What's a Tall Fashionista to Do?


Former professional basketball player and model Lisa Leslie (left) is 6 feet 5 inches. Michael Buckner/WireImage/Getty Images
Former professional basketball player and model Lisa Leslie (left) is 6 feet 5 inches. Michael Buckner/WireImage/Getty Images

Sure, the tall ladies of the world can reach items on high shelves, but they're often doing so in pants that are slightly too short. Despite the vast reach of the fashion industry, tall women often have too few clothing options.

Many department stores have petite and plus-sized fashion sections but you'd be hard-pressed to find one with a section for tall women. "Most brands won't appropriate their funds to creating garments for tall women because there seemingly isn't a large enough market to see a return on their investment," says stylist Kendra Y. Hill, who is 5 feet 10 inches (1.8 meters) tall.

But the market is not as small as some retailers might think. Approximately 10 percent of the 127 million adult women in America are 5 feet 8 inches (1.74 meters) and taller (the average American woman is around 5 feet 4 inches or 1.6 meters). That leaves a customer base of at least 12 million.

And the inability to find stylish, well-fitting clothes can be more than just annoying. "People use clothing to express themselves," explains fashion psychologist Dawnn Karen. "So, if you're not able to express yourself in the manner you wish to, it's almost saying no one's acknowledging me. It's almost being outcasted."

New York City-based stylist Natalie Tincher says that her tall clients tend to have trouble finding clothes particularly when shopping for suits — pants and jackets may have arms and legs that are too short — and woven garments, like button-up blouses. "I think there's vast room for improvement [in the fashion industry], especially considering so many times you can shorten garments but you can't make them longer. It doesn't make a lot of sense to me that they wouldn't make things an inch longer," she says.

But it's more than a matter of lengthening a hem on a garment. "One of the things non-tall people may not realize is that while tall is defined by height, we're not all tall in the same way," adds 5 foot 10 inch Tracy Paden, a senior vice president of Cookerly Public Relations in Atlanta in an email. "I am a bit long-waisted (as opposed to having really long legs), which is why dresses and tunics are incredibly hard to find unless they're made specifically for tall people. I actually have more luck finding regular length pants to fit than I do finding a non-tall dress."

Adds Laura Tegtmeyer, a tech executive in Silicon Valley, via email, "As a tall, thin woman with an athletic build, buying clothes is generally depressing and extremely limited... Generally a manufacturer assumes if you are tall you must also be wide, so clothes with a little extra length are also voluminous and require expensive tailoring."

Although progress might seem maddeningly slow, it appears to be happening. "Tall sizes can still be a little hard to come by in stores, but nearly every major brand has tall sizes online," says Paden. It's a little frustrating that I can't make an impromptu trip to the mall for a new outfit, but I'm glad to have options online that I didn't have before."

For online shopping in the low to moderate price range, those interviewed recommended the brands Ann Taylor, Loft, JC Penney, Banana Republic, J.  Crew and Lands' End, which sell tall sizes online, if not in retail. Long Tall Sally and Marge Clothing are online-only brands that cater exclusively to tall women. And stylist Tincher also likes high-end brands like Boss, Theory and Vince, which although not offering tall sizes, tend to have longer lengths and inseams in their regular sizes.

Another option, if you can afford it, is getting clothes tailored. A tailor can let out a hem in a pair of pants or the sleeves of a jacket. Cautions Tincher, "If you are going to get a trouser pant let down you need to do it immediately, before you've worn it, otherwise the bottom of the hem will get that faded dusty look." As far as tops, she says to "make sure the shoulders fit. Shoulders are the one thing that can't be tailored without compromising the garment." And for an even easier option, particularly in a casual setting, just roll up a blazer's sleeves, or jean legs.