Why Petite Women Should Be Thanking Hannah Troy
A Tribute to Hannah and the Inspiring Petite Women of Our Generation
You may have never heard of Hannah Troy, but if you’re a petite woman, Hannah Troy was considering your fashion needs long before you tried on your first pair of stilettos. A designer who grew up in Brooklyn working in the garment industry of the early 1900’s, Troy’s fashion heyday began in the late 1940’s when she realized that half the women she knew were walking around in minis that became midis and cropped pants that weren’t so cropped anymore. Everything was too long on these women, but nobody in fashion seemed to care enough to address it. After studying the measurements of women who volunteered in World War II, Hannah created a line of clothing for women under 5’5 with shorter inseams and shoulders that sold out quicker than the latest designer/Target collaboration. As if that wasn’t enough, according to her New York Times obituary, she’s also credited with bringing the so-called Italian look from Florence to Fifth Avenue in the 1960’s, and the creation of a little number called the tent dress that’s still claiming serious real estate in my closet.
But the question of how to brand her clothes tailored for women of a certain height must have been tricky: what do you call clothing that deviates from “normal” size standards, but fits your best friends like a glove? “Short” feels like the yoga pants you throw on to run errands: functional, but far from aspirational. And small makes you feel like a kid headed into ballet in those awkward leotards our moms used to cram us into a year after we’d outgrown them. Little is literally an insult. But petite is another story. Petite is hot coffee and croissants. It’s that feeling when the zipper doesn’t catch or snag, but slides sexily up your side in the dressing room. It’s also French, which gives it automatic cache. Hannah saw the power in petite—polished and chic, both foreign and familiar--and used it to reshape how petite women felt about their clothes and themselves.
The Times quotes Hannah as saying that the word petite “had a nice ring to it”, but the internet can make petite feel like a chorus of cranky, old-fashioned grandmas yelling advice as you cower in a department store dressing room surrounded by empty hangers and that balled up paper that comes out of the shoe box. A thousand list-icles scream “Bold and large patterns will overwhelm your tiny frame.” “Midi skirts will cut your already small body in half.” “Heels are definitely a must for petite women—make yourself taller!” I’ve even read that I should want to be taller because it “conveys authority and confidence.” Well I guess that means us petite women are condemned to a lifetime of doubt and uncertainty because—this just in—I’m never going to be taller, and I’m guessing you won’t either if you’re post-puberty. It doesn’t matter how many boring black slip dresses or ankle-breaking heels you wear, at the end of the day your height is your height, your body is your body.
This can be even more frustrating if you’re petite and weigh more than 82 pounds (shout out to Angela from The Office, we love you too!).
The same articles that are telling us we should all wear five inch heels to work if we ever hope to convey authority only seem to include photos of Mary Kate and Ashley Olsen to demonstrate their supposed style-enhancing tips. And although they made an amazing CD for my fifth grade slumber party, they just don’t represent most petite women out there. According to some sources, Hannah Troy regretted choosing the word ‘petite’ likely because it evokes not only a shorter height, but also a body that is small and dainty. Just like in so-called regular sizes, thinness and whiteness tend to rule the landscape in petite fashion. I’ve been an athlete my whole life. Primarily a soccer player, but also a gymnast, a dancer, a runner, a softball player. My body is about as delicate as my fifty-pound square-headed Pembroke Corgi. I’m a petite woman because I’m 5’2, not because I’m auditioning to become the newest Tinkerbell in the Macy’s holiday parade.
One of the things that makes me fall in love with being petite all over again are all the amazing petite women who are defining themselves rather than letting the fashion industry define them. Nadia Aboulhosn, recently featured on Petite Ave, is a petite Wilhelmina model and blogger based out of Los Angeles who played high school football and unapologetically loves her “tomato butt.” Her clothing line, By Nadia Aboulhosn, is full of fun, casual dresses in sun-drenched colors and daring statement jewelry that actively resists being “figure-flattering.” The website features the body-positive slogan for her clothing line, “For those out of line,” and even better in a short tutorial for women trying to style their favorite menswear trend that reads: “How to wear a blazer: Step 1. Wear it however you want it.” Social worker and eating disorder coach Shira Rose’s NYC style blog, A Sequin Love Affair, features a body positivity section that includes a photo of her chowing down on a sparkly purple doughnut while wearing a black sweatshirt that reads “IDGAF About Your Diet Susan” alongside brilliantly styled images of Shira rocking bright florals and sharp pops of color against a spray of Central Park cherry blossoms.
The confidence and innovative spirit these petite women (and so many others!) put into their love of petite fashion is completely Hannah Troy. In the end, petite is just like any other word and words, like bodies, like to wiggle out of the corset-like definitions we squeeze them into. But if we are conscious and intentional about how we use it, the term Hannah Troy coined for her well-tailored pieces can be a legacy of inclusivity that all of us under 5’5 are proud to claim. What does petite style mean to you? And who are some of the petite women who inspire you?