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?