If the average woman begrudges shopping for jeans, imagine what it was like for those in need of a specialty size, like petite, plus or long lengths.

“I used to think I’d never wear jeans again,” says Denise, 43. At 4-feet, 9-inches tall, she has always been a petite. But after having three children, she became a plus-size, too. Now she shops the plus-sized chains. “They have jeans that fit — and they don’t look like ‘grandma’ pants, either. No more feeling bad that I’m not a tall, skinny model.”

In the U.S., 65 million women age 20 and older – nearly 62% of adult women — are overweight or obese, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. And even though sizes vary in women’s apparel, 25% of women say thei r current pant size is 12-14, and nearly 23% are 15+, according to Cotton Incorporated’s Lifestyle Monitor™ survey of consumers.

Even if a woman isn’t a plus size, if she’s short or long of leg, traditional denim outlets can be unkind, forcing her to hem pants that puddle by eight inches or more, or inadvertently sport a modified Thom Browne look.

Cindy is 6-feet, 1-inch, and used to have a hard time finding “long” jeans that were long enough. Luckily, though, she’s finding more mainstream retailers, like J. Jill, that can fit her frame.

“Women of all shapes and sizes want the same thing – a selection of fashionable styles designed to fit them,” says Betsy Thompson, spokesperson. She says J. Jill’s Authentic Fit and Tried & True Fit jeans have wide appeal. Both are available in a full spectrum of sizes – misses 2-20, petite 0-18, tall 4-20 and woman’s 14W-28W.

Modern women grew up in jeans, and no matter what their size now, they have no intention of giving up their denim. Nearly 70% of women prefer to wear denim jeans rather than casual slacks, according to the Monitor. And the number of jeans they own has increased to 9 pairs, from 7.7 a year ago.

At Avenue stores, the specialty-sized denim business is “very significant,” according to Kellie Brown, spokesperson.

“It is a growing business,” she maintains, adding, “Denim is a brand-loyal business. When you find a product that fits you, you tend to return. Avenue has a specific mold created for their customers and Avenue’s denim collection definitely has a strong repeat customer.”

The Monitor findings validate Brown’s assertion. Nearly 80% of all women say “fit/cut/length” is the most important reason a certain brand is their favorite.

Alison Sokolove, fashion editor for The Tobe Report, says creating the right fit for the plus-size is a tough undertaking.

“Svoboda denim does it best since they already specialize in plus sizes,” Sokolove says. She adds, though, that more makers are joining the plus-size ranks. “Other labels like James Jeans and PPD will be soon entering the market with exclusive, select styles for stores like Nordstrom and Saks.”

The petite market is also ripe for growth. Why? Unlike a suit or special occasion dress, jeans – even premium denim – are considered casual wear. And most women cannot justify the time and expense to have them hemmed.

That’s why “petite denim is huge for retailers that carry it, especially specialty stores like Banana Republic or Ann Taylor,” Sokolove says. “Most people do not want to pay to tailor the garments. They want it ‘as is’ off the rack.”

J. Jill’s Thompson adds that “it’s a fallacy to think the only difference between misses and petite sizes is length.”

“There are a host of fit specifications that are taken into account to ensure a balanced fit – front rise, back rise, where the knee hits,” Thompson says. “Sometimes subtle style adjustments are necessary – like the size and position of back pocket, for example. If you shorten a bootleg, flare or wide leg jeans, you essentially cut off a chunk of the intended design.”

Another point to remember about specialtysized customers is that just because they are shorter or bigger than average women does not mean they’ll accept less fashionable apparel.

Sokolove says the designers’ challenge is to rework a popular look for the different body types.

“It can be challenging to fit a skinny jean to a plus size, or a wide leg on petite, so the trends must be adapted and manipulated,” she says. “Maybe it becomes a straight leg instead of a skinny and a modified flare instead of a full-blown wide leg.”

Avenue’s Brown says the plus-size customer is really no different than the “size 6” customer.

“They want to look just as fashionable as the average size 6 woman,” Brown asserts. Avenue makes sure every style it offers is made from the mold and silhouette that caters to its customer, so any customer can pretty much pull off any style.

Avenue now offers exclusive women’s lines from top denim designers such as Seven7, Yanuk and Antik Denim. Brown says the designers were presented with Avenue’s plus-size specs, so the labels could develop the right fit for the retailer’s customer.

Says Brown: “The plus-size customer wants high-end designer jeans as much as their smallersized friends.”

This story is one in a series of articles based on findings from Cotton Incorporated’s Lifestyle Monitortracking research. Appearing Thursdays in these pages, each story will focus on a specific topic as it relates to the American consumer and her attitudes and behavior regarding clothing, appearance, fashion, fiber selection and many other timely, relevant subjects.

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