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the long and short of it; Long to be tall and statuesque? Well long no more. Shops are finally realising the potential of the petites market as Mel Hunter discovers.

Byline: Mel Hunter

Oh to be tall and willowy, a size eight figure on a 5ft 8 frame. Clothes would fit in all the right places, inspiring envy in women and admiration in men. I would walk into a room and people would actually see me, rather than glancing ungraciously over my head.

I wouldn't have to ask for people to reach for the last tin of beans at the back of the supermarket shelf on my behalf, nor would I be requested when visiting a school to sign the late pupils register (although the latter was a huge victory in my battle against the biological clock).

However, it seems I have my head in the clouds (if only metaphorically). In reality my genetic make-up is of the more vertically-challenged variety, hence why I have grown up to be more of a cute Shetland pony than a thoroughbred clotheshorse.

More times than I can count trousers I have bought have had money 'on', rather than money off. The clothes themselves may have cost pounds 50, but paying for them to be taken up has added another tenner to the ticket price.

Evening dresses drag along the floor, minis become midis and, quite frankly, children's T's are often my best bet for the latest trendy top.

As for capri pants, forget it. Pedal pushers which are supposed to come to mid calf on most women are that 'Have-her-trousers-shrunk-in-the-wash?' length on me.

But in the past decade us shorties have kind of grouped together and found solace under a single adjective. Anyone under 5ft 3, regardless of dress size or shape, can now stand up on tiptoe and shout 'I am 'petite' and I am proud.'

And increasingly the fashion industry has heard our cry. More and more fashion labels have downsized to launch a petite collection in recent years, meaning the days of attacking a too-long-hem with needle and thread are nearly over.

Principles, Debenhams, M&S and Next have long been in on the secret of pocket-sized purse power, and now Laura Ashley has joined the fray. The chain decided there was a definite space in the market after extensive research showed that almost a third of British woman measured less that 5ft 3.

And last week I found proof that I am not alone in battling against the tallies who seem to rule the fashion world. The big importance of not-so-big people was evident in earnest at a recent event at Rackhams in Birmingham. A series of three petite fashion shows at the store sold out within three days of the tickets becoming available - far quicker than interest in a 'normal' show.

The expectant hush before the first show proved that the crowd on the second floor ladies' department was taking this as seriously as anything the more well-known catwalks have to offer.

What's more, like Meg Matthews or Victoria Beckham sitting beside the runways in London or Milan, the good ladies of the West Midlands had their handbags close at hand, making a mental note of their must-buys as they show went on.

Clothes from House of Fraser's own brand Linea, as well Jaeger, Country Casuals, Eastex, Viyella, Wallis, Liz Claiborne and Precis were modelled on the catwalk proved that small really is beautiful.

All the season's colours were marched down the runway - lots of greens, turquoises, olives and aquas (green is the new camel, according to Vogue), underpinned by the classic staples: neutral caramels, graphic blacks and whites, and bright, rosy reds.

And, apart from the spectator who sat with her hands over her ears throughout (on account of Madonna singing out from a speaker two rows back), the event seemed big on popularity, if slightly below average in stature.
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Publication:The Birmingham Post (England)
Date:Mar 19, 2001
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