The History of Petite Women

There is a common misconception that being a petite woman is restricted to small, slender women. Why is that? Where did this term originate from and what does it mean to be a petite woman?

In this article, we will be diving into a brief history of petite sizing, what it means to be petite and why it is that the term itself is often misinterpreted.

A Brief History of Petite Sizing

Fashion trends come and go but we ladies come in all shapes and sizes.

The petite size was first introduced into American fashion during the 1940s. Surely petite women existed before then but this would be the first time that they would be recognized and supported in the fashion world.

US Fashion designer Hannah Troy was aware of how many women simply couldn't fit into regular-sized clothing. Most clothing at this point in time was made to fit women of the average height and taller, 5”5+.

At this point in time, resources and data on the subject were not made as commonly and readily available to the public. It was as a result of the second world war that the government would record the measurements of all of the women who participated in and aided in the military.

It was through these studies that Hannah would discover that a whopping 8% of these women fit the standard sizing options.

Hannah would be one of the first to develop a clothing range for petite women. She called this style/option “Troy Figure.”

Petite clothing would be specifically designed for a person that fits under 5”4 in height.

There was a great market and demand for petite-sized clothing because regular-sized clothing simply does not fit these women properly.

Whether they be too long, too big or just poorly fitted onto the bodies of these petite women. This can be especially frustrating and evident when petite women wear jeans, skirts, and jackets. The sleeves need to be shorter and the legs and lengths of the bottoms to be the expected length.

It was about time for appropriately fitted clothing to be available for short women. And just like that, her concept would grow exponentially in popularity!

Defining Petite

Petite is the french word for small. At first thought, you may associate being petite with being especially tiny, slender, and skinny. This couldn't be anything further from the case, despite petite fashion historically being mostly associated with small and thin women.

In the fashion realm, to be considered petite you should be under 5’4'' or 162 cm. This has nothing to do with the concept of weight. Plus size women, like Melissa Mccarthy for example, are classified as petite because she is 5”2.

Overall, petite women commonly have shorter torsos, as well as shorter legs. Short arms and generally narrow shoulders are also traits of petite women. The name itself however tends to imply something else entirely to those who are unaware of the world's true meaning.

Even Miss Hannah Troy stated that when it comes to the term “petite”, “ just had a nice ring to it. I’ve regretted ever since...”.

The problem you ask? The term alone seems as if, at first glance, it would be a part of the twiggy eta.

Miss Twiggy

Fashion trends are constantly in a state of evolution and flow. Unfortunately, a woman’s body and the manner in which her body looks can be determined as attractive or unattractive based upon the trend of that year, decade, or even century.

Smaller waists, leaner arms, bigger butts, bigger lips, back to long and thin strokes but back again the becoming thick and voluptuous. Your self-image will never be truly stable if it is dependent on and influenced by certain societal ideologies and trends.

Once in particular being the shift from 1950s petite and curvy to the 1960s tall and thin. A woman that might have been a healthy weight for being petite at the height of 5”4 would find herself on newfound dietary restrictions only ten years later.

With the rise in popularity of Twiggy, a tall and thin fashion model best known for her skin seemed to be stiff at the bones of her limbs.

Twiggy’s beauty and the mesmerizing fashion concepts she modeled do not outweigh the impact these images and standards had on young and adult women of the present through the 1960s and onward.

The hyper fixation and idolization of these bodies; The pressure to be lean and thin would only increase as the years went on. She as well as other fashion models would mark the beginning of a very damaging and long-lasting American obsession with body enhancement, modification, and adjustment.

This is why the word “petite”, when used to describe an entire fashion size, might strike a nerve with some people without understanding the history of the term and how it has nothing to do with body standards that rose heavily in the 1960s.


Petite women come in all shapes and sizes, from extra small to a multitude of extra larges. Any woman 5’4” and under can be considered petite, based upon their measurements and the way their body is proportioned.

Narrow builds, shorter arms, and legs as well as other traits are common among petite women. Being a petite woman is not exclusive to slander and slim women. This is a common misconception that is likely a result of unhealthy beauty standards that intensified within the same century.

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