#KnitPetiteProject: What does Petite Mean?

Our last post, outlining the plan for the #KnitPetiteProject.
All other #KnitPetiteProject posts.

Before beginning this knowledge + skill-building journey, it’s best to first clarify the parameters of the folks who this may apply to.

That is, what does petite mean?

The English language uses that word in a bunch of different ways, but if we’re demystifying this weirdly mysterious sizing system we live in, let’s start here:

For the purposes of the #KnitPetiteProject, “petite” means any woman who is 5’4″ tall (1.62 m) or shorter, or has vertical body measurements which align to a shorter length than is served by established sizing systems.1

Let’s break that down a bit.


You’ll note in the definition above that total body height is the only clarified measurement given. That’s because having a height of 5’4″ or shorter makes it more likely2 that you’ll have vertical measurements that are shorter than the established sizing systems.

The height of 5’4″ wasn’t chosen at random; it’s a well-established line that clothing retailers have drawn in the sand, excluding 43% of American women from the “regular” size that is catered to. Next month we’ll get into why and how that line was drawn.

Vertical Measurements

Human bodies are all different, which may be obvious but is worth repeating, particularly in a discussion of this sort. The definition of petite we’ll be operating under for the #KnitPetiteProject makes note that a person may in fact be taller than 5’4″, and still have vertical measurements that are shorter than the established system may presume. This brings these 5’4″+ folks under the #KPP umbrella because they too may face vertical fit issues.

Body Shape: Weight

A question that arose multiple times in the first #KPP survey was:

Does petite just mean short or does it mean a more general slight stature? Because I am short but round.

Here is where we should emphasize that while the word petite may mean a variety of other things in the English language, for #KPP’s purposes, it applies to vertical measurements only. All weights are included. We’re not just talking about (or even focusing mostly on) slim women.

In fact, the petite-plus market is growing, and clothing retailers would do well to serve these people.3

Body Shape: Age

Also of note is that the #KnitPetiteProject is talking about women of all ages.

In the very interesting chapter on sizing in the home sewing industry in Sizing in Clothing, the authors explain that “[o]ur bodies do change with age, but everyone changes differently and at different rates.” They also note the kind of changes that commonly occur with age, including “…shoulders that move forward, a back that becomes more rounded, shorter overall height, a thicker waist, a lower and fuller bust, a rounder abdomen, smaller hips, flatter buttocks, and a tilted waistline (higher in the front and lower in the back).” (pg 341-343)

Much of this information will come to bear in our discussions on measuring our bodies (later this month) and determining approaches to making our clothes fit us.

What do you think?

The #KnitPetiteProject is collaborative; if you have any questions or would like to add to the info above, please comment on this post!

Fun Fact of the Week

According to the Online Etymology Dictionary, petite, as a size in women’s clothing, is attested from 1929. We’ll be getting into the history of sizing standards much more in March.


Because the #KnitPetiteProject is a collaborative effort, I’d like to ask questions each week to help gather as much info as possible.

What sources can you find that explain why the petite size for women’s clothing is a) a specialized, out-sized category and b) defined as 5’4″ and shorter?


1 A clarification on terminology, taken from K.L. Labat’s chapter “Sizing Standardization” in Sizing in Clothing:
on sizing standards, “…a published document that has been developed and established within the consensus principles of a governing standards organization. In the USA, ASTM International provides a structure for developing and updating voluntary clothing sizing standards that may be used by clothing producers.” (pg 88)
on sizing systems, “…the total range of size and fitting combinations available in ready made garments, with each system containing a number of size ranges, each catering to the sizing requirements of a specific group of the population.” (pg 88-89)

2 For more info, taken from S.P. Ashdown, L. M. Lyman-Clarke, and P. Palmer’s chapter “Sizing for the home sewing industry” in Sizing in Clothing:
“The term petite refers to height only…Someone who is a petite size overall would be shorter proportionately in every part of her body that an average height person. However, a person who is 5 feet 2 inches or under is actually not necessarily petite overall, as she can be short in the legs only. Some women who measure petite in statue are actually longer in the waist and crotch that a tall person.” (pg 340)

3 Here is a 2008 article from the CBC and a 2016 article from Retail Dive. There’s many more such articles, many of which cite data from the NPD Group (see Resources above for more info about them). Assuming the validity of the NPD data and all the news sources that rely on it, 43% of American women are 5’4″ and shorter, AND the average American woman now wears between a size 14-34. That Venn diagram could certainly have a significant overlap of petite-plus women!

#KnitPetiteProject: What does Petite Mean?

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