Fashion Industry Begins Covering Large Women
Nov. 26, 1989
WARWICK, R.I. (AP) _ Whether it's the holiday glitter of rhinestones on satin or the elegance of pearls on black velvet, larger women can dress for the season as never before in fashions from an industry that realized 35 million women were tired of being ignored.
''All the names that never wanted to be associated at one time with large sizes are now saying there is a viable market out there,'' said Sandi Alpert, a fashion coordinator for large sizes at Bloomingdale's main store in New York City.
In the early 1980s, fashion designers began realizing the third of American women with figures more like Mrs. Claus than Snow White were an untapped market. Today sales of sizes 14 and larger are more than $10 billion annually as more designers join the movement and women feel better about adorning their less-than-perfect frames.
''The trend is for women to be happy at whatever size they are at the moment, not to worry about dieting and to put their life on hold until they lose weight,'' said Lisa E. Weingeroff, president of Sizzle Marketing and Promotions Inc. in Warwick.
Sizzle began manufacturing affordable costume jewelry for large women earlier this year. It designs chokers long enough not to choke, earrings with deep enough clips and long enough posts not to pinch, and rings and bracelets larger than standard sizes.
''Almost every plus-size woman couldn't go into a store and find a necklace that would hang properly, that would lay on the chest properly,'' said Weingeroff. In addition, ''Designs are larger in general so they stand out better.''
The holiday fashion pages of December's Weight Watchers Magazine show a gold Sizzle necklace and earrings highlighting a strapless, sequined top by Mondi.
But not so long ago large women could hardly find clothes, let alone sequins, baubles and accessories.
''This woman has been the victim of a stereotype - 'She's big, she's not interested in fashion, she just wants to hide her body, she doesn't go out,''' said Christina Gruber, editor of Plus Sizes, a trade publication for retailers and manufacturers.
''I have an expression called 'polyester pull-on' and that's what most of us in our 50s remember'' as being available to large women, Alpert said. ''If you wanted really high fashion you had to go to a tailor or couturier.''
In 1979, Pierre Cardin and Gloria Vanderbilt ventured into larger clothing offering designer jeans in bigger sizes. In 1983, Givenchy offered a large- size line and others steadily followed.
''The first person who had the nerve to put out the designer jeans took a lot of guts,'' said Carole Shaw, editor of the magazine, BBW: Big Beautiful Women. ''Then when they blew out the doors, (the fashion industry) said to themselves, 'Do you think it could be possible that fat ladies really want pretty clothes?'''
But Diane Specht, Plus Sizes publisher, said it's really only been in the past two years that the fashion industry firmly moved into the large-size market.
It wasn't a Christmas wish that changed the industry; rather, a matter of economics.
''Consumer demand,'' said Helen Laskow, of Givenchy En Plus and president of the Plus Designer Council, a consortium of about a dozen manufacturers formed in April.
As women entered the workforce, they needed something presentable to wear to work.
''Now you've got women in their 20s and 30s who are doctors and lawyers - professionals - and who need to dress. It isn't they need clothes, they need fashion. They're out there in the world, in the public eye,'' said Bloomingdale's Alpert.
''The market had to dress this woman because she was going crazy and they began to hear about it,'' she said.
The trend shows no signs of waning. The average American woman is growing older and her waistline is growing, too. The majority of large-size shoppers are in the 35 to 55 age range, said Specht. She said they account for about 15 percent of the entire women's fashion industry - spending upwards of $10 billion annually.
Indeed, BBW published bi-monthly when it first appeared because ''when we started out in 1979 there wasn't enough fashion to put in every month,'' said Shaw. In January, the magazine began publishing monthly for its 200,000 subscribers.
Weight Watchers Magazine also revamped its 20-year-old format a year ago to include more fashion and beauty advice for its million readers, said Kay Parmenter, vice president of advertising.
After all, ''Large-size women want what every other woman wants. They want to look pretty, feminine and fashionable,'' said Laskow.
And that's just what they can do this holiday season.
End adv Sunday Nov. 26