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Survival of the Fittest

<br><br>The 15 most comfortable/best-fitting brands,ranked in descending order.<br><br><br><br>In a survey by NPD Group Inc.,solid bread-and-butter brands capture most of the slots on the list below.Overall,women reject the trappings —and...

The 15 most comfortable/best-fitting brands,ranked in descending order.

In a survey by NPD Group Inc.,solid bread-and-butter brands capture most of the slots on the list below.Overall,women reject the trappings —and torture —of ashion.No pointy Jean Paul Gaultier bras or Alexander McQueen bondage gowns for them,thank you.The appearance of several large size brand underscores the fact that women come in all shapes and sizes.They ’re also into fitness,with Adidas and Nike logging in at numbers 9 and 10,respectively.Once they ’re in shape,women apparently take their toned selves to Victoria ’s Secret,number 11.

1. HANES/HANES HER WAY

53.4 percent

Consumers are responding to the “comfort message” in Hanes Her Way advertising, one of Sara Lee’s Intimate Apparel brands. Examples of body-friendly products include seamless stretch foam bras and butter-soft micro panties.

2. JUST MY SIZE

48.1 percent

Just My Size, which is part of Bali Co., a Sara Lee Intimate Apparel brand, is designed for the specific needs of plus-size women. Products include apparel, bras that reduce strap “dig in” and relieve pressure on shoulders, and briefs with “tummy panels” for extra control and shaping.

3. ALFRED DUNNER

44.5 percent

Alfred Dunner may be a name from the past, but consumers haven’t forgotten it. To prove that it hasn’t lost its touch, the company introduced Hearts of Palm for the 35- to 55-year-old casual, updated woman. “This woman has matured, had a few children, but is definitely not old-fashioned,” said a company executive. “She loves to look fashionable. The things out there either look too young or over the hill.”

4. FRUIT OF THE LOOM

44.1 percent

Warren Buffett, chief executive officer of Berkshire Hathaway, who has selectively invested in apparel firms over the years, bought the operating assets of bankrupt Fruit of the Loom earlier this year for $835 million. It remains one of the best-known fashion brands.

5. DOCKERS

39.6 percent

The line, which started out as a men’s slacks collection, has won women over. An executive of Levi’s, which owns the Dockers brand, attributed its success with the fairer sex to the company’s efforts to focus on “superlative fit, fashion and finishes.”

6. LEE

39 percent

Lee targets a wide variety of customers, from teenage boys and girls to middle-aged consumers. The company offers apparel appropriate for a wide spectrum of lifestyles and a fit finder feature on its Web sites ask consumers key questions about their preferences and recommends styles.

7. LANE BRYANT

38 percent

Lane Bryant offers fashion — satin-striped corsets, off-the-shoulder tank tops, baby ribbed T-shirts and beaded jeans — to that oft-neglected consumer group: plus-size women. The company operates with the egalitarian philosophy that women are entitled to the latest styles, no matter what their size.

8. BASIC EDITIONS

37.9 percent

Kmart might be having terrible financial woes, but its private label assortment of basic tops, shorts and other wardrobe essentials scored well with customers. Basic Editions “complements every wardrobe,” according to the company, and is intended to mix well with other Kmart labels.

9.ADIDAS

37.8 percent

Adidas divides apparel into three groups: Sport Performance for performance-oriented looks; Sport Heritage for old-school styles, and Sport Style for sports enthusiasts who would rather look great watching from the sidelines. The company has even hired the iconoclastic Yohji Yamamoto to design the latter.

10. NIKE

37.5 percent

Nike, which has marketed its products to athletes and sports enthusiasts, is targeting a third group: couch potatoes. Aware that substantial growth in women’s activewear is not expected in the near future, Nike hopes to see women playing sports in its sweat suits as well as sporting them to the market and nail salon.

11. VICTORIA’S SECRET

35.4 percent

The lingerie specialty store has brought thongs, tangas, peekaboo nighties and S&M-inspired teddies to a mainstream audience. The company says bestsellers include high-legged panties and bras that show lots of cleavage without lots of padding.

12.CHAMPION

35.1 percent

Champion, a Sara Lee brand, makes underwear for men, women, boys and girls. It also sells those ubiquitous sweatpants and sweatshirts you see burly men wearing in the weight room at the gym. Women responded to the brand for because it’s comfortable, roomy and free of superfluous details.

13. CAROLE LITTLE

34.6 percent

Although Carole Little’s parent company was forced into bankruptcy in July, 2000, the designer’s products can still be found on plus-size Web sites such as Mostly Plusses. On Wednesday, Cherokee Inc. said it has acquired the Carole Little trademark and will license it to TJX Cos. (See story, page 3.)

14.SAG HARBOR

34.3 percent

Sag Harbor’s career-related separates for misses’, women’s and petite sizes aim squarely for the middle. The moderately-priced brand offers classic styling with the slightest hint of modernity. The brand, a division of Kellwood Co., is sold everywhere from Burdine’s to military exchanges for the Army, Air Force and Marines.

15. AVENUE

33.8 percent

Why should thinnies have all the fun? Avenue, a plus-size chain, is at the forefront of fashion with current trends rendered in luxury fabrics — or some facsimile thereof. Holiday styles include panne velvet tanks, knit blouses with beaded organza ruffles and mandarin-collar jackets made of shangtung.

SOURCE: NPD GROUP INC., A MARKET RESEARCH COMPANY IN PORT WASHINGTON, N.Y., from a SAMPLE OF 4,016 WOMEN, 13 YEARS OR OLDER, WITH INCOMES OF UP TO $200,000.