In Memoriam: Saks Fifth Avenue Petite Department

Here we go again… Some of you may remember the drama surrounding Saks Fifth Avenue, Neiman Marcus and Bloomingdale’s decision to slash the size of, or close entirely, their petite departments back in 2006. This article from the New York Times summed the situation up quite nicely. 


High end department stores did not see brisk sales in their petite departments due to what most petite women will tell you is the main problem with petite clothing…it’s frumpy and ugly! The reasoning for the department cuts was this:

Executives at the three department stores said the decision was based on the poor sales of petite sizes, which are traditionally designed for a woman 5-foot-4 or smaller, with pant lengths and jacket proportions cut accordingly. Petite women, they said, would rather wear the more youthful, skin-baring and tighter-fitting clothing in the contemporary departments, even if it does not fit them as well. And, they point out, there is always tailoring.

And the reason petites were not shopping in the petite department was this:

What did change is that petite departments gained a reputation for traditional — some would say frumpy — career-oriented clothing. Chic looks, clothing executives said, never made the leap from regular sizes to petite. So the very word petite became synonymous with many women who shopped there — working women over the age 50.

Petite Saks shoppers were outraged, and responded by bombarding Saks management with complaints. The result was Saks re-instated it’s petite department in a select number of stores…one of which is the Saks Fifth Avenue in Beverly Hills, which happens to be the Saks nearest to where I live.

As you can see from the items I’ve featured, I don’t shop many department store petites, for the very reasons mentioned in the article. The clothes are frumpy and boxy! There is nothing high fashion or contemporary about it, so I usually don’t even bother heading in there. I find even basics like t-shirts and tank tops are cut generously, presumably for an older customer, so that a size 0P is humorously large on me. And it’s not just me. My mother is 4’10″ and in the target age group the styles in petite departments are catering toward. Even my mother leaves petite departments empty handed. 


If my mother, who is the intended target market, isn’t interested in these styles…what’s going on here? One explanation I’ve read about is how the baby boomer generation is taking fashion cues from their teen and twenty-something daughters. There is a growing trend towards older women avoiding what society had once deemed “appropriate” for a certain age group, and have been trying to keep up fashion wise with younger generations. This article from Time.com I found pretty interesting…

NPD Group’s chief retail analyst, Marshal Cohen, estimates that the number of 18-to-24-year-olds shopping with Mom has grown 8% over the past three years. And what goes on in the dressing room is markedly different than in past generations. Unlike their mothers, boomer women don’t want to adopt the ladies-who-lunch look, but at the same time they want to avoid that mutton-dressed-as-lamb look.

Conventional retail wisdom holds that you can’t sell clothes that appeal to both age groups—it takes the edgy element off the brand if Mom is wearing it, and when a store skews too trendy, it alienates its older customers. But not everyone is playing by the rules. Bergdorf Goodman threw this thinking aside three years ago when it restyled its contemporary floor, rechristening it 5F. With a DJ playing world music rather than rap, a cafe open to the floor and a mix of clothing labels designed more for an aesthetic than for a precise age, the department store has managed to appeal to boomer women without losing its younger customers.

One episode of Bravo’s The Real Housewives of Orange County should confirm this for you quite nicely. 


So…if my generation isn’t shopping the petite department, and my mother’s generation isn’t shopping the petite department…then who is?

No one apparently.

Yesterday I went to Saks Fifth Avenue in Beverly Hills and decided to FINALLY check out the petite department, as I had never ventured in there before. Perhaps it was full of great stuff, and I had just never given it a chance…

Of course the petite department is in the most obscure location possible. Stuffed together with the plus size and children’s department on one floor, in a separate building that houses the menswear. That’s right…menswear and womenswear is separated into two different buildings in BH…and the ugly step children of the fashion world, petites and plus sizes, have been swept aside to occupy a single floor in the menswear building. This means, to even get to these special sizes, you have to leave the safety of high heels, handbags, jewelry, cosmetics and everything else feminine…trek across the street and navigate through the ties and tweed to find your size…WTF?

When I finally got there, I stood by the elevator to survey the landscape, trying to locate the petites. What I saw was pathetic. All the way at the back, I saw a single rack holding petite clothing, with a big red sign that said “SALE”. That was all that was left of the petite department. 


A sales associate answered my puzzled looks by saying, “The petite department is closing. Its customers didn’t support us.”

I was shocked and sad at first…but then, I realized, I wouldn’t shop there anyways! What was left hanging on those racks was boxy and matronly, in fabrics that are poor in comparison to the items one can find on the contemporary floor. 


I guess it comes down to the fact the offerings in the petite department just aren’t what petites want to buy. That’s why so many of us are pawing through the “regular” sizes to find those elusive XXS’s and 00′s. 


Does this make you sad? Or are you as apathetic about it as I am?

13 Comments

  • Reply April 27, 2009

    Kaki

    I’m not sad — I’m angry. And getting angrier all the time. The comment that “there’s always tailoring” shows how little they know about the cost of tailoring, how hard it is to even find a good seamstress anymore, and the difficult nature of many alterations beyond just hemming a straight leg pant.

    I always shopped the petite department at Hudson’s and then at Marshall Fields. They carried lovely clothes. Then they were bought by Macy’s and the quality dropped radically. I haven’t found a thing there since the buy-out.

  • Reply April 27, 2009

    Cynthia

    Tailoring doesn’t always work because it’s about proportion. Speak to anyone who does custom and that’s what they’ll tell you. I also think that more stylish designers should take the cue of denim brands and start developing petite sizes! Meanwhile, I’ll get most of my clothes at Banana Republic, thank you very much.

  • Reply April 27, 2009

    Jackie

    I have no sympathy for Saks. It their falt for having petite clothes that are made for old ladies!! I know what they must have been thinking, older women shrink…but some of us are just petite? I don’t understand why it never occured to them that petite women don’t think they WANT the same chic styles that “economy size” women are wearing. I don’t care about them, as long as I have Ann Taylor and Banana Republic who make petite clothing just as fabulos as the regular sizes, I will continue to shop there.

    If these store decid to cater to petites, they had better get with the program, other wise, it’s going to be bad for them.

    And SHAME on petite women for dressing like teens!! Just because it fits doesn’t mean you have to settle or teenage trends that are “here today-gone tomorrow” and are half the quality of women’s clothes.

  • Reply April 27, 2009

    Cynthia

    One more thing: Have you thought of sending this link and others like it to the Saks PR department? I know they probably won’t really bother looking, but it’s worth a try. Make videos, too.

  • Reply April 27, 2009

    Alterations Needed

    Hopefully department stores will follow the example of Banana Republic, J.Crew and Ann Taylor, and figure out that offering scaled down versions of designer lines is the way to go. We want the same beautiful stuff offered on the main floor! Just scale it down for us please!

    The tailoring comment in the article riled me up too. Obviously who ever made that statement is not very familiar with petite sizing and proportions.

    Hi Cynthia – emails I can do…videos…not so much. I’m a bit camera shy as you can probably tell from my pictures. =)

  • Reply August 13, 2009

    Pat Fortunato

    I have told anyone who would listen at the now-defunct Petite Department at Saks EXACTLY what you say in your post, and what your readers think, too: Who'd buy this stuff? I'm a "little" older than you, but I don't want to look frumpy either. Over the years, I have found some fabulous petite stuff: including a stylish (and useful) red leather jacket from Lafayette, but these "finds" are hard to find. If you ever decide to get together and "march" on Saks, count me in!
    Check out Petites Are Not Skinny Bitches at
    http://www.i-cant-believe-im-not-bitter.com

  • Reply December 29, 2010

    Anonymous

    I have had good experience with the high end brand Lafayete (sold at high end stores, and featuring petite sizes), and INC at Macys, which offers 0P size and is contemporary.

  • Reply May 25, 2011

    Kaki

    I'm not sad — I'm angry. And getting angrier all the time. The comment that "there's always tailoring" shows how little they know about the cost of tailoring, how hard it is to even find a good seamstress anymore, and the difficult nature of many alterations beyond just hemming a straight leg pant.

    I always shopped the petite department at Hudson's and then at Marshall Fields. They carried lovely clothes. Then they were bought by Macy's and the quality dropped radically. I haven't found a thing there since the buy-out.

  • Reply May 25, 2011

    Jackie

    I have no sympathy for Saks. It their falt for having petite clothes that are made for old ladies!! I know what they must have been thinking, older women shrink…but some of us are just petite? I don't understand why it never occured to them that petite women don't think they WANT the same chic styles that "economy size" women are wearing. I don't care about them, as long as I have Ann Taylor and Banana Republic who make petite clothing just as fabulos as the regular sizes, I will continue to shop there.

    If these store decid to cater to petites, they had better get with the program, other wise, it's going to be bad for them.

    And SHAME on petite women for dressing like teens!! Just because it fits doesn't mean you have to settle or teenage trends that are "here today-gone tomorrow" and are half the quality of women's clothes.

  • Reply June 16, 2011

    Diana

    You know, my mom isn’t even petite and she can’t find stuff at those stores. (Macy’s and Penney’s.) It’s matronly no matter what size you are, and I think for the most part it’s overpriced. My dad and I find good stuff for my mom at Nordstrom, but we swore off Macy’s and Sak’s awhile ago because of their non-helpful salespeople. I can find much more for birthdays or Christmas for my mom at Ann Taylor.

  • Reply June 23, 2011

    Wanda Forman

    I was sorry to see Saks Fifth Ave. close the store at Fashion Valley San Diego, and they previously stopped Real Clothes for Petites, then the department got smaller.  It was a disappointment to drive 20 miles for naught.  I headed for Nordstroms and / or Neiman Marcus.  I paid $40.00 to alter a black dress and the result is, it is still hanging in my closet.  I think one size fits all is BS.   Wanda

  • Reply January 21, 2012

    Stynion

    I am 4 foot 10 and wear a size 0p. I,m tired of having to shop in the chain stores and get the same clothes as everyone else. I too would like to purchase some different once in awhile. But fewer and fewer labels are making petite clothing. Tailoring does not work for the truly petite women, unless you can afford to have the entire item reconstructed. If you are going to reconstruct the entire garment, then have the clothes designed for you. But then, how does one go about finding a designer and is that afordable?

    • Reply January 21, 2012

      Alterations Needed

      Yes, I completely know how you feel! I find myself walking around stores with a beautiful item that doesn’t fit, but I wonder how much it would cost to whittle it down to my size. A small fortune of course! I’m also tired of shopping the same 3-4 brands over and over. Custom clothing has been crossing my mind often, but I haven’t taken the leap yet. So expensive, and then I’m still worried about craftsmanship.

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