tailor let the sleeves out a bit, but there is only so much fabric to work with, and if its lined, it becomes even more complicated.

    Why has the women’s clothing industry been sooo reluctant to switch over to the men’s system of sizing, where you can find different combinations of sizes??

    Oh and in addition to India, my brother, who is 6’8″, was in Hong Kong, and had custom suits and shirts made for him.

  7. Short arms doesn’t strike me as much of a problem, you can just have them taken up, unless they don’t have seamstresses/ tailors in the Netherlands?

    I also have a love/ hate relationship with Theory – love their clothes and the fit – hate that I have to buy a size 10! I have the opposite problem as your other reader – abnormally long legs and arms for my height/size (Ann Taylor jackets all look like bracelet length sleeves on me), so the extra length on Theory works perfect for me!

  8. i agree with everyone who has suggested banana republic and ann taylor. i’m 5 ft. and when i was going through recruiting, i stocked up on petite suits from both stores. overall, i prefer banana republic — and if you’re a luxe cardholder, you get free basic alterations.

  9. Sorry – but I love the pic! “You might ask yourself, ‘Could this suit be taken in a little?'”

  10. Banana Republic’s petite line of clothing is fantastic! Last time I ordered a suit, they delivered it to the store and had a tailor in-store to make any other adjustments needed – for free!

  11. As a 5’4″ woman who lived in the Netherlands and felt like a dwarf, I hear you. :-) Find a good seamstress or tailor. Have them alter stuff for you. Not sure about shipping costs for shopping at US stores like Ann Taylor and the like — is that an option for you?

  12. I have a mixture Theory and Banana Republic for every day workwear suits. And yes, Theory is cut small. I have a lot of my friends in the fashion/retail industry who just tell me: “Don’t pay attention to the size label”. I can’t seem to find anything that fits me at Ann Taylor – my body is very boyish – meaning I have no waist – so I don’t shop there.

    Because I am small (5’2″), I do spend the money to get everything taken in. I think it’s worth it. The whole elbow placement is off thingy – I don’t understand – I get sleeves taken up all the time and it doesn’t bother me.

    • Some sleeves are designed to leave more room to accommodate the elbow, so if you’re arms are short the sleeve will hit in the wrong place and can’t simply be cut off at the bottom and hemmed.

  13. I’m 5’3″ and a size 0, petite from top to bottum and I can’t find a suit, not even Banana or Ann Taylor in Petite looks like it’s my size. I look like I’m wearing my moms clothes! I have to mix and match, but Express seems to do me the most justice. They’re cheap and my body doesn’t get lost in the clothes!

  14. They do actually (have seamstresses) but the one shop I tried actually managed to charge something like 30 euro’s to fix pants that only had cost me 50 (on sale), and they did a worse job than my mother does (or myself, for that matter). Maybe I should ask around for a better taylor, although I don’t know who to ask.

    It’s just that… At 23, fresh out of university and with all my family and friends being math and computer geeks who think wearing a blouse instead of a wrinkled t-shirt qualifies as being “dressed up”, and being a pretty shy girl, I’ve just no idea where to start in this whole looking professional thing. I’ve been to a haircutter 5 times in my life, all in the past couple of years – none of my family ever went to a haircutter, can you imagine?

    I’m lost. Utterly. Which is why I started looking online and found Corporette. Because I just had no idea where even to start. :-)

  15. I don’t understand the Theory suggestion. I love their stuff but I have never seen a Theory suit labeled “petite” and have always had to hem their pants and skirts.

    I like Ann Taylor for petites. It’s not for everyone but if it fits your body shape, their stuff is professional and very well made. The only problem is that they don’t always have too many ‘conservative’ suits in stock when you need them.

  16. Theory’s my top choice too, but I’ve also had good luck with Ann Taylor and J.Crew petites. I was going to suggest European brands, since their cuts are typically slimmer than domestic ones, but if she’s already in Europe then presumably that might not work.

    What about buying suits or jackets that are designed to be bracelet or 3/4-length in the first place? The extra length won’t be as obvious and it also eliminates the need for alterations. I hate having to have sleeves shortened because NOBODY takes them up properly at the shoulder, and like the reader says, the proportions do look funny afterwards.

  17. I’ve noticed that the Victoria’s secret blazers are a little longer in the sleeves than the clothes I’ve gotten from other petite stores. I order their size 4 jackets (non-petite because I’m very busty) and they fit fine other than the sleeves being too long.

    My suits are all from Victoria’s Secret, Max Azria or Brooks Brothers. All of these stores are great because they offer petite and non-petite in the matching fabrics. I always need a 4 regular size on top, but 0-2 petite pants.

    However, I’m in the midwest and we have a tailor in town who will make custom suits, some for less than $1,000, using high quality Italian wools. In my opinion, the extra $$$ are worth it because the fit is so perfect. I’m probably going to ask him to make one for me next year.

  18. I second the suggestion to do a thread for tall folks. We already know about BR, JCrew, and AT and Talbots carry some tall pants (but not tall jackets). I am hoping to hear of some cult labels. I know that being petite is not great in that you cannot find stuff that hits properly at the joints (particularly when pants are bootcut), but us tall ladies cannot create fabric out of none. That is to say, it’s very difficult to wear suits and look like Olive Oyl! Please help.

  19. Corporate G :

    I’ve got the opposite issue…any brand recommendations for a slender woman with a L-O-N-G torso? I’m always having to pull my shirts down, they rarely tuck in and I hate having my belly stick out.

  20. I’m 5’1″ with short legs as well. I like the Limited; they’ll do free tailoring in the store and they sell petite sizes sometimes. I also like J Crew online; they sell petites in jackets, pants, and skirts (and the jackets have the narrower shoulders, which is great). In the end though, short women just need to develop a really good relationship with a high quality tailor. Sometimes the alterations will cost more than the clothes, especially if you find clothes on sale. Just make sure the rise isn’t too high, you can button the buttons, and the shoulders fit; most everything else can be tailored.

  21. Emily: Which part of the suit is the rise, exactly?

  22. The rise is the part of the pants between the bottom of the crotch and the waistband. If it’s too long, you get a suspicious bulge in the zipper of the pants. If it’s too short, I guess you might get the plumber’s crack problem if you can get the pants on at all.

  23. Ohhh okay. Thanks for clarifying! Luckily I seem to have a standard size there.

  24. Has anyone found a good brand for those of us who are both short (read: under 5’6″) and fat (read: above a size 12)?

  25. PurrpleGrrl :

    I’m 5’0″ and about 95 lbs and had a hell of a time finding a suits that fit (i.e., in tears at the mall). In Canada, Smart Set has decent and decently priced suits that fit really small. Ricki’s also has “short,” “regular” and “long” for all their pants, but they are still too loose on me. Smart Set was the only place that had suits that fit me (though the pants and sleeves still need shortening).

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