What Happened to Petite Sophisticate?

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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.

Petite Sophisticate Tag

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.

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  • Kathy R

    I, too, loved the Petite Sophisticate stores and still miss them terribly! I, too, still have some clothes in my closet from there, and wore a blue blouse (with the Petite Sophisticate label) just tonight for a special memorial prayer service at our church. The styles still look good all these years later, and I really feel good wearing them! And to Dani’s post from 1 year ago (if she is still reading these posts) I also watch reruns of “Room 222” and LOVE the styles from Petite Sophisticate on the women in that show! Cutest clothes ever!!! Sad day when that store closed it’s doors. And ditto with Fashion Bug stores, I also loved those stores. Very sad to see these wonderful retail stores go. Thank you to all for your many comments here, enjoyed reading them all!!!!! From – Kathy R

  • Diane Gacina Plutino

    I loved working or petite Sophisticate.I had such a wonderful staff and clients. The cloths were great and easy to sell. miss buying suits and dress as well as jeans and tees

    • Diane,
      Thanks for stopping by and sharing!
      Catherine

    • ALightOnAHill

      I met my now-daughter-in-law in Petite Sophisticate when she was working there in the Phoenix area. I asked her if she’d go to an event with my son who needed a partner for the event. They wound up getting married many years ago and have two teen-age daughters.
      I still have solid jeans from there that I am literally wearing today. They have never worn out!! Just a little ragged at the hem but overall they are terrific!
      I do miss them since I’m so short!!!!! My daughter-in-law was a bit shorter than I but I’ve shrunk in height so we’re about the same now.
      It would be nice to have a “come back!”

  • Beth

    Has anyone found any stores or brands that fit similar to the petite sophisticates clothing? I have a particularly hard time finding dress pants that fit well. I have a couple of pair of petite sophisticate pants that fit perfectly at the time I bought them but aren’t my current size. I’m 5′-2″, 130 pounds, and generally wear a size 4 or 6 in dress pants but I’m curvy (narrow waist, wide hips) and I just can’t seem to find any petite pants that fit. For dresses, I’ve had some luck at dress barn and JC Penney which usually has a very large selection of petite dresses at really good prices. For tops, I can generally get away with regular sizing I just can’t wear certain styles. Petite tops tend to run a little shorter than I like but regular tops can be too wide in the shoulders or if neck-line will drop too low.

  • Mary E Cote

    Best quality ever. I am still wearing my PS clothing and they all still look wonderful. Sad that they left us.

    • ALightOnAHill

      Ditto!

  • Lorelai Gilmore

    I adored Petite Sophisticate!! My local store was 15 minutes away and I never had to try on anything. Just pick out the size 2 clothing that I loved and the sales people were thrilled to see me walk in the store. They knew that I’d leave with many purchases. I’m 5 ft. tall exactly. Sadly the store is gone and also I’m not a size 2 anymore!! LOL

  • Lidia Scinski

    I definitely miss PS! It’s unfortunate that the brand is out of business.

  • Mike Giovannini

    To correct you – Petite sophisticate was a privately held company started by Saul Skurow and his son Fred in cincinatti. It was purchased by U.S. Shoe corp. and run under the womens specialty retail group with Casual Corner,
    U.S.Shoe was purchased by Luxottica and the womens specialty retail stores were spun off and privately held by Leonardo Delvecchio and his son Claudio. They later bought Brooks Brothers and became Retail Brand alliance. When Claudio decided to close Casual corner, Petite was sold to charming shoppes where they only ran outlet stores.
    They were all closed shortly after.

  • I am far from petite but I’ve been watching “Room 222” (sitcom from the early 1970s) and the female leads were clothed by Petite Sophisticate. I especially loved the outfits that Denise Nicholas wore. Even on grainy 1970s film, her clothes looked well made.

  • vicky juarico

    I’m so sorry I used to go Harla @Irven park Chicago it was fantastic. Thanks were I can go Now to get the same brand were I’m living the store don’t have my side petite 2 it will be nice if you let me now Thanks.

  • Sandy Cays

    I, too, miss Petite Sophisticate (and Casual Corner). In addition to the perfect fit, these two stores sold clothing expertly sewed, fashionable and well priced . Luckily, I have quite a few pieces that still fit me, and I wear them all the time.

  • Jaly

    I definitely miss Petite Sophisticate! I bought lots of clothes for work and they fit me well. Oh, please….we need another store for us shorter gals. Haven”t found anything to come close out in retail.

  • Sherryl

    Gosh! This was a refreshing thread to stumble upon! I miss Petite Sophisticate and Casual Corner terribly. Up until their closing in 2005 I was a regular shopper there and was very sad to see them go. I read in a prior post that a brand called Kaspar was one of those offered by PS. Does anyone else know of other brands that may have been included and where they might be sourced? As everyone has said, the quality was phenomenal and I would be great to locate up to date versions now.

  • Madhavi

    Gosh !!! I happened to come across this write up and lo I was so thrilled…as I opened this site hoping that I would find some information on how to buy Petite Sophisticate clothes. But, feel so sorry to realize that this brand doesn’t exist anymore. I am 5’2″ and bought 70-80% of my office wear from them, in the ’90s. I still have so many of the pieces, and treasure them, althought I don’t fit into them anymore. Hoping to slim down and hopefully wear them again 🙂

    For me, no other brand can ever replace them…

  • Emily

    Re: “…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.”

    Well, *WE* miss you, Petite Sophisticate! That store *WAS* a chic and modern petite-centric retailer. Why would we want a new one, when we already had a good one? I still have clothing items from there that are almost 20 years old (some are probably even older) and in great condition.

  • Renee

    I actually DO miss Petite Sophisticates…being able to wear the clothing straight of the rack…never having to hem pants only to ruin the hang! My college-aged daughter mentioned something to me about “pencil skirts”. I had no idea what she was talking about, so I looked them up. Low-and-behold, they are the exact skirts that I use to buy from Petite Sophisticates in the late ’80s to early ’90s!! In fact, I still have a few of them. I couldn’t part with them because they were so extremely well-made (a trademark of the Petite Sophisticate line of clothing back then). If I could wear them still, they’d look exactly like the “pencil” skirts that are out right now! I really would love an online Petite Sophisticates store… <>!

    • My sister & I shopped there all the time. she is only 4 feet 11 inches so finding the right length of clothes at any other stores is impossible. We still have some clothes we bought there,. The quality was phenomenal compared to the quality of clothes offered now.

    • Lilo-a

      I agree. I’m 5’3″ and PS was my go-to store. There clothes fit me so well I didn’t even have to try them on. I too have a couple of suits that I can’t stand to part with in the back of my closet. Yep (sigh), they were perfect for that period and I miss them terribly.

  • Easter Bunni

    Just a few notes. Petite Sophisticate was part of the Women’s Specialty Retail Group owned by US Shoe Corporation. Other divisions in the group included August Maxx, Ups & Downs, Casual Corner, various shoe stores as well as an accessory chain. Petite was one of the profitable lines of the group. In 1994 WSRG was sold and the parts were divided and resold again in late 94 or 95. Before those sales the product lines changed significantly, not for the better. After those sales they had outlet stores which do not carry the same lines as the mainstream stores. It was a shame to see US Shoe sell off the WSRG but it is part of corporate strategy. For those of you that liked PS suits please shop Kaspar as many of the suits were KASPAR brand.

    • Catherine

      Thanks for the scoop!

  • Marian Librarian

    My mom bought me a suit from Petite Sophisticate when I graduated from college the first time 🙂