- The Washington Times - Sunday, February 10, 2008

Tall women like Cindy McBride of Reston have to work harder than others at finding clothes that fit, but they have more options than their mothers did.

Mrs. McBride, who is 6 feet 1 inch tall, shops at stores that carry longer sizes, such as Banana Republic, and orders clothes online from retailers’ Web sites, including those for JCrew and the Gap.

The 49-year-old is not alone in noticing that the tall, lean look seen on runways — including during the just-concluded New York Fashion Week — does not translate into clothes that fit tall women in ready-to-wear stores. A woman who is 5 feet 9 inches to 5 feet 11 inches or taller is considered tall, depending on who is asked.

“The good thing for tall women today is it is easier for them to shop,” says John Mincarelli, a fashion consultant and professor of fashion merchandising at the Fashion Institute of Technology in New York City. “They know which designers tend to carry goods they can wear.”

Online shopping is the best bet for taller women because retailers can offer a full size range on their Web sites when they don’t provide it in their stores, Mr. Mincarelli says. Stocking and displaying sizes that do not sell as well as others is not cost-effective in a business that operates on a per-square-foot basis, he says.

Tall women also can shop in the stores that carry long or tall sizes. At times, some trends accommodate their height, such as long, blousy tops and pants cut long enough for high heels. Add to that the variety of sleeve lengths available, from short and three-quarter to full length, some with cuffs that can be rolled down, along with pants from capri to ankle length, Mrs. McBride says.

“It’s easier to find things that fit and are fashionable,” she says, adding that in the past two to three years, she has found it easier to find longer pants and shirts.

“You’re not so locked in,” she says.

Mrs. McBride and women like Washington Mystics player Gillian Goring Conley, a 6-foot-7-inch woman who calls Fort Smith, Ark., home, have an easier time shopping than they did as teenagers.

“I used to wear boy jeans until I found the Buckle’s Lucky brand,” says Ms. Goring Conley, 24, whose inseam is 37 to 38 inches. “I was 21 when I got my first pair of girl jeans.”

As for shirts, the sleeves often are not long enough, so Ms. Goring Conley says she tries to find shirts with cuffs that can be cut off and tailored so the shirt fits.

Ms. Goring Conley also shops at tall women’s clothing stores. When she is playing in town, she might go to the Tall Girl Shop in Tysons Corner Center, which attracts shoppers from out of state who cannot find clothing closer to home.

Many of the women who shop at the Tall Girl Shop, a chain that caters exclusively to taller women, say they find it difficult to find clothes that fit, including pants with a long enough inseam and shirts with sleeves that reach to their wrists, says Alyana Jolivette, manager of the Tysons Corner store. The shop carries inseams of 34 to 37 inches.

“A lot of tall females are looking for nice designer clothes as well,” Miss Jolivette says, adding that shopping online for tall fashions is not an option for some women. “Just because it’s long enough doesn’t mean it’s going to fit.”

With retailers such as the Tall Girl Shop catering to women’s fashion needs, tall women may not have to resort to wearing men’s clothing, sewing their own clothes or having their clothes custom-made, tailored or altered.

“Yes, it’s more accessible. It’s more expensive, but you’re able to get clothes that actually fit,” Ms. Goring Conley says.

Shirts fitted for the tall woman are more of a problem than pants because mass-market retailers may carry longer jeans and pants but not necessarily shirts, says Jo Paoletti, associate professor of American studies at the University of Maryland in College Park. She holds a doctorate in textiles.

“Part of the problem is women’s sizes have been these meaningless numbers,” says Ms. Paoletti, who is 5 feet 9 inches tall. “It’s more useful if you have measurements, like a 34-inch inseam.”

Ms. Paoletti says she wears a size 12, 14 or 16, depending on the brand.

“Every manufacturer has its own formula. That’s why you should try things on,” she says.

The clothes found on the racks are not the same as those worn on the runway and in photo shoots, Ms. Paoletti says. Clothes for models are one-of-a-kind garments cut to their bodies, while ready-to-wear manufacturers take the designs and recut them for a particular line of clothing.

The ready-to-wear clothes are cut using a fit model who stands about 5 feet 7 or 8 inches — shorter than the runway models and taller than the average woman, who is 5 feet 4 inches tall, Ms. Paoletti says. The cut taken from the fit model represents the way the clothes are supposed to fit in the hem, length and the amount of ease or how loose the fit is, she says.

“The fit model is more realistic, not as slender and tall [as runway models] and represents what manufacturers see as the way a customer wants the clothing to fit,” she says.

The market for tall women’s clothing is not fully realized and remains untapped, Mr. Mincarelli says.

“Tall women have always been frustrated, unless they’re rich enough to buy designer clothing. … Tall women should have options in different price categories,” he says. “We’ve had big and tall men’s stores for years.”

Consider that Mrs. McBride loves being tall and likes seeing the confidence her 10-year-old daughter has in her own height.

“I love seeing tall, confident girls,” she says. “I always wanted tall girls to embrace their height.”


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