Throw out that tent dress: large-size chic is here to stay

Throw away those polyester pants and oversize tops. And get rid of that black shapeless dress. Women who wear Size 14 and up can be as chic as their slim sisters. Designers and manufacturers are offering more fashions for the large-size woman. Such well-knowns as Albert Nipon, Diane von Furstenberg, and Gloria Vanderbilt are creating fashionable clothes for her. Specialty shops are catering to her. Department stores are allotting premium floor space for large-size fashions. And magazines such as Vogue are including special sections for the plus sizes.

Why this new attention from the retailing world? The fashion industry is responding to the demographic fact that one-third of the female population above age 18 wears a Size 14 or larger. The size range of the population hasn't changed dramatically in recent years, but the clothing needs of women have. The millions of women in the work force have created a demand for career clothes. And retailers know a good thing when they see it.

``The large-size woman has the same needs - she has a career and family. She wants the same clothes as everyone else,'' says Susan Phillips, vice-president of marketing at Lane Bryant. ``We interpret whatever the current fashions are into large sizes. These are carefully thought out. There's a demand for career clothes and we're meeting it.''

The national chain of Lane Bryant stores, bought in 1983 by the Limited Inc., carries up-to-the-minute fashions (Sizes 14 to 28) and accessories. Currently available are such items as 100 percent silk dresses in lipstick red at $150, leather pants at $159, and colorful sport separates at $30 each.

Department stores no longer relegate large sizes to a hidden area. Such stores as Jordan Marsh in Boston present full-figured fashions in a prominent section and flank the department with trendy-looking, large-size mannequins. Jordan Marsh houses such familiar names as Nancy Heller, Chaus, Outlander, and a new collection with ABS on its label.

``We have truly addressed the large-size market. These consumers have made it clear that they want the same things as their missy counterpart,'' says James Sullivan, vice-president fashion merchandising director of Jordan Marsh. ``These women are not looking for little suits with bow blouses. They want contemporary clothes for day, active, and evening.''

Specialty shops have sprung up across the country to meet this need. Pioneers include The Forgotten Woman, launched in New York 10 years ago by Nancye Radmin. ``This came out of necessity,'' says Mrs. Radmin. ``I gained 80 pounds after the birth of my second child. I went from a Size 4 to a Size 16. When I went looking for fashions, I couldn't find anything.

``I like gabardine pants and cashmere. I could only find awful polyester prints. Things were not being made. So I manufactured my own fashions and opened my first store. I sold out in three days. Manufacturers who called me `crazy Nancye' realized that I wasn't so crazy.'' Today, Radmin is president of an 18-store national chain.

Fashion magazines have also begun to pick up on this important fashion category. ``Women need serious clothes for the office and after work - a wardrobe,'' says Hara Marano, editor of Fashion Plus, a semiannual supplement in Vogue magazine.

``They need quality clothes that will give them a polished image. Large-size women are out in the world doing the same things as smaller women. They need the same beautiful clothes that do for them what they do for all women - make them feel good and reflect status and accomplishments,'' says Ms. Marano, herself a Size 20.

All this interest has created a demand for large-size models for runway fashion shows and magazine and catalog work.

In cities such as New York, where there are hundreds of manufacturers, specialty modeling agencies are doing lots of business. ``Big Beauties/Little Women'' is run by Mary Duffy, a Size 16 model and former Bostonian.

``I bought the business eight years ago with a $2,000 MasterCard cash advance,'' she says. ``At that time I had two models and myself. Today I have 65 large-size models and about 30 petites. We're now a seven-figure billing agency. Our models are working all the time.''

Here are a few helpful hints for large-size women to consider:

Try things on. Every manufacturer cuts with a different pattern. Garments that look shapeless on a hanger often look great on.

Avoid fashions that are too tight. They'll only make you look bigger.

Experiment with color. With the correct cosmetics, you can wear almost any color. It's no fun to wear black all the time.

Collect fashion pictures of outfits that you like. You'll find you can wear such things as stripes, provided the outfit fits well and the stripes are not distorted.

Add shoulder pads to all your clothes. Everything will hang better and look contemporary.

Taper your straight skirts at the bottom for a more flattering look.

Coordinate your shoes and hose with whatever you're wearing. For instance, try brown shoes and hose with a brown dress. You'll like the look.

Wear necklaces, earrings, big jeweled pins, scarfs, and shawls. They'll add drama to your fashions.

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