Changes in pattern measurements and design
Regular female sized clothing is designed for a woman at least 165 cm (5 ft 5 in) tall (without shoes) and will not fit a woman of significantly shorter height well. Even if the bust, waist and hip circumferences are appropriate, the sleeve lengths, leg inseam lengths and vertical torso measurements (such as the back length and bust-waist length) must be altered significantly to fit well. Non-petite size dresses cannot be easily altered to produce the equivalent petite size, since, in general, these lengths (particularly the critical torso measurements) cannot be altered without introducing an unsightly seam. Significant errors in the torso measurements will make a well-fitted look impossible, e.g., if the bust-point darts are off by three inches.
In addition to its measurements, a petite-size garment may have a different design from those intended for taller women. For example, style elements may be added to give a longer, slimmer look, e.g., vertical stripes, princess seams, short skirts, large patterns or patterns arranged helically around the whole body. Unfortunately, many modern "petite" sizes are actually renamed half sizes intended for large women and, as a result, tend to be boxy and unfashionable for small-framed women. Designs for taller women may also have style lines that appear to shorten the figure, such as horizontal lines (e.g., clamdigger pants or midcalf skirts); hence, even if the measurements are adjusted correctly, a petite-size version of a regular-size garment may be unflattering.
The average height of an American woman is roughly 163 cm (5 ft 4 in) (5'4"), with a standard deviation of roughly 10 cm (3.9 in). Thus, 40% of all American women are 160 cm (5 ft 3 in) or shorter () and roughly one-quarter (25%) are 155 cm (5 ft 1 in) or shorter ().
In the UK and throughout much of Europe and Australasia, the average height varies from 152 cm (5 ft 0 in) to 168 cm (5 ft 6 in). The old clothes sizes tended to correspond to the UK's 1951 size survey, which took 157 cm (5 ft 2 in) as average height, and also took a slim, hour glass figure as standard. In the 1990s the Size UK project examined 16,000 people and changed the measurements for the 'average' size. This was widely reported, but stores responded to the headline (people getting bigger) rather than the facts (height rising only slightly but many individuals fatter). The fashion industry provides most of its merchandise in "standard sizes", which encompasses women sizes 4-14, 5'4" to 5'8" in height (European sizes 34-44 and 1.6256-1.7272 m), because this is the most profitable ready-to-wear market.
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Adults: U.S. Population, 1999–2002 - Page 20, Table 19.