MARION Petite Maternity Wear - Louie Black and White Striped Maternity Dress worn by Petite Model.

Where in the World is the Petite Maternity Wear?

From Prom Dresses to Maternity Wear, Fashion is About Adaptation for Petite Women

If you’re a petite woman, you’re familiar with the experience. You’re out shopping for high quality clothes for your job, which you love and take very seriously. You find the exact dress you need for an upcoming meeting with an important client. But without ever trying it on, you can tell it will be too long in the hem, the long straps will make it too low cut, and it will generally be oversized on your small frame. You picture yourself looking like a little girl playing dress up in her mom’s too-big clothes and heels. You sigh and put it back on the rack. 

Whether you’re in need of dresses, pants, tops, or outerwear, this is a common shopping reality for women under 5 ft. 4. The availability of petite sizes in department stores is still shockingly limited, and the petite lines that exist rarely represent the best that fashion has to offer (with some notable exceptions). 

From a market perspective, this is surprising, given that the average American woman is slightly under 5'4" inches tall, according to CDC census data. Worldwide, women are even shorter. Yet, most clothes continue to be made for & modeled by substantially taller women. This means the average woman will struggle to find clothes that fit her throughout her entire life, and very petite women will struggle more.  

If you’re a savvy shopper with some time on your hands, you’ve probably learned to cope in a world of fashion built for larger women. You know what “regular sized” cuts look best on you, and you know which brands offer pants with inseams under 28”. You may even have a local alterations shop on speed dial. Overall, you’re managing to look fabulous and tailored every day, even in a world that isn’t measured for your body. 

The Petite Bias is Real, From Work Performance to Maternity Wear

You’re already used to being constantly underestimated as a small person and female in your career. Unfair as it is, you already know you have to look twice as sharp at work to be taken half as seriously as any tall man. 

Then you get pregnant, and that pressure just intensifies

I remember the sideways glances starting after I announced my pregnancy at work. The internal monologue was almost audible from many colleagues. “Well, you’re going to be fairly worthless for the next 9 months, gone for 3 months, and then checked out for the rest of your career. Great.The monologue of self-doubt started in my own head almost a quickly. “Can I still do a good job while I’m exhausted and sick? What if I lose traction and get passed over for a promotion while I’m out on maternity leave? What if a man really is more suited to this job than me - a man will never be pregnant!” All of this is nonsense of course, and speaks the deeper problem that our society severely undervalues the job of pregnancy and motherhood (ahem, it’s why all of us exist). Recent research even points to the detrimental impact this very real pressure can have on the health of both mother and baby. Yet, all those pressures made the armor of a great office dress and tailored suit feel even more necessary than usual. I decided it was worth the investment to keep up the my high standards of professional dress, so I started shopping online.

Before long, it hit me. Great office dresses and tailored dress pants simply aren’t made for petite pregnant women. A handful of companies carry “standard” sized maternity workwear, but the selection is small and often more business-casual than business-business. Try finding something in that small selection for petite women, and you will be quickly disappointed. 

Maybe this shouldn’t be a surprise, but it completely caught me off guard.

Did the fashion industry presume that no one who is short and pregnant is also professionally successful?

Making Maternity Wear for Petite Women is Inclusive and Good Business 

While the average American woman is slightly under 5’4” tall, Hispanic and Asian women average closer to 5’1”, and these numbers have decreased nearly a centimeter since the CDC’s previous findings in 2000. According to the Pew Research Center, 86% of US women are mothers by age 44, meaning that the vast majority of women will need maternity clothes in their lifetimes. Women have overtaken men in their acceptance to 4-year universities, are ascending to greater professional heights, and waiting until later in life (and in their careers) to have children. 

So, women are shorter than we were 20 years ago, most of us are having babies, and we are occupying more and more important positions that require better work clothes. Knowing all this, how is it possible that maternity workwear sized for petite women is functionally impossible to find? 

Had someone told me 10 years ago that I would one day be the CEO of a fashion company, I would have laughed - a lot. I was a longtime principal and education director who had no intention of changing my career path. But something shifted when I bumped up against this ludicrous - and fixable - barrier facing petite professional women like myself. MARION, my luxe, sustainable maternity workwear brand, was born about 7 months later. 

Petite Maternity Wear is a Priority at MARION

All of MARION’s designs are either offered in petite and standard sizes, or are petite-friendly, meaning the styles suit a petite frame while also working for taller women. We recently launched our PETITE Collection page, to take the guesswork out of shopping - if it's on the page, it's good for short ladies! The collection includes petite maternity suits,  maternity and breastfeeding dresses, petite maternity pants and skirts, petite-friendly maternity leggings and jeans, petite-friendly maternity and nursing tanks, and the list goes on. We are currently developing maternity wraps that double as nursing covers in petite lengths because “standard” wraps and scarves tend to be too long to flatter shorter women. 

Our design aesthetic is timeless. We favor classic and minimal silhouettes, which always look better on a petite frame. We love making v-necks, ¾ length sleeves, and knee-length dresses that flatter women of short stature. We design petite maxi dresses that petite women won’t trip over, and petite suit jackets that end at the wrist and hip, rather than swallowing our shorter mamas. 

Our work doesn’t stop there, though. This coming spring, we’ll be partnering with Hemster to offer one complimentary alteration per workwear purchase, so a petite mama's garment’s length can always be adjusted to suit her exact measurements. Additionally, we’re now booking in-person styling appointments at our Eugene, Oregon studio so any mama can come select from our collection without the guesswork of online shopping. We hope to expand this offering to the East Coast by 2024. 

We’re thrilled to say that the response has been wonderful so far! Over 40% of MARION’s orders currently come from petite mamas. The feedback has been overwhelmingly positive, and we’re so happy to see many petite mamas finally find their pregnancy & breastfeeding fit! It’s my hope that MARION’s classic, flattering styles will take away the stress of maternity dressing for short working pregnant and nursing mamas who have too much on their plates already. 

Short mamas, we see you, and we have your clothes. 

Please spread the word, and follow us on our social media pages:

Instagram: @marion_maternity

Facebook: marionmaternity

LinkedIn: Marion Maternity 

Pinterest: marionmaternity

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