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Fashion's invisible woman

Even as Americans get larger, designers and retailers cling to the idea that style comes in one size: small.

March 01, 2009|Emili Vesilind

Certainly, there are enough retailers out there to ensure that plus-size women won't be walking around naked any time soon. But resources for fuller-figured women looking to follow trends (and even dabble in the avant-garde) are close to nil. The perception in the industry, said Cohen and Pally, is that full-figured women have less disposable income, and are less concerned with current styles.

This may or may not be another Catch-22. Did the demographic give up on fashion before fashion gave up on the demographic? Or was it the other way around?

Jaye Hersh, owner of the L.A. boutique Intuition on West Pico Boulevard, discovered that the fashion-conscious plus-size customer -- who has money to spend -- is one of the most underserved markets around when she started stocking designer jeans in sizes 32 to 38, and upping her inventory of one-size-fits-all merchandise.

What started as a slow trickle of customers has ballooned into a voracious new client base. " 'Enthusiastic' is an understatement," she said of the reception. The business has helped buoy Hersh's company, while other boutiques in L.A. have shuttered en masse this past year.

Similar tales of success would no doubt blossom should more companies decide to start thinking big.

Emme, who was once called a "fatty" by a photographer who refused to shoot her (she was 5 foot 11 inches tall and a size 10), said responsiveness to the average woman can't come quickly enough. "The market has to change -- fashion can't be just for the exclusive few," she said. "We're responsible for ourselves. They're responsible for clothing us."


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