NPD, a data-driven, market research group “estimates that 70 percent of women in the US wear a size 14 (EU 44, UK 18) or larger. However, less than 20 percent of apparel is made in those sizes.”
In fact, “only about an eighth of theclothing options offered online by U.S. department stores are in plus sizes. While the average U.S. consumer spends 934 dollars per year on non-plus-size clothing,buyers of plus-size clothing only spend about 637 dollars per year on clothing, on average” (Statista, 2018)
Business Insider states that “Christine Hunsicker, chief executive of Gwynnie Bee, a monthly subscription service for plus-size clothing, says larger clothes generally cost more because 60 to 70 percent of a garment’s price is determined by the fabric.”
Given that plus size clothing is more expensive, and there is less of it, it can be inferred that “plus-size” women, on average, buy less clothes. Even though the lack of selection in plus-size clothing has been very impactful on sales, companies continue to produce mostly straight fit clothes.
When they do produce plus size clothing, plus size clothing is typically modeled after the body frame of a woman who is not plus-size. Body-frame is defined by the width, density, and height of one’s skeletal structure. However, when it comes to plus size clothing, many times, this is not taken into account. Clothing lines create plus-size clothing for a smaller framed woman as if she had gained weight. Brands add inches and width but not dimension, and this can make for an awkward fit, a nonfit, a loose, or a tight fit on a “plus-size” woman.
Similarly, you may have noticed that some plus-size clothing is more form-fitting than others. That’s because a lot of plus-size clothing are made with elastane, spandex (expensive), and nylon. In a professional setting, this could pose unnecessary problems for a plus-size women as, unfortunately, women who wear tighter-looking clothing in a cooperate work environment often come under criticism. In turn, this further contributes to the profound stigma that these women face about their bodies.
In addition to “plus-size” bodies being stigmatized, the sections for these women are often a small, off to the side section in many stores. Women who are not straight fit are sectioned off and still struggle to find clothing that fits well despite the fact that they are the majority.
Since clothing is not catered to the majority, this poses the inevitable questions: are clothing implicitly telling plus size women - “Straight fit is elite. You should fit this. You need to fit this. Why don’t you fit this?”
This seems like a stretch, but you have to wonder.
This goes back to the lack of variety and the exclusion that plus-size women face in fashion every day. As mentioned before, the majority of clothing is made for women who are not plus-size. Designers normally create a sample size of 2 or 4. The pattern for this sample will be used to make multiple sizes; however, there are only so many sizes that one can make from this pattern before it gets distorted.
Likewise, many designers will stop at size 10 or 12. On the other hand, the models for plus size clothing are bigger, but these often times leaves out the woman who is in-between “plus-size” and “straight fit” completely out. The “in-between” woman may run into issues like pants fitting her waist but not her thighs or blouses fitting her torso but not her arms or her bust.
Given this, it can be concluded that plus-size fashion has been generalizing of body sizes above a size 10 and makes researchless presumptions the bodies of plus-size customers. Bodies vary, and while it is impossible for one brand to make a perfect fit for all women, clothing lines should at least be based on market research and on data the gives producers insight into how their buyers are shaped.
So, while the expansion of sizes, and more plus-size clothing is good, we need more variation and authenticity within plus-sizes. We need plus-size to mean not just one thing. And while creating an equitable shopping experience for women will cost these brands money up-front, the return on making clothing available to the 200 million Americans who wear a size 12 or above and don't have enough affordable or preferable options would be major.