These days it's becoming more stylish to be rounded

High fashion is no longer the exclusive turf of the tenaciously trim. Eve Grantier, a women's specialty shop here on Florida's Treasure Coast, now places more orders for Size 12 than for any other size. Until recently the most common size was a 10. Indeed, says owner Evelyn Neville, Paris, among other fashion capitals, is telling us it's more stylish to be rounded than bony.

Some companies are accommodating larger figures by simply translating current fashion styles directly into larger sizes without altering the design. Others are putting out new lines, in addition to their regular lines, especially to capture the Size 12-to-24 market. Sales representatives of larger women's sportswear and dress manufacturers say a good 25 percent of major department store sales are in Sizes 14 through 20.

Mail-order business reflects recognition of the market, too, with Nicole Summers issuing her second catalog catering exclusively to Sizes 12 through 20. ``I can't believe how many women have written to [say] how delighted they are to have quality fashions in Size 12 to 20,'' Ms. Summers says.

Patty Neach, manager and buyer of an Ocean Drive specialty shop, Dobbers, reports that Size 14 is now her best seller; Sizes 6 and 8 are the least in demand. She notes other breaks, too, with larger-size convention: Short-sleeved sweaters with full skirts used to be a no-no; now they're OK. The divided skirt (culotte) is still in favor, regardless of size, but it is longer, as is the no-darts-anywhere jacket with push-up sleeves.

Fashion consultant Vera Biehl agrees that manufacturers have finally started to pay attention to larger women. They are getting the same looks -- the feminine and the oversize look -- as smaller women. The first consideration is style.

Makers of the well-established labels of David Warren and Warren Petites have come out with a new division for the larger woman. The new label, Claudia Cooper, signatured by Jean Nidetch, founder of Weight Watchers Inc., is just below designer level. But that designation has more to do with price than styling.

While manufacturers can be commended for their enlightened stance on fashion for larger women, the women themselves deserve some of the credit. They used to object to the full look of longer skirts. No more. They're wearing pleats, long loose jackets, long torso dresses, unconstructed blazers, loose chemises, and lots of knitwear.

Ms. Neville, who also owns Evelyn's House of Fashion on the mainland here, attributes the change to an acceptance of self, coupled with new regard for comfort tied to style.

The Frances Brewster company, important in women's apparel both here and in Palm Beach, confirms the observation: ``Be yourself'' is the current mind-set, says Brewster's Dorothy Proulx.

``We're getting a lot of color-analyzed women coming in with swatches of color they have been told are most complimentary to them,'' she adds, which may explain Patty Neach's observation that this spring and summer's fashionable yellow is not selling well. Ms. Proulx sees soft pink, jade, and palest apricot prevailing -- all of which are more likely to flatter skin tones.

But keep an eye out for blues and also yellow in almost any shade, says Ms. Neville. Ms. Neach bought black for summer but agrees that goldenrod yellow is definitely summer fashion news. Brights, however, are both news and enthusiastically accepted. It's almost a matter of the larger the size, the brighter the color. Lots of stripes -- regular and irregular -- dots, splashes, and plaids commingling. It works because the colors coordinate. No more self-effacing large women hiding behind innocuous black.

NR1 does one of the best jobs with the tent look in the $100 range, in brights for summer, and with a dropped waist -- says Jean Cook, fashion consultant at Eve Grantier. ``The tent is a compliment to Size 12 and larger. Underneath it you don't know what size is there. We're seeing a lot more styling generally in Size 16.''

Loose-fitting cotton knit tops are important, too, says Ms. Neach, and most go right into the washer and dryer. She sees slipover vests, worn with or without blouses despite notably larger armholes, as important new statements.

Diane Fres's dressy designer clothes in one-size-fits-all are popular, Ms. Proulx says, partly because no two are alike: Score another point for individuality. The message is echoed in skirt lengths, where, according to Neville, anything goes. While the longer length is fashionable, three or four lengths are shown, with mid-calf the most becoming.

Ms. Proulx elaborates, too, on the increased accommodation to Sizes 12 to 20, and half-sizes for the short-waisted, broader-busted figure: Amy Adams's label has affordable fashion in Sizes 121/2 to 221/2. Kensington designer knits go from Size 6 to 42.

The wrinkled look in cotton, once the province of the svelte, has graduated to larger sizes. One hundred percent cotton and other natural fibers are used extensively in the new cropped pants, shown with espadrilles, flats, or classic pumps. The crinkle is really in there; you can't iron it out.

Good-looking, too, for spring, Ms. Proulx says, are Clubmen's uncuffed, front-pleated pants with slash pockets. Jean Cook notes that the William Royce label gives pants the flexibility of elastic at the back of the waistline along with style-aware pleats in front. Other nice-fitting sportswear, she says, is by Wilroy, which cuts through Size 18.

The old double-knit polyester pantsuit with pull-on elastic waistband is out, Ms. Biehl says. New polyesters can look and feel like silk, are completely washable, and breathe better through less tight weaves. Knit tops have replaced blouses to some extent for casual wear, she adds.

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