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Obesity, Recession Take Bite out of Fashion Dollar

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Two years ago when pouting ectomorphs channeled the new fall or spring collections on runways in Milan and Paris, people said, "I'd wear that."

Last year they said, "I'd wear that...if I had a job."

And this year people are saying "And the point of this display is, again?"

As waistlines grow and wallets shrink, the clothing dollar is quick to suffer. Apparel stores from discounters to luxury brands had their worst holiday season in four decades this year and some are closing their doors.

Of course even if people had the income and bodies for the recherche' runway looks, who dresses up anymore?

How many women even own pantyhose or a slip? (Undergarments that preceded thongs, for those born after 1992.)

Who is willing to mince in the baby steps required to wear a pencil skirt and get in and out of the car like Princess Di?

Who Woolites hand washables and steam irons linen like Mom did?

Once upon a time, people dressed up to fly. Now the flight attendants themselves don't dress up, leaning toward the black tights, sensible shoes and hair-pulled-back-in-a-barrette once known as the Bohemian look. (You want Hanes, they'd probably say? Pay us more!)

But the main reason for the fashion industry's malaise, of course, is the Gross National Product known as our growing obesity.

The average American woman weighs 163 today--sixteen pounds more than in 1995. Too bad she's not growing an inch a year in height.

No wonder designers are "cutting" their textiles with five percent Lycra and Spandex today; stretchy clothes fit by definition. (Our ancestors called the elastic waistband the "Devil's Playground" for this reason.)

No wonder they're pushing torso-forgiving styles like low-risers, baby doll tops, tunics and baggy hip-hop pants with no waists to not fit.

And there's another trick. The don't ask-don't tell/your-little-secret-is-safe-with-us system known as Size Inflation.

120 pound women who once wore size 8's are now size zero no thanks to anything they did. ("I like this diet.")

Of course some say we aren't heavier today at all; that our standards have simply become stricter--even anorexic. They point to Marilyn Monroe who allegedly wore a size 14.

But find a size 14 dress from the 1960s when MM would have worn it--next to the floral print shifts and sheaths in the thrift store--and just try to slither into it. Without the 1960s girdle that is.

Remember, Monroe's French contemporary Brigitte Bardot, had a 19 inch waist--the circumference of many women's upper thigh today--and the inch certainly hasn't inflated.

Nor are men off the hook.

Look at the vintage three-piece Saturday Night Fever disco suits that men wore before they had Big Mac bodies in thrift stores. They buttoned the vests.

And, speaking of Bardot, many have tried to explain the French dietary paradox of how a high saturated fat diet produces low coronary heart disease.

What about the American paradox? Despite low calorie foods, celebrity diets, fitness centers on every corner, personal trainers and general ab consciousness, people are fatter than ever?

Or as a fashion designer ruefully put it, "That's not dressing, that's upholstering."
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Martha Rosenberg is an award-winning investigative public health reporter who covers the food, drug and gun industries. Her first book, Born With A Junk Food Deficiency: How Flaks, Quacks and Hacks Pimp The Public Health, is distributed by (more...)

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