Nicole Richie

Nicole Richie, who stands at 152cm, says she has trouble finding clothes that fit - and instead has a penchant for heels and bags (and high hairdos).

Think fashion model and most imagine underweight, unrealistic versions of the female form.

There's nothing new about the argument that fashion's stereotypes pander to a body image that is neither common nor healthy, underlining, again and again, the bizarre notion that there is one body shape to which you, me, we should aspire.

But in the drive to rebalance the industry - plus-sized models, anti-airbrushing, commitments to only employ models with certain BMIs - there is a body-shape group that still finds itself somewhat ostracised by fashion at large.

Enter the more diminutive in stature amongst us.

Nicole Richie, standing at 152cm (5'1") is well within the criteria for being officially 'petite'. Referring to height only, the petite label applies to anyone who is under 162cm (5'4").

The socialite and designer told British Elle that she avoids online shopping because she has such problems finding clothes that fit her tiny frame.

“I’m five feet one inches, so it’s not as easy as just seeing something on a mannequin or a model and thinking, ‘That’s going to be cute on me’. I have to try things on and see how they fit on my body,” she told the August edition.

“That’s why I’m not a big online shopper. I like to touch the clothes, feel the fabric and try them on.”

And, in a problem that is confined to celebrity circles, she says she will not buy from the catwalk because clothes made for gazelle-like models simply do not work for her.

Back on planet earth, it is arguably harder to find clothes that fit a smaller woman than those that fit plus-sizes.

Gone are the days, of course, of custom-made clothes and home-made clothes, and, despite some notable exceptions when it comes to smaller cuts on the High Street, it is nigh-on impossible to find elegant, fashionable rags for girls who are less than a size 4 in 'everyday' shops.

Fashion-forward Topshop - whose sizes naturally tend to run on the small side - has a devoted petite section (available in Melbourne and coming soon to Sydney), as does David Jones. Marcs has clothes in size 4 - pants starting at 22 – while Veronika Maine, like its mother brand, Cue, runs to size 6, as does Jigsaw.

The internet may have opened up a world of shopping possibilities, but there's certainly no 100 per cent strike rate when it comes to the seemingly lottery-like gamble of post-purchase size success.

No wonder stories of petite women heading to junior departments in stores, rubbing shoulders with ten-year-olds as they browse racks of sundresses and attempt to find formal pants, are not uncommon.

Then there are those women who will only shop in Chinatown, having given up on mainstream outlets, instead preferring the smaller cuts and on-trend direction of imported clothes designed for Asian frames.

Away from body size, there is also the debatable question of true size. A size ten is not simply a size ten – in the same way that a petite line may suit some forms but not others.

Back in 2009, a Choice shopping spree saw a journalist attempting to find a 'straight black skirt' that fit. It turned out that her size oscillated between a 10, a 14, a 3 and a medium, depending on which shop she was in – an escapade that saw her self-esteem fluctuate as wildly as the garment cuts themselves.

Abi Slaughter, 32, from Wooloowin, QLD, agrees. “I find that sizes change in every store, there’s no consistency. Bond’s XS is far too big for me, I have a mix of S, XS and XXS from Country Road and I tend to have to shop in department stores where there is more choice.”

The 150cm microbrewery manager says she rarely buys new clothes. “Shopping tends to take ages, it’s quite depressing.

“Once I’ve found something that fits well, I’ll buy it again online – and I do lots of my own fixing and mending.”

It's telling that Nicole Richie's wardrobe staples are, she says, tote bags and shoes: accessories that are not nearly as aligned to body shape as garments are.

And, when it comes to heels, it's game on for Lionel Richie's daughter: "I wear heels a lot because I like how they look, not necessarily for height. The tallest I’m ever going to get is five feet six inches; it’s not like I’m going to tower over anybody."

Well, there is one option, Nicole… Scarily, height-change surgery is not as rare as it once was – and limb lengthening centres are giving men and women boosts of up to 8cm. Painful and expensive, the Middle-Ages-like procedure comes with horribly over-simplified sales pitches: “Increase your height. Change your life.” Eight months immobile in bed will indeed change your life.

So, for all the awkward shopping missions, the wardrobe malfunctions and the does-my-bum-look-big-in-this days, we prefer the idea of finding a fabulous dress in Topshop Petite – and matching it with a gorgeous bag that, refreshingly, comes with no size label attached.