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Where Have All The Plus Size Clothes Gone?

By Sarah Conley · June 29, 2009 · 0 Comments ·

The economy is getting a really bad reputation.  Every product failure, bottom line and red number has a company, an economist or a reporter blaming the "recession".  It is no secret that major corporations have taken a hit, not to mention some small businesses are barely making ends meet. Why does every loss have to be because of the economy?  Whatever state the economy is in, I'll leave it to the analysts to debate as I am no financial expert.  What I do know is that we have to change the way we think (and the way we shop), especially if we want to encourage the growth of the plus size market.

Major retailers like Ann Taylor are pulling size 16s from their selling floor to offer them exclusively online. Ellen Tracy and Bloomingdale's have also made moves towards eliminating their plus size lines entirely. Old Navy initially offered plus sizes in stores until the line performed so poorly due to fit that it was reintroduced online.  Who is to blame for major brands being unable to adequately serve the plus size consumer?  It's certainly not the consumer's fault, as plus size women do not wander streets of the world au naturale!

Additional fabrics, patterns and fit models cost a brand 10% more to produce on average.  As a plus size consumer, I am fully aware that it takes more fabric to cover my body than a size 2 or 10 and I am prepared for those costs to be passed on to me.  Designer Tadashi Shoji utilizes a plus size fit model to adapt his designs for larger sizes, as many companies do.  If a man who creates gorgeous evening wear worn by celebrities can understand the need, why can't brands that embrace the working woman? Plus size women have different needs than straight sizes, however the same can be said for other segments within the fashion marketplace, such as petite or tall sizes.

Each woman has her own challenges in regards to finding clothing which best suits her body type and not every customer can be served 100% of the time. Sales of apparel sized 16+ have dropped 8% from March 2008 through March 2009 in comparison to 2% for straight sizes. The NPD Group estimated in 2001 that 60% of Americans wearing a size 12+, with 50% of Americans wearing 14+ and 30% wearing a 16+.  In 2005 plus size clothing sales were $31,954 million while straight sizes sold $77,100 million.  The plus size industry had an estimated value of $35 million in 2006 of which 99% of the industry is clothing related.  All of these facts and figures leave us with one simple answer:  there is a large demand for plus size clothing and money to be spent.  But why do straight size brands who dip their toe into the plus size market garner all the attention?

These brands are "testing" plus size clothing lines (for example, Forever 21 and Faith 21) and releasing press releases about the introduction of a plus size line when one already existed in stores (Target).  Perhaps if brands approached the plus size consumer from a business standpoint rather than trend marketing, more brands would flourish in the marketplace.

What these articles fail to mention are the brands serving the plus size consumer and doing it well - designers and buyers who understand their customer, embrace their customer and exceed their customer's expectations.  To be honest, in the plus size marketplace it is not that difficult to do.  We have been so let down by major brands thinking because they have name recognition and a certain amount of recources they can do it better that our expectations are lowered (and they shouldn't be).

I prefer to patronize brands that support me and understand my needs.  I am not a figment of your imagination or a trend that will be gone within the next 6 months.  I am not going to have plastic surgery, try the next "it" diet or wear ill fitting clothes just because of a label and a good marketing campaign.  I have clothing needs and companies want money - why can't we all just get along?

posted by Bella B.

I swear I just heard that people actually gain weight during a recession anyway, so doesn't this all seem counter-productive? I'm with you. More choices should be there regardless -- height, weight, curves, etc. I know it may cause manufacturing challenges, but come on -- that may mean more jobs, no? I'm almost ready to go back to a time where everything is custom made/tailored to fit.

posted by Anonymous

While I do understand all of your points which I feel are stongly valid points, I still feel the need to present an argument with this. I am a woman who at one point in my life weighed close to 300 lbs at a height of 5'7". Yes, I was overweight and honestly...I did it to myself. I wasnt born overweight and it wasnt something that was out of my control. My poor decisions and eating habits over time led me to become overweight. Lack of excersize, bad nutrition, and ignorance led me to become overweight. And yes, I seeked the plus sizes as I had no other options, but still as I work the 20's+ I was still overweight. It wasnt until my obesity which now was morbid caught up with me via heart conditions and I had to do something about it. I was either going to continue to be overweight and die from it, or I was going to take charge and gain control over my life again.

Obesity and the struggles that come with it are not joking matters. And with it being such a concern amongst our nation where we are the least fit in the world, why should we continue to encourage it?

I understand your frustrations about not being able to find the right fit, or your selections which are already limited to begin with have now become slim to none but honestly; your attitude about not trying "the next "it" diet or wear ill fitting clothes just because of a label and a good marketing campaign" does not justify to me at all as to why you would be comfortable being the size that you are. Yes, we all encourage as much as possible to be healthy in our own skin but obesity is NOTHING to be comfortable, proud or happy about.


Not that I'm saying that its right that all these designers are pulling their plus size options, but darn if most people took charge of their weight issues then this problem wouldn't be faced to begin with. So maybe what they're doing is indeed a good thing because promoting obesity through any medium whether it be plus size clothing of poor eating is pretty much helping you to continue digging your own grave.

This is not a personal dig at you the author as I have read and admired your previous work both here and on Style It. But as someone who has been in those shoes and is still fighting this battle, this is something that I felt the need to speak about. I've dealt with the agony (still do), I've dealt with the lack of self confidence (still do), I've dealt with the ridicule (still do), and I've dealt with the pain, anger, and dissapointments but at some point down the line we as responsible human beings have to take action and do something to better ourselves. While I'm not a size 6 and have no desire to be, I am proud to say that I have lost over 100 lbs and am now a size 10/11. It wasnt over night and it wasnt gastric bypass either. It was a combination of self-devotion, determination and the fuel behind me that were my friends, family & children.

posted by

Anonymous (oh lawd, do I *hate* anonymous comments - esp long drawn out scathing ones),
While I applaud your loss, you clearly still struggle with all aspects of it, and I think that directing it at the author is misplaced, even tho you throw in the "this is not a personal dig", which of course your whole comment was, and you should recognize that.
To keep this on a subject level, as she pointed out, the majority of women in the states wear a size 12+. How they got there/stay there/are there is irrelvant to this discussion. The fact remains is that the majority of women need clothing that are disappearing from the brick and mortar stores at a rapidly increasing pace. At this point, per your confessional, you now have the luxury of being able to purchase your size any where at any time, with out worry. However, as you can see, that ability is becoming so much more limited for people that require larger sizes. This is limiting american women to only shopping online, wich is not as easy as popping into whatever store with the cutest window display as it is for smaller women.
And, for the record, every one should feel comfortable and happy with themselves at all times, no matter size, shape, color or anything else.

posted by Anonymous

I too was always a smaller size person and was not overweight until I took antidepressants that made me gain a lot. The size I am now is not healthy or comfortable for me because it was caused by something that interfered with my metabolism. However, many people are this same size and are healthy, comfortable, and beautiful.
My point is, even for those of us who are not comfortable with our size and want to lose weight, seeing the availability of plus sized clothing as something that encourages obesity and ill health is extremely negative and destructive. Wearing clothes that fit is a quality of life issue. Aside from the physical discomfort of wearing clothes that do not fit well, there is the shame and embarrassment of not being able to look presentable. Making larger clothes less available will not stop people from being obese. That is simply ridiculous. I don't see why this is a controversial issue. Of course people of all sizes deserve to have clothing that fits and looks nice. Shame, judgment, and deprivation only make it more challenging to cultivate the self esteem necessary for a healthy lifestyle, at any size.

posted by Bingo Tipper

Sometimes it's really that simple, isn't it? I feel a little stupid for not thinking of this myself/earlier, though.

posted by Angie Bella

I agree...where have all the plus sizes gone. I've noticed for quite some time that many of the retailers are either removing their plus size section or reducing what they carry. It is disappointing. I am a taller, larger person with curves, not necessarily fat and need fuller sized clothing to look my best. We should have the same options as everyone else. Kudos to you Sarah Conley, for writing such an intelligent, factual, truthful and witty article. And yeah, why can't we all just get along?

posted by Martin-Merkel

Great idea, but will this work over the long run?

posted by

To Anonymous (always my favorite alias): I too gained weight through taking medication...but I was already tall, big-boned, and quite large. I have no desire to be a small size, in fact 16 is the smallest I would be comfortable with. I am sorry you dislike yourself so much, but as someone pointed out, that is no reason to project that dislike onto other plus-size women. I prefer to think of myself as luxurious, as I love every inch of my soft, rich, sexy body. To those people that equate "low body weight" with "health" and "happiness," take a look at terminal cancer patients. They are wonderfully slender for the most part.

It all depends on your perspective, dahling.

posted by

ok, so I read these comments and my issue is with the ever declining selection of "plus petite". Not all plus size women are tall with long arms! I have a lot of difficulty finding a vareity of pants and tops for a size 22 that come in petite sizes. I used to be able to find more at Silhouettes but this availability is shrinking as well. What gives???

posted by

The latest Silhouettes catalog features ads for jeans that fit. I have to say I'm sorely disappointed. The models used, especially the one who's rear you feature have virtually no butt and very little by way of hips. I understand industry standard (sadly) for plus size model is a size 6 and up, but you are selling to plus size women. The national average for what the media euphemistically is calling "real women" is a size 14. Is is to much to ask to have that size show off the clothing, or at least find models with curves?
My clothing options are limited as a larger woman and your catalog does quite often fit the bill, but no way would I buy those jeans based on those ads.
Yes I am fat, and yes I hope to lose some weight. But Honestly I'll never be smaller than a 16/18. Is it too much to ask that I still look good?

posted by moonbeam929

Silhouettes has GOT to be kidding with the models they used to show off their clothes. I find it difficult to believe that either of the models on page 5 of the most recent catalog, Holiday 2009, wear a size 12W! As the company specializes in "Fashions starting at size 12W" I do not think it is too much to ask that the company use at the very least, a healthy size 12W model or two in demonstrating how their clothing will look on THEIR customers. C'mon Silouettes...WE are the consumers that will purchase your product - show us what they will look like on a plus-size woman, such as myself, a robust, but beautiful size 20W. Your competition does so...

posted by Anonymous

You should try Maurices they carry up to size 24 and its fashionable and cute. check it out www.maurices.com to find a store near you

posted by coppersnow

For finely tailored high quality clothing in plus sizes, I have used Talbots and JJill. Both have amazing clothes, no seams left open, fully fashioned high quality clothing in natural fabrics. However, both stores are guilty of not having a single plus size item in their stores. Talbots does however, let you use their red ordering phone from a store and then the shipping is free. Go figure? Also, JJill goes up to a 4X which is helpful since most places now limit the selection to 3x and under. Here in AZ, I am limited to Lane Bryant and Catherines. The department stores go to 3x but sometimes I am fatter than that, you know the yo-yo! The internet is a saving grace. Also of note are love your peaches (or is it "my" peaches) and Making it Big both on line and have one store each in San francisco area (MIB) and New York (Peaches).

posted by ccccc

I am one of these people that no matter how much I exercise and eat correctly, I cannot get below a size 13/14. No one believes I wear that size (I'm in great shape) but I do and I have the size labels to prove it! I am fairly tall and I have broad shoulders and hip bones.
It offends me that many clothing retailers do not offer plus sizes, or shove the small plus-size selection into a far corner of the store. Everyone has a right to decent and flattering clothing. Whether one is in poor health, is in the middle of a diet, or is losing pregnancy weight, we should not be banished to only online ordering. Even places like Target are to blame - they mostly make casual clothing for those size 14 and up. Try finding a decent work outfit in a size 18w there - it's next to impossible.

posted by ccccc

I suggest plus size retailers take a cue from QVC - they have several models who wear a size 14W to 16W.

posted by Anonymous

A completely different question: Silhouettes has changed their jeans again. Does anyone know where to get the old ones. The new ones are cheap fabric with no stretch and have no room at all in the seat. I've also tried the ones from WomanWithin and they are also cheap fabric.

posted by f0rbidden

Hi everyone..i sympathize! i'm in the same boat. i'm tired of Lane Bryant and Avenue and would love some trendier things that are also affordable.
By the by -- great clothes, up to 24W or 3X, tailored, comfortgable in wonderful fabrics and styles -- Coldwater Creek. And..if you're feeling adventurous...check out their clearance section online (they DO sell our sizes in stores) for AMAZING deals. www.coldwatercreek.com

posted by Anonymous

Why is Silhouettes not carrying anything worth buying over size 3X. anymore? This season for Christmas, anything that has some style stops at a 3X. Seems to me this company is doing the same thing as the rest. I'm pretty disgusted with what's available for 4, 5,and 6X
I also agree with the ladies above me on the quality, and no stretch. We need to have some stretch in our jeans and pants.......... Bah Humbug!!!!

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