This post is written as a supplement to my guide to medical school interview clothing, which can be found here
Shopping for any clothing can be a nightmare for us vertically-challenged ladies, but I think we have an especially hard time shopping for professional wear. In an interview setting, we want our clothes to reflect our place in the professional world: to look powerful without losing our femininity, and to look beautiful without looking “cute”. A tall order, ironically speaking.
Between years of being on interviews for both school and work, I’ve have picked up a thing or two about suit shopping that I wanted to share specifically with petite women (5’4″ and under).
Tips & Strategies:
- Petite sizing tends to have the following features: shorter sleeves, smaller armholes, shorter torsos, shorter hems, higher necklines, and different tapering on the legs and sleeves.
- Petites come in all shapes and sizes. The only real thing we have in common is our height. This also means that the “petite” version of a garment is not always the right option. Since jackets and bottoms are mostly sold separately these days, You may consider mixing and matching regular sizing with petite sizing, or forgo petite sizing altogether.
- Try out different styles to figure out what works for you: Again, there is no one good style for all petites because there is not just one silhouette of petite female. The more styles you try on, the more you can hone in on what looks good on your frame. Personally, I’ve found that single-button blazers are more flattering for my larger chest than double button, and that wider lapels help to balance out my wide shoulders.
- Shop online: Because of limited space in brick and mortar stores, retailers often won’t carry their full petite lines in the stores. Although I dislike online shopping as much as the next person, I do recommend it for suiting given the expanded selection. Order multiple sizes, but remember to check return policies.
- Check the fabric: Retailers often offer different styles of jackets and bottoms for easy mixing and matching. To make sure that you are pairing the fabrics correctly compare material content of the two garments to check if the percentages match. This is especially helpful when shopping online.
- Buy the jacket and bottoms at the same time: I mentioned this in my last post about buying suits, but I emphasize it even more more for petites. Since retailers carry less stock for petite sizing than regular sizing, there’s an even smaller chance of being able to match tops and bottoms when purchased separately. Side note: also dry clean both pieces together to ensure color stays matched
- Shop at stores that offer store-wide sales: since the goal is to buy matching pieces, promotions that only include clearance items or one category of clothing (i.e. only pants), are not as useful for suit shopping. Look out for sales that are all inclusive, which also tend to have more color and size options available.
- Size up: although it varies from brand to brand, petite sizing tends to run a whole size smaller than regular sizing. A regular 6 is equivalent to an 8p, for example. When in doubt, size up. If alterations are needed, it will be much easier to tuck in than to let out.
- Move around: When trying on suits, imagine all the movements that you may have to do in them. Sit down, squat, raise your arms — if anything feels tight or uncomfortable, try a size up or move on to another style. You don’t want that discomfort to distract you from your interview.
- Try on with the shoes you intend to wear: a hem that looks too long with flat shoes may be the right length with heels.
- Choose your shell based on your suit, not the other way around. Finding a top to wear underneath your jacket is much easier than getting the suit right.
- Alterations are almost always recommended: Petite sizing or not, mass-produced clothing hardly ever fits anyone perfectly. The right tailoring can turn a suit from blah to amazing. I highly recommend that you budget in for alterations, even if only minor changes are needed (i.e. hemming).
I love saving money as much as anyone, but this is one area that I was willing to spend a little more. In most cases, it is not necessary to have more than one suit, so make sure you invest your money in something that makes you feel confident. This is your future we’re talking about, people!
I’d budget around $400 for the clothes portion of your interview outfit: $300 for the suit separates, $50 for any alterations, and a remaining $50 for the shell and dry cleaning fees. Note that this estimate does not include jewelry/accessories, shoes, or undergarments.
Where to shop:
I own suits from Nordstrom (Halogen brand), J. Crew, and Banana Republic. These are all brands that I highly recommend as a starting point for petites. Quality does vary from season to season, so do use your best judgment and try on multiple styles.
Nordstrom: Nordstrom is a convenient place to go to shop for many brands of suits at once. Their in-house brands, Halogen and Classiques Entier, have petite sizing for almost all styles. Many of the other brands they carry also have petite sizing, such as Vince Camuto and Ellen Tracy.
But maybe the best advantage of shopping at Nordstrom is in their in-house alterations department. If you have a Nordstrom debit or credit card, it automatically comes with $100 in alterations credit to use every year on Nordstrom-purchased clothing, for which you get reimbursed in the form of Nordstrom Notes (which can also be used at Nordstrom Rack and applied towards purchase of shoes, shell, or accessories). I’ve brought Nordstrom and non-Nordstrom clothing into their tailors, and they do an excellent job each and every time. Standard turnaround time is 1 week, but they will rush to accommodate special needs, sometimes same day.
J. Crew: A great place to look for modern silhouettes and nice quality fabrics, with more color options that I’ve seen at other retailers. These suits tend to be a little pricey, but J. Crew does have store-wide sales (25-30% off) that can save you a chunk of money. They offer free simple alterations on suits, but only if purchased at full price.
Banana Republic: Similarly priced as J. Crew, but their sales tend to be better and more frequent. It is also a great place to look for suiting shells–I’ve found some treasures for dirt cheap in the clearance section!
If you have more money to invest in a suit, look into brands such as Theory, BOSS Hugo Boss, and Helmut Lang. Although they are pricey and don’t offer petite sizing, these brands have impeccable tailoring and are sure to last you for years.