It was almost time at the Syms discount clothing store in Falls Church, and employes believed they spotted a woman taking a leather jacket and stuffing it under her skirt.

Tom LaMotta, the store's general manager, said store workers stopped the woman and asked her to open her handbag and step to the side of the store.

The woman, described by onlookers as heavyset and about 40, would have none of that.

"All right, damn it. I'll prove it to you," the woman snapped. And then, as a handful of customers and workers stared in a mazement, she proceeded to prove her innocence, peeling off her clothes in the middle of the store.

"I was at the cashier writing a check," said Susan Kalla, 25. "She started to undo her dress; then she just reached down and pulled the dress over her head. People were aghast. She took off everything except her bra. Nobody could believe it."

The woman, who was never identified, dressed and left the store.

According to store officials, shoplifting has been a serious problem at the store, located on East Broad Street near the Seven Corners Shopping Center. "When you say 'some' shoplifting , it's like comparing an ice cube to the Antarctic.It's a real plague, a cancer," said Terry Engle, the general assistant manager.

Store manager LaMota said he found nothing humorous about the disrobing incident, which occurred Tuesday night. "She made a spectacle. I told her it [undressing] wasn't neccessary."

LaMotta said the incident will do nothing to stop the store from attempting to curb shoplifting.

"I was in court last week with two shoplifters who had assaulted me. When police towed in their car, they found a handgun inside," LaMotta said.

Shopper Kalla, however, found the event humorous. "When she started to strip, some people just went looking for a comfortable seat."