A Petite Girls’ Guide To Getting Clothes Altered (So They Actually Fit)

Life as a petite person means getting accustomed to shopping in a different part of the store. These dedicated destinations are designed as an oasis for short people, serving us stylish pieces crafted with our smaller frames in mind. Yet despite plenty of high street shops catering to the petite market, the sections remain small (no pun intended). If we want more options, we have to venture out into the big wide world of regular fit fashion.
This can be daunting, especially given the fact that oversized silhouettes have become the norm within the last few years. While there might be more choice in regular fit fashion, these current styles mean there is also much more fabric to contend with, which can often feel impossible to style on a petite frame. But we’re here to tell you that straight-fit sections don't have to be stressful. Why? Because tailoring is the answer to all petite problems. Okay, maybe it won’t help you reach your kitchen cupboards but it can certainly help you style straight-fit garments on a smaller scale.
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If you haven’t had anything professionally altered before, it's hard to know where to start. This is precisely why we’ve put together a guide with tips from some of our petite staff members about their experiences getting a prized piece of clothing tailored. Whether you're interested in taking up a pair of trousers or styling a suit to fit a petite frame, we’ve got all the tips (and the before-and-after photos) to show you the benefits of tailoring pieces specifically for perfectly petite bodies.
Katy Thompsett, Sub Editor
Height: 5'1
What has your experience been like buying clothing in the past as a petite person?
Frustrating! There are very few stores with petite ranges, even fewer with decent petite ranges. You have to make peace with the fact that mini skirts will be knee-length, midis invariably reach your ankles and maxis are a trip hazard. And those ultra-long palazzo pants that were everywhere a few years ago? Forget about it. As a teenager, I was very into that iron-on hemming tape you could buy in Woolworths. I think it's designed to be a temporary solution but since I couldn't be bothered to learn to sew properly, I was forever using it to do a half-arsed job of taking up pairs of trousers. The tape would inevitably come unstuck halfway through the day and I'd be left wandering around with my trousers pooling around my ankles like Tom Hanks' character at the end of Big.
When, where and why did you purchase the garment in question?
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I bought this shirt dress from & Other Stories at the beginning of September after weeks of making cow eyes at it online. I'd cycled to Spitalfields to pick up a few bits from the Deciem store and decided to pop into Stories while I was there, just to see if they had it. This was the first – and to date, only – time I'd been in a clothes shop since lockdown last March and the experience was pretty unsettling, to be honest. The retail gods were smiling on me, though, and the dress was right by the checkout so I grabbed my size, handed over the cash and hightailed it out of there. An impulse purchase if ever there was one!
What was wrong with the sizing?
There was nothing massively wrong with the sizing but it was a little longer than I anticipated (knee-length rather than mid-thigh) and the sleeves fell slightly awkwardly just below my elbows. Overall I felt a bit matronly in it – definitely not the cool, sexy, borrowed-from-my-boyfriend vibe I was going for – so I hung it in my wardrobe and forgot about it.
What did you ask the tailor to correct?
I'd never used a tailor before and had no idea what was involved: would I be ushered into a back room and ordered to strip? Would I be expected to know my baste stitch from my topstitch? In the end, I just went in and asked for two inches off the sleeves and three inches off the bottom. The tailor whipped out his tape measure (oi oiiii) and said he'd have to take an extra half an inch off each sleeve because of the position of the hem. Considering my needle skills begin and end at sewing on a button, I was more than happy to defer to his expertise. When I picked up the dress three days later, I could see that he was right – the dress might as well have come straight off the rack, his work was that imperceptible.
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How do you feel about the garment post-alteration?
Listen, I know what you're thinking: You've been had, love. Sure, the dress looks the same in both pictures but it feels completely different – the hem is where I wanted it all along, it no longer looks like I'm wearing a cape and the vibe is distinctly more shirt than dress (I may have to accept that 'cool, sexy, borrowed-from-my-boyfriend' is never going to happen for me). It's said that the sign of a good haircut is being unable to tell what's changed – everything just looks right – and I think the same is true of good tailoring. Now I know how easy it is – and what a difference it makes – I'll be getting all my clothes altered in future.
Any further advice for our readers?
Finding a decent tailor can be daunting if you're a first-timer but word of mouth is your friend. Facebook is a goldmine – look up community groups in your area (if there aren't any, start one!) and ask for recommendations. And don't make the mistake I did of assuming high street garms aren't worth the effort (or the cost). I paid £18 to have my dress altered – about a third of its original price – but I've worn it so often already that I've more than made my money back. If you love something, it's worth it.
Alicia Lansom, Editorial Assistant
Height: 5'2
What has your experience been like buying clothing in the past as a petite person?
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I feel like I lived in big denial about my petiteness until recently. As a teenager, my height meant that I was still shopping in the kids' section while my friends went to Topshop, which I truly hated. Once I grew a little bit, I thought my days of difficult shopping were over. That was until last summer, when I realised that every mini dress I ordered online came down to my knees. I came to the conclusion that I had to accept my height and work with my body type rather than against it.
Why did you purchase the garment in question?
When scrolling through eBay I landed on these straight-leg Monki 'Yoko' jeans, which are basically a dupe for my well-worn Weekday 'Rowe' jeans. Given that they were half the price, I snagged them straightaway, before realising that the seller had only listed a dress size rather than a specific leg length, meaning I was likely going to run into an issue with my short legs.
What was wrong with the sizing?
When I tried on the jeans I was practically tripping over the trouser legs. It turned out that the jeans were a 31" leg, which I am very much not. I couldn’t wear them without the hem dragging along the ground, meaning I put them back in the wardrobe to gather dust.
What did you ask the tailor to correct?
Given that we are living in COVID-19 times, I decided to pin the jeans myself at home before taking to a tailor. I gathered the fabric to the perfect ankle height that I wanted (while wearing shoes), which turned out to be around two inches off. From there it was a simple trip to my local dry cleaner to ask them to hem the jeans for me.
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How do you feel about the garment post-alteration?
As soon as I got the jeans back I realised I should have been doing this all along. I didn’t have to compromise on waist size in order to get the perfect leg length, which felt like such a treat. The thread colour matched the rest of the detailing on the jeans perfectly, meaning no one would ever know I got them altered. Also, I was so happy that the wide-leg shape wasn’t compromised during the process, it meant they still looked oversized but not like I had stolen my dad’s jeans. I will 100% be taking more items to get tailored in the future; a big winter coat is next on my list.
Vicky Spratt, Features Editor
Height: 5'1
What has your experience been like buying clothing in the past as a petite person?
There was a time, a long time ago, when clothes fit me. I was in my teens and still able to shop at Gap Kids. This is not a joke. I'm being deadly serious. But then puberty happened and, suddenly, I was still not tall but with boobs and a bum. This is where it all started. Trousers would never fit. The ones that were the right waist size wouldn't go over my bum and thighs. Jackets that would contain my boobs would swamp me. Sleeves and leg lengths were always about a foot too long. Petite ranges were okay but, honestly, they rarely carried stuff I wanted to buy.
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Why did you purchase the garment in question?
When I heard that Topshop was being bought by ASOS at the height of the coronavirus pandemic, I panic bought loads of my favourite line: Topshop Boutique. It had always been one of the few places on the high street that I've been able to find things I actually wanted. This suit was part of that haul.
What was wrong with the sizing?
The trousers were the perfect fit around the thighs, bum and waist but – and I tell you no lie – they were far, far too long for me! Plus, the sleeves on the jacket covered my hands.
What did you ask the tailor to correct?
I've been using the same tailor for two years now: Orhan on Pitfield Street in east London. I trust them – and I cannot stress this enough – with my life (and by my life I mean my favourite pair of leather trousers, which they made wearable). So when I go to Orhan, I don't ask them for anything, I let them tell me what's best. I went in for a COVID-safe appointment and asked them what they thought needed to be done. One of their expert tailors pinned the trousers and, when it came to the jacket, she suggested altering the sleeves from the shoulders a) to make sure that I didn't lose a button hole and b) to bring them in ever so slightly so that they complimented my frame better.
How do you feel about the garment post-alteration?
Over the moon! This suit is now the perfect fit. For a long time, I used to feel really annoyed that clothes didn't fit me properly. I'd resent the cost of having to have everything tailored. This wasn't cheap. It cost me. I'm fortunate to be able to afford a good tailor and, these days, I actually feel lucky that nothing fits properly because it means I can have my favourite things altered to fit me exactly as I want them to.

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