updated 2/2/2006 4:31:47 PM ET 2006-02-02T21:31:47

Memo to fashion designers: The French aren't quite as thin as you might think.

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French men and women are getting taller and heavier, and the average woman in France has gone up a dress size since 1970, according to a major fashion industry study released Thursday that measured about 12,000 people nationwide using 3-D imaging.

The study, commissioned by a French fashion industry association, aims to help clothing designers understand the sizes and shapes of their clients.

The industry's last major measurement campaign was in 1970, and France's current sizes are out of date, said Jean-Pierre Mocho, head of Pret a Porter Paris, the fashion expo where the study's results were released.

"Nobody should feel confused or abnormal if he doesn't fit perfectly into the sizes that are being offered," Mocho said.

Clothes should be comfortable, he said, making it sound like a revolutionary idea.

"This new notion of clothing's comfort corresponds to everyone's new expectations: the imperative search for well-being," he said.

The average French woman today is just over 5 feet 3 inches tall and 137.6 pounds, compared to 5 feet 2 1/2 inches tall and 133.6 pounds in 1970. Women's waistlines in particular have thickened.

The study's authors cited possible reasons for the changing sizes: a more diverse population because of immigration, better access to sports, altered eating habits.

Since 1970, France has been inundated with fast food restaurants, and families spend less time together at the dinner table and more time eating in front of the television.

Nonetheless, 83-year-old fashion designer Pierre Cardin said he finds the proportions of today's women more beautiful, as they are taller and sportier. So what's his idea of the perfect woman?

"The one you love, of course," he said.

Anorexia a growing problem
However, the results also showed a troubling problem: anorexia. Just over 8 percent of French women ages 15-25 are anorexic, the study said.

For French men, the standard size today is about 5 feet 7 1/2 inches tall and 170.6 pounds, compared to nearly 5-feet-6 inches and 158.7 pounds in 1970. Nearly one out of three French men is overweight, compared to one woman out of four.

"We're getting fatter more than we're getting taller," said Patrick Robinet, project manager of the study.

The French are larger than people in some countries that import its fashions, including Japan, China and Brazil. Britons and Americans are larger. The average height of an American woman, for example, is 5 feet 4 inches, and the average weight is 164.3 pounds, according to a study released in 2004 by the National Center for Health Statistics.

The study released Thursday measured people throughout France, from ages 5 to 70, in locations from shopping malls to offices to ensure a cross-section of the population. It was carried out from 2003 to 2005 using 3-D imaging technology that automatically noted 85 different measurements.

The study was commissioned by the French Union for the Clothing Industries and carried out by the French Institute of Textiles and Clothing.

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