Hefty Girls Are Really Big; Mumsy Flowers Don’t Do It

Fleshy, fashionable New Yorkers are seething. Stylish plus-size girls, like biographer Meredith Etherington-Smith, are royally pissed off because they can’t

Fleshy, fashionable New Yorkers are seething.

Stylish plus-size girls, like biographer Meredith Etherington-Smith, are royally pissed off because they can’t find anything hip to wear. “Plus-size stores are a waistless land–a ghetto of boxy clothes in horrid prints and cheap fabrics. You come out looking like you’re wearing a pup tent.”

“If it wasn’t for Zoran, I would be well and truly buggered,” she said of the label sold at Bergdorf Goodman and Saks Fifth Avenue. “I satiate my fashion cravings with oversexed stilettos from Mr. Blahnik, jeweled Pashminas, huge tribal necklaces and extremely exotic bags. My latest is an edgy 40’s emerald green croc number.”

But is there really such a dearth of stylish drag for larger gals? Or are Meredith and her ilk just bitching because they can’t be bothered to get off their Rubenesque butts and go shopping?

I decided to investigate.

To help me navigate the “hefty hideaways” of Manhattan, I enlisted the services of a friend, Ann Ogden, a designer for Lane Bryant. We started at Salon Z in the upper bowels of Saks, where familiar labels are hard to find: There was some Oscar de la Renta, Italian über -chunk Gianfranco Ferré and Marina Rinaldi–and that’s about it. My Salon Z pick: a black sweater smothered in large black sequins ($265) and a gauzy chartreuse trench ($365), to be worn over a black cocktail dress ($284), all by somebody called Tomatsu.

As we trekked down from the ninth floor, Ann was irate and I couldn’t help wondering why, for example, Dries Van Noten isn’t designing clothes for larger gals? RiFAT Ozbek? Pudgy Yamamoto? Romeo Jiggly? But seriously, folks, the spreading baby boomer has all the cash–and, more importantly, she knows and cares about fashion.

“The potential is gigantic,” said Ann. “Did I tell you we’re putting Anna Nicole Smith in Times Square this week–it’s the first stripping billboard in history. She’ll be naked by Labor Day.”

As we bused our way up Madison Avenue to 125th Street, Ann peppered her tirade with random verses from “Baby Got Back” by Sir Mix-a-Lot. Ann (rapping): “To the beanpole dames in the magazines / You ain’t it Miss Thang/Give me a sista, I cannot resist her /Red beans and rice did not miss her.”

Ann (speaking normally): “I bet you’ve never seen a criss-cross halter top in a size 28, have you?” she asked.

I hadn’t.

West 125th Street was packed with proud, chunky goddesses of all ages, strutting their stuff and basking in the admiring gazes and compliments of every man on the street. Needless to say, the playful and non-discriminatory badinage was invariably directed at the ladies with magnificently pronounced derrières.

Lane Bryant has only one branch in Manhattan (222-224 West 125th Street, 678-0546); it’s one of the chain’s most profitable stores. It’s also where, according to Ann, “we test all the really hip stuff before allowing uptight white people to buy it.”

The first thing I saw on entering was a very focused offering of leopard print merchandise: pants, shirts, an underwire baby doll. The only thing small about these happening clothes was the price tag; a fab leopard slip dress with lace-up sides is $25.

Manager Valerie Felfer guided me over to a rack of what looked like laundry bags on hangers. These were the legendary halter tops. They come in a dizzying range of fabrications and permutations: fake-croc ciré, cotton X-halter, Ultrasuede, etc. All size 14 to 28 and they all seem to be $19.50. The size 28 Ultrasuede halter would actually make a great beach hammock for diminutive moi .

While I came to terms with the total lack of hanger appeal of these gargantuan garments, Ann explained the magic of a plus-size halter. “If a big chick wears a muumuu she invariably looks like a mountain. A halter top actually bisects and minimizes her upper torso, and we plumper girls have gorgeous arms.” On cue, a zaftig young shopper runwayed out of the fitting room in a white X-halter looking gorgeously empowered, and received a ripple of applause.

What about the bottoms? Snakeskin jeans ($49.50); Capri pants in black stretch cotton ($39.50). Ann’s expert advice: “Narrow the upper torso and draw attention to everything below the knee with strappy shoes and a damn good pedicure.” Also: In the absence of a validating designer label, Ann, a size 14, says: Don’t buy crap. “Visualize it in a size 6; and then ask yourself, ‘Would a skinny fashion addict like Madonna go batshit over this garment?'”

My tip for plus-size groovy girls: Move to Harlem–or at least shop there.

Stop sending mumsy flower arrangements to all your hip friends. Just stop it! A middlebrow flower arrangement can make a young chick feel as if she’s in the hospital waiting to have a colostomy, or bunion removal at best.

Florist Jodi Zimmerman (734-7194) has both old-guard and Aerin Lauderish clients, but she could never understand why hip chicks were sending the same flowers as Upper East Side matrons. “It’s hard to make flowers look groovy. So I decided to revolutionize my vessels and make them edgy.”

Jodi covers mundane glass vases with pink, fake-Pucci-printed stretch cotton, and fills them with as many pink roses as she can. The effect is very Lilly Pulitzer on acid. The cost: $90. Or ask Jodi about her fur-covered vessel. “It’s $300. Very Puff Daddy. When the flowers die he could keep the fur and use it as a muff.”

You’re dying for a vintage Pulsar digital watch, so, because you are impulsive and oral, you buy it on eBay, and now it doesn’t work. How annoyed are you? And, more importantly, how stupid are you?

John F. Kennedy Jr. bought his vintage watch from ReGeneration (38 Renwick Street, 741-2102) and so should you. They have men’s and ladies’ styles in stock–mostly stainless steel and often in their original boxes ($250 and up). And if your watch ceases to function within six months, Chris or Val will be happy to replace it.

While you are there, check out their major “mid-century” furniture offering, and that of Full House, another store on the fourth floor.

Stylish plus-size shoppers who miss the Carnival Strippers exhibit at the Whitney (through Sept. 10) deserve to feel wretched about their bodies.

The show grew out of an amazing 1970’s photo essay by photographer Susan Meiselas. These lumpy and liberated plus-size girls have power over men and a laudable comfort level with their own bodies.

For the show, Ms. Meiselas also edited 150 hours of taped interviews with strippers and carnies. Listen to these tapes before viewing the photographs; the carnival “talkers” are experts at building customer anticipation: “This show has more wiggles than a Singer sewing machine.”

If you are unable to extract anything exhilarating from these raw and terrifying photographs, stop by the Whitney’s The Art of Alice Neel show (through Sept. 17) and marvel at the bravado of the 1980 portrait of her octogenarian, nude, plus-size self.

You can e-mail Simon Doonan at simonsays@observer.com.

Hefty Girls Are Really Big; Mumsy Flowers Don’t Do It