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Full-figured Fashion

Get tips on fashion for full figures.
Get tips on fashion for full figures.
TLC

Sandie Sabo prefers using the f-word when describing herself. "I'm fat," she says matter-of-factly. The 46-year-old clothing designer, fashion editor and occasional super-sized model, not to mention a media spokesperson for NAAFA (National Association to Advance Fat Acceptance), is educating me, a regular-sized person, on what it's like to be, well, fat.

I have called her at her home in San Diego under the misguided impression that large-sized women (those who wear size 16-28) and super-sized women (size 28+) have trouble finding hip and sexy things to wear.

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"Oh, no," she counters. "The clothes are out there — you just have to know where to find them."

According to NAAFA, in our thin-obsessed society, an estimated 38 million Americans are significantly heavier than average. And even though the women who smile out from the pages of Glamour and Harper's Bazaar wear skimpy size sixes, the average American woman dons a more generous size 14.

Still, even with a, pardon the pun, surplus of larger-sized ladies, merchandisers are loath to recognize the plus-size market as a dominant one. According to Sandie, "The powers that be still see plus sizes as a specialty market and this is not true."

Sure there are old standbys like Lane Bryant, and Liz Claiborne's Elisabeth line. But today's New Economy has created a niche for private entrepreneurs, who are filling a need by catering to a larger customer. Thanks to the Internet, vendors like Sandie are opening up virtual stores and, according to her, "creating a real network in the size-acceptance community for women to find great clothes."

Designs by Sandie, which just celebrated its one-year anniversary, is filled with great looking Lycra leggings and capris, coordinating T-shirts and flattering swing dresses. Sandie focuses on using vibrant colors, expensive-feeling fabrics and silhouettes that flow easily over the body. Currently, she is shipping to customers in Australia, Japan, the United Kingdom, New Zealand and, of course, America.

"I never thought I could do this until the Internet," she admits. "My boutique is in cyberspace, but my clothing is all in my back bedroom!"

Although Sandie mostly sports her own designs, she also loves Janelle Bonlie's Love Your Peaches denim clothing and Big on Batik's tropical sarong wear.

Another designer who specializes in extended sizes is Abbie Kearse, an MTV news reporter who started making her own clothes when she couldn't find anything fun and hip in her size. "There is a very girlie and glam rock side to me," she says on her Web site. "I love Betsy Johnson, Anna Sui and Gucci. However, they don't love me."

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Taking matters into her own hands, Abbie formed "abbie lynn usa" and launched her own e-commerce site a little over a year ago. Her online shop is filled with plenty of flirty dresses in playful prints and sexy, shoulder-bearing tops and gowns.

Admits Catherine, a 24-year-old bookstore manager from Washington, D.C., "I am going with my inner-Muslim and not baring my shoulders, but I really want Abbie's cherry-print dress. It's so Sandra Dee." And more importantly for someone as young and fashion-forward as Catherine, "It doesn't say Lane Bryant."

Catherine sites Queen Latifah and Joan Jett as her fashion role models and says it's hard for her to find large-sized clothing that's not too "career lady or frumpy." Online stores that target the younger customer, stores like Abbie Kearse's, are a boon for fashion doyennes like Catherine.

"I hate not being able to find things I like," she says. "I don't like feeling like all that's out there for me are weird sweat suits with rhinestones. I'm young and I don't have the money to go to all the best stores."

Catherine has found a way to manage her dollars without sacrificing any of her keen fashion sense. She scours thrifts stores and eBay for vintage dresses from the 1930s. She says she finds the clothing from this era well-made, feminine and more interesting to look at. Catherine's favorite purchase so far is a navy blue dress that she wears at every special occasion. "It never lets me down," she jokes.

Whether defined by a closet full of vintage dresses or a bunch of island-happy sarongs, large-sized fashion is no longer limited to muumuus and caftans. According to Sandie, good style is available in any size. "I've even sold the clothes right off of my back!"

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