Napoleon was short, and loved clothes. No problem for him; he designed his own and had them made.

Other short men and women have a sizable problem. Unless they can afford custom-made clothes, or are skilled in sewing and alterations, the options are minimal.

According to a National Center for Health Statistics survey taken in the early '70s (the latest statistics available), the average height for women is 5-feet-4. One in four women is under 5-feet-2. The average height for men is 5-feet-9, and 14 percent of the male population is under 5-feet-6.

A big boost to short fashion may be a result of the economic downturn. Manufacturers and retailers, searching for new areas of growth, are turning to specialties ignored earlier, such as clothes for the not-so-tall.

Manufacturers and designers who have ignored short women in the past are making collections scaled specifically to their dimensions. There are new shops, particularly Piaffe, and new and expanded store departments.

Meanwhile, most short people have worked out their own fashion formulas, philosophies and wisecracks. A sampling:

Actress Sissy Spacek (5-feet-3): "I can still wear my clothes from junior high. I've worn them occasionally for films, and certainly for Halloween."

Spacek, who wore a blue silk jumpsuit for the preview here of the film, "Missing," is committed to the "no-frills" school of dressing. "I like clothes that are real simple. I get a taller appearance."

Last year Spacek started wearing flat-heeled shoes. "When I turned 30 I got real secure."

As for fit, "I just push up the sleeves and roll up the (pants) hems."

"I'm up to my neck in ruffles," says Jean Smith (5-feet-3), whose husband is Attorney General William French Smith. "It draws attention to my neck, so others won't realize I don't go down very far.

"Most smallish things are 'cute,' and that's okay when you are cute. I count on everything needing alterations. I'd give anything for the return of the A-line skirt. I have the illusion they make me look taller."

Smith is cautious about belts on dresses. She avoids tight fit and always wears high heels. "It has nothing to do with my height. I just like them.

"In my next life I'm going to have long legs."

"It's great being short," cracks Don Penny (5-feet-7). "I buy my stuff at Barney's Boystown. All I have to do is to take off the sailboats."

Penny insists that Warner Communications hired him as executive assistant to the chairman of the board because "they could get kindergarten furniture for my office."

Among clothes problems: "Over-the-calf socks become pantyhose," and as a Navy Reserve commander, "I knew I could never make captain. There was no room on the sleeve for the fourth stripe."

Penny, actually one of the best-dressed men in town, shops at Britches, where his clothes get a lot of alterations.

"I try to avoid walking down the street with (Sen.) Howard Baker," he adds. "Together we look like cufflinks."

"A normal man's watch on my arm looks like a government-issue clock," laments presidential speechwriter Landon Parvin (5-feet-6). "One day when I was wearing boots and a cowboy shirt a friend said to me, 'Hey, where's your pony?'"

Fashion stylist Paul Cavaco (5-feet-5) has found a uniform for comfort and style in his work: corduroy trousers, surfer T-shirt, black cashmere sweatshirt and Nikes.

"I'm the smallest size you can get off the rack," he says. "The bottom layer (underwear) always fits perfectly. The outer layer is always a bit big as a matter of style."

"Nothing is ever too big, only too small," he says about the clothes he borrows from his 5-foot-10 wife. "When things are tight it makes you look like a kid."

"I used to go to those fancy department stores where wealthy people dressed their teen-agers," says Dr. Ruth Westheimer (4-feet-7), a sex therapist and host of a popular New York radio show. "Those clothes are warm enough, but never sophisticated enough so I had to give them up." She even tried shoes from the children's department but they never fit right.

It took Westheimer a long time, she says, to give up very high heels. "When I was young I wanted to be tall and impress the world. Now I am very active and need the comfort of low heels."

Her engagement ring has "tiny stones," and she gave away a necklace with a huge pendant. "And I never could wear my hair Mozart style as I dreamed of doing."