The number of American women who buy large-size clothes is, well, growing.

According to the market-research firm NPD Group, half of all American women wear a size 14 or larger. In 1997, sales of larger sizes made up a hefty 25 percent of the women's apparel market, whereas petite sizes accounted for a relatively small 4 percent of the $90 billion business. These data, which were pub-lished in The Wall Street Journal, also indicate that the average American woman is 5'4" and weighs 144 pounds.Figuratively speaking, we're more Monica Lewinsky than Gwyneth Paltrow.

If you don't have a perfect body, don't fret. Nobody does. Not even fashion designers.

A Deseret News reporter who covered New York fashion shows several years ago recalls seeing a designer come onto the stage wearing the same mini skirt her leggy, ultra-thin models had just paraded down the runway in. "The designer looked terrible," recalls our reporter.

But for every negative, you have a positive. You have a large

bustline, but your waist is trim. You have a noticeable tummy, but your legs are knockouts.

The art of choosing clothes is in finding something that camouflages your flaws and enhances your strengths.

Often, you can tell just by looking in the mirror. "You know if it looks bad," said Richard Mauro, who works with New York designer Joan Vass. You can tell "if this skirt is too short for those legs."

Dr. Michelle Hyde is a member of the clothing and textiles faculty at Brigham Young University. She also works as a model. Here are some of her suggestions for handling common figure imperfections.

Try them on for size.

Pear shape

If your hips are disproportionately big, balance them by adding width to your shoulders or your bustline. Puff sleeves, cap sleeves or a panel of horizontal color across your shoulders or bustline are examples. If you wear a pantsuit or suit jacket with a skirt, choose a jacket that comes to your thigh (below where your hip bone meets your thigh bone, as the song goes).

Other options include a semi-fitted dress with princess seams (seams or long darts located midway between the side seams and the center front), a straight or semi-fitted coat and a gently flared skirt that comes just below the knee or longer. Hillary Rodham Clinton comes to mind when you think of this silhouette.

To disguise a protruding stomach, Hyde suggests sweaters and jackets worn open, coat dresses, inconspicuous waistlines and semi-full skirts. Avoid skirts with pleats or ones that have fullness in the abdomen.

Stirrup pants, as comfortable as they feel, are verboten. "I want to be the fashion police and hand them a ticket," she said, referring to pear-shaped women who don stirrup pants.

The thick waist

Hyde says these people usually have lovely limbs. Clothes should have a dominant vertical line. That means over-blouses or hip-length sweaters. Jackets or sweaters that end at your waistline generally don't look good. Tops should be loose-fitting. "Clothing needs to be full enough to not pull tight under the abdomen. No tank tops, no tight sweaters."

Women with thick waists can generally wear shorter skirts. "We call them the 26-inch skirt. If they have good legs, they can wear a 22-inch skirt," says Hyde. Emphasize the neck or shoulder line. The late Princess Di, believe it or not, had a thick waist."Diana did that all the time with her jewelry, with the beaded evening gown that had the collar that came up toward her neck."

The rectangle

People with this shape tend to gain weight all over. Hyde says you should avoid fabrics that cling to your body. On the other hand, don't wear bulky fabrics or layered clothing. They add unnecessarily to your dimensions. Choose gently fitted styles. A tailored suit with a good fit is an example.

You may wear a belt, but it shouldn't be tight. Avoid tank tops. Buy tops with fabric that drapes. A long, double-breasted jacket is a good look. The buttons create a vertical panel and the longer jacket lengthens the silhouette. TV talk-show host Rosie O'Donnell is an example of a rect-an-gle.

To look taller

Create a smooth look from head to toe, advises Hyde. Don't wear bulky garments or layered clothes. Single-breasted designs, one-piece dresses, skirts below the knee or longer, long (below the ankle) pants, slightly flared skirts and a vertical collar all contribute to a longer silhouette. Actress Renee Zellweger, featured in the movie "One True Thing" with Meryl Streep, is an example of a petite silhouette.