The average western world woman is about 25 pounds heavier than she was in 1960. Yet women’s plus-size clothing, generally defined as size 14 and up, still makes up only about 9 percent of the $190 billion spent annually on clothes.
What’s wrong with this equation? It’s not that plus-size women aren’t into fashion. Rather, thefashion industry doesn’t seem interested in them.
The fashion industry has long spent more time, money and marketing on clothing for taut bodies than for curvier ones because it’s easier and more profitable to do so. But retail analysts and plus-size women say there’s something else at play: Stereotypes about larger women not wanting to dress fashionably keep companies from making clothes that are flattering to them. And in turn, that discourages them from spending more.
There is still an interesting stigma attached to plus-size fashion and the woman who wears it and many think ‘Oh, she doesn’t want to draw attention, live life, date, be confident, wear fitted clothes with bold colors and patterns,’ when the exact opposite is true.
In the 1930s, retailers began adopting even-numbered sizes commonly ranging from 14 to 24. But those sizes bore little resemblance to those used today — a size 24 back then, for instance, would be a size 14 today — so the issues of not having enough plus-size fashions likely was not as pronounced.
The sizes stayed the same but the numbers decreased gradually, about 1 size a decade. This is known as “vanity sizing” because it gives women the impression that they’re fitting into a smaller size.
Some retailers have started to do just that.H&M, a European-based retailer that sells trendy clothing in the U.S. equivalent of sizes 1 through 16, last summer featured plus-size model Jennie Runk, who is a size 12 or 14, in itsswimsuit ads. “Our aim is not to convey a certain message or show an ideal, but to have a campaign which can illustrate the collection in an inspiring and clear way,” said Andrea Roos, an H&M spokeswoman.
But for every chain adding to their plus-size offerings, there are many others that continue to cater to smaller sizes. Abercrombie & Fitch, for instance, has been criticized for only offering sizes 0 to 10 and its CEO’s comments that the chain caters to “cool” and “attractive” kids.
The company says it is an “aspirational brand” which targets a “particular segment of customers.” The comments received widespread backlash online and Abercrombie has since begun anti-bullying initiatives. But it has not started offering bigger sizes.