Plus-Size Ladies Lingerie Boom Giving Relief to Cross-Dressers

Ladies who lunch a little too often-the size-16 smart

set-are enjoying a fashion revolution these days. They have their own Italian

designers, like Gianfranco Ferré and Marina Rinaldi. They have their own floor

at Saks Fifth Avenue and their own fashion magazine , Mode . They even have their own fashion shows: Lane Bryant hosted

a big one in September; Queen Latifah modeled.

Soon, Their Highnesses won’t even have to cram their

thighnesses into size-12 Tommy Hilfiger. Next fall, the American clothing giant

will expand his Tommy Hilfiger Woman line to cover sizes 14 to 22. “There’s

obviously customer demand,” said Hilfiger spokesperson Caren Bell.

plus-size women have never had it better. But what about,

you know, fake women? It turns out

that the fashion world’s sudden fixation upon plus-size females has an

unexpected beneficiary: boys who like to dress like girls.

“You can get [clothes] all over the place now!” proclaimed

Lady Bunny, a New York drag queen who has performed at clubs including Spa.

And it’s about time, girl! Until the recent wave of

plus-size fashion, members of New York’s substantial cross-dressing community

were having a hell of a time finding designer clothes that fit. “Men have those

thick manly wrists and that barreled-out ribcage,” Lady Bunny explained. Wide

in the chest and small in the hips, even short fellas have a tough time

squeezing themselves into a traditionally-cut size 12.

“I’m in a constant search for clothes,” said Sultana, a 40

DD drag queen and regular belly dancer at bars and clubs in Greenwich Village.

“I need something sexy and revealing.”

In the past, many of the

city’s frustrated cross-dressers turned to custom tailoring to meet their

clothing needs. But now, the sudden surge of plus-size designers-and

accommodating salespeople in plus-size departments-has these fashionable

denizens dancing around in their 8th St. stilettos. Said Sultana: “It’s

definitely getting easier … we tell each other where to get things.”

Indeed, New York’s

cross-dressers now have a dizzying array of options. On a recent morning on the

10th floor at Saks-”Salon Z,” to the big-boned lady or gentleman in the

know-the department was empty, except for an occasional salesperson strutting

about. The floor was studded with wide-hipped mannequins.

Cross-dressing customers

have been an open secret in Salon Z for some time. Sales associate Lela Krtinic

said that these shoppers tend to fall into two categories: liberated

cross-dressers who have no qualms about asking for a fitting room, and

clandestine ones who claim to be shopping for someone else.

“I can guess about them ,” Ms. Krtinic said of the latter

category. She recalled a male customer who claimed to be buying for his wife

but placed a dress up against his chest and exclaimed, “Oh, wow, that looks

great!” When Ms. Krtinic asked if the customer’s wife was tall, the man

replied, “Yes. Probably my height.”

” That made me wonder,” Ms. Krtinic said.

Over at Bloomingdale’s,

salespeople offered similar testimony. “There are some nice guys,” said Arlene,

a sales associate in Bloomie’s Ellen Tracy department. “They come in here, they

know the salesperson, they go right to her with their underwear in a bag-a

stuffed bra, everything.”

What’s more,

cross-dressers tend to go for the pricey threads, Arlene said. And they’re

polite, too. “I’d rather have men than women,” Arlene insisted. “The men are

much nicer. Much nicer to work with.”

She mentioned a customer who she claimed was a coach for the Yankees. “The

easiest customer I have,” she said. “But he’s buying strictly for his wife.”

Joanna Martinez, the

manager of Saks’ Salon Z, said her store has a favorite cross-dressing client,

too. “We respect him as much as some of our female clients, if not more,” Ms.

Martinez said. “We dress him from top to bottom. He gets as much attention as

the next guy-I mean, girl .”

Ms. Martinez confessed

that dealing with a cross-dressing clientele will occasionally trip her up:

“Sometimes I’ll think someone’s a cross-dresser, but he’ll really be a woman.

Some of these women just look like men.”

But by and large, cross-dressing

customers are a fashion-savvy treat, salespeople said. Another Salon Z regular

is a fortysomething sales executive whose own wife is well aware of his

predisposition toward women’s fashions, said sales associate Kay Connaughton.

He’s also a customer who has personally benefited from the explosion of

plus-size women’s fashions-the man is technically a size 18, Ms. Connaugton

said, but his hips are too slim for most 18′s. Therefore, he’s come to favor

Italian cuts-Gianfranco Ferré and Rinaldi are favorites.

“He’s very

fashion-forward,” Ms. Connaughton gushed. “He’s very comfortable about himself.

Whenever I suggest a new fashion-the new leathers or whatever-he’s always

open.”

Everywhere, New York’s

cross-dressers are celebrating their

options! options! options! Lady Bunny said she goes to Lane Bryant uptown

for housewife chic. Sultana, meanwhile, has been hitting every plus-size store

from the garment district to the Upper East Side. “Macy’s is nice,” she said.

“Very incognito … Saks, too.” Sultana took her Mom to Saks, in fact-but not in

drag.

Sultana also raved about

the treatment during a recent visit to Express. “I didn’t show up in women’s

clothes,” Sultana said, “but by the end they figured it out. They even gave me

my own dressing room, with all the dresses I wanted.”

How do the designers

themselves feel about these customers? Fashion people tend to be rather liberal

folk, so it’s not surprising to hear the makers of plus-size women’s clothes

embrace their cross-dressing clients. “This is the first I have heard of

this-but anything is possible in New York,” Mr. Ferré said from Italy. “The

extraordinary capacity of people in [that] city and those who live there is to

adapt … to everything.” Said Marina Rinaldi vice president Julia Larese de

Santo: “A customer is a customer.”

For New York’s

cross-dressing consumers, this welcome fashion trend figures to continue. After

all, Rubenesque shoppers account for 27 percent of the women’s apparel

market-or $26 billion a year. Tommy Hilfiger won’t be the last to jump on the

plus-size bandwagon. Once unimaginable, it’s not so crazy to dream of a brave

new fashion world, with size-16 Versace gowns and Gucci corsets-and legions of

happy, fitted, fabulous boys.

“We all have the same

goal in mind,” said a salesperson at Express. “And that goal is totally fashion .”