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The name alone is like something out of the fashion dark ages: “Petite Sophisticate.” Was there really a time that we—us girls of diminutive stature—said, “that’s what I need, a store that understands my need to be elevated from just petite to petite AND sophisticated”? Apparently so. Because at the time, Petite Sophisticate was the shiz-nit.
But alas, Petite Sophisticate is no longer. Which you may have noticed; then again, maybe not. But for a brand that was a formidable force in mainstream retail game through much of the 1980s and ’90s, the question is—what happened?
Petite Sophisticate: Where Art Thou?
One Word: The Internet (well that’s two, but only the second one is important). With the advent of simplified and secure e-commerce, fashion retailers were forced to take their wares to where their customers wanted to shop – online. For some (read: Target) the leap was almost seamless, for others, it was the beginning of the end. There are legions of then-hip brick-and-mortar retailers (remember Fashion Bug*, Contempo Casuals, and Petite Sophisticate sister company, Casual Corner?) that didn’t change effectively with the times to the hip, streamlined, and budget demands of savvy at-home shoppers. Nor did they update their image to keep up with the ever-changing, super-fickle generations of the 2000s. Between those factors and the intense increased competition brought about by world-wide shopping opportunities, the once-mighty Petite Sophisticate can be counted as collateral damage.
The store’s background is deep—part of the company Charming Shoppes, Inc. founded in the 1940s or 1950s (reports vary), Petite Sophisticate served a real need not addressed by many other fashion retailers at the time: specially proportioned garments that gave short girls access to true ready-to-wear clothing (rather than having to alter garments made for “average” proportions). Later acquired by Retail Brand Alliance, the chain once boasted hundreds of stores nationwide. In the wake of the aforementioned challenges, the brand limped along longer than many of it’s contemporaries, shutting down it’s online retail platform (the death knell) in 2009 followed by it’s brick and mortar locations as recently as 2010. It was just a few short years ago, in fact, that I wrote glowingly on TBF of Petite Sophisticate as a go-to source for great petite jackets. Ah, the memories.
The legacy? Well, sadly, a lack of brands catering specifically to the petite shopper in any sort of meaningful and style-savvy way. But that’s a topic for another post. For now, we’ll just say we don’t exactly miss you Petite Sophisticate – but we do wish there was a chic and modern petite-centric retailer poised to take your place. (Interestingly, there are tons of links to “gently used” Petite Sophisticate garments online—if it’s any comfort to the now defunct brand, your followers are still out there!).
*Note: We’re aware that Fashion Bug still exists—but we’re also aware that with a name like “Fashion Bug” and the big hair, prairie dress associations that we still attach to it, we might argue that it could be the Radio Shack of fashion retailers.