Often a new fashion line is released only in the tight spectrum of misses sizes, but this season manufacturers are letting out their seams. From sportswear to dresses, retailers are offering more selections for the full-figured woman.
When the market was first explored by many stores, larger customers felt that they had been overlooked, explained Linda Larsen, president of Liz Claiborne's Elizabeth division, which designs and produces clothing in larger sizes. "But, I think we're reaching out to bring new customers in [who] are ready to shop in a women's fashion market that includes their sizes."
In the past, she added, stores have been reluctant to market larger sizes independently, often leaving the larger-sized selections in the shadow of the standard-size lines, "and the [larger] customer has been left waiting."
However, as more customers began to express a demand for full-size clothing, manufacturers realized the potential for sales in this market. New fashion retailers began to emerge who cater to sizes 14 and up without abandoning style.
One advantage of the growing market is that there is less competition for merchants who address the full-figured customer, says Linda Lamm, owner and buyer for Chezelle, which sells fashionable clothing in larger sizes. "A lot of manufacturers are finding that if they cut [fabric for] large sizes, they're better off than trying to compete in missy sizes," she said. "Our feeling is that our customer is fashionable and she wants to look terrific, too."
While stores have traditionally approached larger women with different selections in fashion, now the same vendors who market in misses sizes often cut clothing lines in larger sizes as well. With wider selections available, stores are changing their approach to buying and marketing larger clothing.
The large-size woman can have nearly any fashion that is current, although store owners are cautious of where an outfit is revealing and if a style is unflattering for larger women.
"I don't buy short straight skirts," Ms. Lamm said. "I don't buy fitted thighs," but in most cases current fashion can be just as -- or more -- flattering for full-figured women. "If Western's a big influence . . . I'd be buying the exact same thing for my customer."
One reason for the increasing market in full-sized clothing, manufacturers believe, is that a generation of baby boomers, who gain weight with age, don't want to sacrifice good looks and style for comfort. Unwilling to give up the fashionable looks they have always worn, they create a booming market for large-size clothing that is as snappy as the misses lines they are used to.