The first thing you have to do if you are a large woman, says Angel Smedley, is admit that you are a plus size.
"The size should not matter," she says. "It shouldn't keep you from looking fabulous. You don't have to be a size 6 to look beautiful.
"We (big women) tend to be noticed anyway. Wouldn't it be nice to be noticed for looking fabulous?"
Smedley knows what she's talking about. The director of media services for the Philadelphia College of Textiles & Science, she is also a plus-size model. Recently, she was emcee at a runway seminar for plus-size women at Macy's King of Prussia, Pa., store, where she presided over a show presented by six plus-size models in everything from activewear to career looks to evening clothes. And all the clothes came right off the racks _ in sizes 18 to 22.
With polls showing that 54 percent of women in the United States now wear sizes 14 and above, it's encouraging to see this group getting the fashion attention it deserves.
Smedley's advice to big women starts with the basics: Don't try to wear sizes that are too small, and buy good-quality foundation garments.
"Getting the proper fit in bras and underwear is very important," she says. "You can have a beautiful outfit, but if the foundation isn't right, it isn't going to look good."
Next, she says, decide how you want to look _ classic, trendy, businesslike or casual. Then start to build a wardrobe, bit by bit. She prefers coordinating separates rather than dresses, because they are more flexible and allow for a better fit on top and bottom.
"Pick pieces that go together," she advises, so that you can mix and match for a variety of outfits. If you buy a beige suit and blouse, for instance, you could get another jacket in a print for a completely different outfit. "Try to think about what it is that you want; don't buy on impulse."
She also suggests that women go shopping with a friend, somebody who will tell them honestly how an outfit looks, especially from the rear.
Although she laments the lack of trendy clothes in plus sizes _ "I'm 25. I want trendy things, because I'm not all business all the time." _ Smedley is delighted to see more designers offering bigger sizes in fashionable and elegant clothes. Among them: Carole Little, Ellen Tracy, Jones New York (including Jones Sport), Liz Claiborne's Elisabeth line, and Jennifer Moore, Macy's own line.
Retail consultant Mary Schmidt says Elisabeth uses a size 18 fit model for plus sizings, instead of the usual practice of upsizing from a size 8 for all sizes.
"It's an attempt to get better fit," says Schmidt. Scaling up proportionately from a size 8 can cause such things as shoulders and armholes to be way out of whack for a size 22. Using a size 18, says Schmidt, makes for more realistic proportions.
A few points for plus-size women to keep in mind:
A monochromatic look helps to make you seem taller and more slender, but make sure your hose and shoe color match your outfit.
Check your hem lengths. Your skirt shouldn't stop at the thickest part of your legs.
Likewise jackets. Don't have them end at the widest part of the hips.
Don't overdo fussy accessories, but don't neglect accessories altogether. And keep such things as earrings in proportion to your size _ earrings probably should never be smaller than a quarter.
Wearing a large pin on your shoulder above the bustline helps to broaden the shoulders and makes the waist look smaller.
A longer, straighter skirt will make you look more slender.
You can adapt most fashion statements. If your favorite fashion magazine shows a sweater tied around the hips, try tying yours around the shoulders. It will have the same effect without adding bulk where you don't need it.