NEW YORK -- Fitting a fit frame isn't always easy.
While clothing designers and retailers gave more attention lately to finding solutions for their petite and plus-size customers, those women with an athletic build -- who could be tall or short, more narrow or wide -- have their own set of dressing challenges that certainly don't have a one-size-fits-all solution.
Pro surfer Rosy Hodge has "buff arms" that she tries to balance with colorful scarves, while fellow surfer Kassia Meador wears a lot of oversized tank and T-shirts even though she's not sure they flatter her body type.
Rachel Roosevelt, a former member of the U.S. Ski Team, now wears mostly skirt suits to her job as a macroeconomics researcher, but nothing too short, considering her conservative career environment. She also stands 5 foot 10, and that means curling her legs in awkward positions under conference tables.
Still, she said, she's most comfortable in sneakers and her gym clothes.
"I'm still proud of my body, and my legs are the way they are because of the hours I've spent in the gym -- even if they're not what is considered 'classic beauty' in other people's minds," she said.
Size and shape
Working with many real women instead of only models on photo shoots, Adam Glassman, the creative director for O The Oprah Magazine, said he's noticed an increase in "the athletic type." He can't quite define it, but he said he knows it when he sees it.
"It isn't just about athletes," Glassman said. "It has nothing to do with height. You tend to have broad shoulders and a broad back, and your arms are naturally toned or you work out -- the tummy is the same thing. Perhaps you have not a lot of curves, with a straight waistline and square hips, thighs muscular and built calves, and a smaller bust."
He adds: "You can have all of that, two of the above, part of one. It ranges from gymnasts to swimmers."
Glassman's magazine devotes several pages of its August issue to fashion guidance for this group, including Roosevelt, former college basketball player Zakiya Proctor and volleyball player Jessica Vertullo Maher.
"I think the fashion industry is stepping up to the plate in offering things for more sizes, but you still have to be willing to search," he said.
Most importantly, women -- no their matter size and shape -- should look for comfortable and flattering clothes with an end goal of creating a lovely, feminine hourglass shape.
"We're not talking Jessica Rabbit, but you want the illusion of shoulders and hips in proportion with each other and your waist to be smaller than those."
Soften the look
Athletic types often have the advantage of being taut and firm, he said, but that also can leave the impression of being tough and tomboyish. He likes to see women soften their look with ruffles, ruching, flowing skirts such as a tulip shape, a top with a defined waist or a tie at the waist, and puffy sleeves -- which are trendy right now.
Belts, Glassman adds, can be flattering to an athletic figure, although you might not end up wearing them on the natural waistline. "You need to find the right thickness: Is it the Michelle Obama thick Alaia belt vs. the half-inch belt?"
Obama knows how to show off the results of her hard work in the gym, favoring the cinched waist emphasized by that black belt that she has worn around the world, as well as her famous sleeveless tops. Why would anyone want to hide the bodies they've spent so much time getting in shape, Glassman wonders.
Halter and racerback necklines are a right many athletes have earned, and a V-neck tank top is their privilege, he said, but short sleeves that hit at what is probably the thickest part of the upper arm will exaggerate the shoulder line and, most likely, make arms look thick instead of buff. (A full-length sleeve is probably OK, but a bracelet sleeve cut just above the wrist will make your arms look shorter, often a desired effect of very tall women, he said.)
Designer Adam Lippes said athletic women should probably wear more dresses than they're used to. Either a dress with a structured top and roomier skirt -- perhaps with pleats -- or a draped dress, perhaps made of fluid jersey, would both be good starting points, Lippes recommends.
Fabric choices are as important as silhouette, he adds, naming stretch linen, silk or crepe as typically flattering options. "Fabric matters when it comes to how a garment fits... If you use a fabric with stretch, it can be really beautiful, and it can be very sexy."
Pants, Lippes acknowledges, are going to be harder to find so you need to carve out time to try on likely dozens of pairs. The good news is, he said, that once you find a brand that fits, the construction shouldn't change much from season to season.
Glassman suggests skipping the ultra-skinny jeans altogether. Wide-leg is your better bet, he said.
Take the leap
Hodge, the surfer, is digging jumpsuits and maxi dresses.
Traveling, she adds, has opened her eyes to fashion.
"I think finding things that complement your personality and body is important. If you don't feel comfortable in something, don't wear it, because it will reflect in the way you carry yourself."
Her teammate Meador isn't quite as into clothes, however.
"I do really like getting fancy when the occasion calls and I have something rad to wear... but most of the time I just wanna rock some jeans and a T."