Byline: David Moin

NEW YORK — The special-size business, one of the few strengths in women’s wear, should click again this fall, according to retail executives, who are encouraged by spring sales and like what the market is offering for next season.
As Lavelle Olexa, fashion director for Lord & Taylor, said, “It’s a growth business and we are addressing that throughout our stores.”
John Parros, senior vice president and general merchandise manager of women’s apparel at Younkers, Des Moines, said large sizes had comparable-store sales gains in the mid-20 percent range for the quarter ended Jan. 28. Spring merchandise in the category registered a 22 percent comp-store gain in February, as shorts, linens and knits had strong sell-throughs, he added.
Jones Sport, Sag Harbor, Alfred Dunner, Norton McNaughton and Fundamental Things were among the strongest performers in large sizes, Parros said.
The gains have been spurred in part by relocating large-size goods to sportswear floors in some units, Parros explained. The retailer plans to roll out the strategy store-by-store.
“Now that customer doesn’t feel segregated,” said Parros, who noted fixtures have been upgraded in the new departments as well.
In addition to segmenting women’s ads to spotlight large sizes, petites and misses’ sizes, Younkers recently began airing TV commercials and running print ads solely for large-size merchandise, Parros added.
“The trend to the more fitted is very good for the petite market, which can really go crazy with all the structured clothes,” said Cathy Paul, fashion director for Certified Fashion Guild. She also said special-size women have many more options, and noted an influx of leggings, long tops, suits with skinny belts, pleated skirts, shaped jackets, collars and cuffs and many more colors.
Linda Pietrasinski, Bloomingdale’s divisional merchandise manager for special sizes, said, “A large percentage of our business comes from the bridge market.” Among her favorites are: Ellen Tracy for “phenomenal” suits with color and jackets with excellent fits in large sizes; Anne Klein II petites, particularly knits and “well-priced” jackets, and Calvin Klein denims for petites.
Lord & Taylor for five years has created four catalogs in special sizes annually, two in large sizes and two in petites each spring and fall. It’s primarily to generate store traffic, though phone orders are taken.
The books have grown somewhat, with swimwear added a couple of years ago, reflecting suppliers becoming “more sophisticated” in special sizes, she said, adding, “Casual is much more updated than ever before. Manufacturers believe in color, and there is a larger-size customer who can also wear something that is also a little more shaped.”
Social occasion suppliers are also addressing special sizes, but she added that there could be more fashion reflected in dress areas.
Elaine Wally, principal in Doneger Buying Connection, the large size division of The Doneger Group, said denims are hot in large sizes.
Among bestsellers, she cited: plaid shirts with denim collars from Krazy Kat; white twill shirts with denim trim in baseball bodies from Cotton Express; denim vests and denim scooters from Adorn, and printed challis with denim from the Jaclyn T. division of Fritzi.
For fall, she said, “The contrast collar is a major issue. We are seeking denim with corduroy collars, denim with flannel collars.”