Fashion Choices Lacking for Plus-Sized Women
What should I wear?
As a plus-sized woman, this question poses no small measure of angst for me. The only time I don’t worry about clothing and how it will look on my body, is when I (very rarely) stay home for the day. Whether I’m going to a meeting for work, restaurant for dinner, or friend’s house for a casual evening, I worry incessantly about what I’m going to don for the occasion.
Aside from my neurotic obsession with what article of clothing I should wear in order to camouflage a fat roll or other flaw, plus-sized fashion is an interesting subject. In 2000, women spent more than $17 billion on clothing sizes 16 and up, a 22% jump from the previous year, according to marketing-research firm, NPD Group. Moreover, 65 million American women (40% of the female population) wear a size 12 or largerer, says Dan Hess, CEO of onlyreal.com, a site that caters to plus-size women. But only 26% of all women’s clothing sales are in the plus-size category. Why the discrepancy? Few retailers want to get into the plus-size business, often for image reasons, explains Hess.
This remark is like a slap in the face, not because Hess intended it to be insulting, but because the facts are too harsh to ignore. Retailers want shoppers with slender tummies and fawn-like limbs so their clothes are perceived as hip, sexy, and attractive. Having said that, these companies don’t believe plus-size women possess such characteristics.
The concern about image might explain why plus-sized clothing is often stored away in off-beat corners of department stores. By ensuring such apparel isn’t prominently displayed in the center, retailers can forget about their full-figured shoppers and thus focus on thinner clientele. And plus-sized women are excluded altogether from couture fashion (the most expensive and exclusive of designer clothing). Not a single designer creates such clothing in anything higher than a size 12.
Speaking of designers, some of them want larger ladies to conform to their clothing rather than vice versa. Karl Lagerfeld, for instance, has allegedly said that curvier women need to lose weight to fit into his clothes. In 2002, the online edition of Vogue reported the designer as saying “women who are curvier than the average catwalk mannequin should lose weight to fit into microscopic skirts, crop tops, and hot pants.”
Despite how this may read, it’s not all bad for curvy women who enjoy shopping for, and wearing, chic clothing. Lane Bryant, for instance, specializes in plus-size apparel with trendy designs and form-forgiving lines. Land’s End offers extended sizes in more than 200 styles, accommodating customers who started asking for higher size ranges over five years ago. And Avenue focuses on women’s clothing sizes 14 to 32, with traditional brick-and-mortar stores and an online catalog.
But more still needs to be done to balance the supply for plus-size clothing with the demand. Meg Hargreaves, VP of Research Publishing for MarketResearch.com, says, “The women’s plus-size apparel market comprises a considerable share of the overall U.S. women’s apparel market.” Retailers, however, continue to lag.
Perhaps my preoccupation with clothing isn’t entirely because I’m neurotic. It could be that I really do have a hard time finding clothing that fits me because the traditional lines made chiefly for size 6 females don’t do much for me. I’ll try to remember this the next time I have a wardrobe crisis: it’s not entirely my fault because the clothing lines from which I have to choose leave quite a bit to be desired. On that note, I may just have another excuse to go shopping.