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What Petite Sizes Really Mean for Mother of the Bride Dresses

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As a co-owner and dress consultant at T. Carolyn Fashions, I navigate the front lines of family conflict -- helping moms look great and satisfying the bride's often strident opinions. Even with 21 years in the business and 100,000 dresses sold, dressing a mother of the bride can be more challenging than dressing the actual bride!

Many women think that "petite" means small, when in fact it doesn't. There are a number of women who are short and plus size. They are often shocked to find out that they are "petite" -- women's petite.

What is a women's petite?

Unfortunately, women's petite is the most difficult specialty size to obtain. While petites in general have become increasingly more difficult to find, women's petite have become the most difficult to find. It's unfortunate that more manufacturers don't realize what a large percentage of the population need women's petites.

Of all the specialty sizes, I believe women's petite makes the biggest difference in fit and in the end, appearance.

A regular women's size won't work on a petite, plus size woman. The proportions will be all wrong. The jacket will be too long, the bust line will be too low, the waist will be too long, the hips will hit in the wrong place and she will look like a little girl playing dress-up.

While most petite sizes will be shorter in length and have shorter sleeves, the length of the bodice is the major differentiator, as it's the most difficult to correct for alterations.

Check the fit

Always look for excess fabric in the back -- I refer to this as "bucokkling." This is the telltale sign of needing a petite. I am amazed at how many women are oblivious to this. Brides, mothers and bridesmaids need to pay particular attention to this. You certainly don't want to have this fit problem walking down the aisle -- when everyone is staring at your back.

Alteration options

If you are unable to find a dress you like in women's petite, which is quite likely to happen, there are some fixes:

• If the dress has straps, they can usually be pulled up to correct for the length in the bodice. Occasionally, the armhole may have to be cut deeper to allow the dress to be lifted properly. It is important to make sure that the straps aren't shortened to the point where the bust points are no longer in their proper place.

• If the dress has sleeves and the back is buckling, the only option is to remove the sleeves, shorten the dress through the seam on the shoulders and sew the sleeves back on. The same applies to a jacket that is running too long waisted, as well. This would only apply to a long jacket and not a bolero jacket, as bolero jackets are already short. These alterations will prove to be more costly.

• Please note: There are certain styles in which it is impossible to shorten the extra length in the bodice. These are typically strapless gowns with no break in the bodice. A qualified consultant and/or seamstress should be able to guide you on this; but proceed cautiously, as I have seen many cases over the years where stores have assured women that this type of alteration could be performed when it actually couldn't.

Styles to look for

An easier option than alterations is to look for less structured dresses and dresses with shorter, to the top of the hip, jackets. In this particular case it is important to remember that the more structured a garment is, the more alterations necessary to make it work for a woman who is either a petite or women's petite.

Now that you know

With a bit of luck, perseverance and this knowledge, it is possible to find a dress perfectly suited to your proportions.

If you want to delve further into the exciting world of weddings, I invite you to tune into my new show Mother of The Bride premiering back-to-back episodes every Friday at 9 and 9:30 p.m. on Slice.