I’m wondering if you’ve ever had the experience of walking into a clothing store not knowing whether they carry your size.
In case this is an unfamiliar experience to you, I want to explain what it’s usually like for me, as a plus-sized woman, to encounter a new store and wonder if they cater to me.
First, I look for a sign outside that says, “We carry plus!”. This is rare even among stores that do carry plus, so I usually move on to looking in the windows.
I ask myself questions like:
- Can I see any plus-size mannequins?
- How many hangers are there for each item? (If it’s more than 5-6, I might be in luck. Less? It’s doubtful they have anything above an XL.)
- Are there accessories that might be worth browsing if the clothing isn’t big enough?
- Is the cuteness of the clothes is worth the embarrassment of walking in and finding out they don’t carry my size?
Based on the answers to these questions, I decide whether to bother going in. I will tell you that 90% of the time, I choose not to go in because it will feel deeply uncomfortable if I can’t find anything in my size.
If I do decide to go in, I then perform “the search”. This consists of me going to 3-4 racks and looking for items above a size XL. One trick is to start from the rear of each rack, because some stores sort clothes by size. This doesn’t always work though, so I end up searching for the tag on each item just to see if it might, might, might be my size.
At this point, I generally know my answer.
If larger sizes are not available, I now have two choices: ask whether there are plus sizes I’m just not seeing, or pretend that I didn’t actually want clothing and become fascinated with the accessories to avoid the embarrassment of being in an establishment that doesn’t care about me (or quite possibly actively dislikes me).
This “do they carry my size?” inquiry is twice as uncomfortable if I’m shopping with a smaller friend. If the answer is no, I have only accessories to occupy me while my friend tries on oodles of cute items that are available in her size.
So, that’s what it’s like. Now my question for you is: why exactly is it that you don’t cater to roughly 50-67% of the female population in the United States?1,2
Is it because you feel you can’t make money off them? Perhaps it would be helpful to know that the plus-size market is one of the fastest growing markets in all of fashion right now—growing at twice the rate of overall apparel growth (6% versus 3%)? Or that the plus-size market could hit $24 billion by 2020?3 We have money we want to spend, and the options, particularly brick-and-mortar, remain scant.
Maybe you’ve tried to sell plus, but didn’t manage to move any product? If plus-sized people aren’t coming in your store despite the massive growth in the plus-size category, I ask you to consider why this might be the case. Consider my story up above. Consider that plus-size people might be embarrassed to come into your store for fear that you don’t cater to their size. We’ve been trained well to know that most stores don’t give a damn about us. Or worse, actively shun us.4
Here’s the tough one: do you look down on us? And fear that fat people in your store will hurt your image? Did you know exactly how many fatshion bloggers are in the world now, all of them fierce as hell and inspiring their followers to embrace their bodies? Do you know that fat people aren’t “less than”? That we’re awesome, interesting, kind, and funny, just like thin people? You don’t need to fear we will wreck your brand. We will rock it.
The bottom line is, if you choose to carry plus sizes, I guarantee there are people out there who will want to buy them. Plus-sized people have been missing out on fashion for decades. Many of us are truly becoming more daring with our fashion—we are finding ways to truly express ourselves with the right combinations of silhouette, color, texture, shine, and pattern. These days, we have lots more options thanks to online retailers — but online ordering is incredibly limiting, particularly in the plus market where body shapes can be so different from one another (some of us carry our weight in our bellies, others our hips, our boobs, our thighs, etc.). We want more. We want to shop in your stores.
Are you interested in adding plus sizes? The key is helping us know that you’re carrying them. Always include a prominent sign on the outside of your establishment advertising that you carry plus. This will help plus-sized people know right off the bat that they’re welcome and are going to be catered to (and don’t have to risk embarrassment or wasted time going into an establishment that doesn’t cater to them).
It’s important to make sure this sign notes the maximum size you cater to. I recognize that not every store can cater to every size in existence, particularly if you are a small business and are limited by the lines you carry. But try to carry sizes as high as you possibly can (going up to 6X or US 34-36 would put you above the vast majority of plus retailers; higher is spectacular and much needed).
I recognize that you may never have thought about what it’s like to be a larger person who comes across your store, but I’m hoping that you have a better sense now—and I also hope you realize the value in catering to us. It’s time to change. You’re missing out, and we’re missing out. It’s time for you to fix this. (And no, including plus only in your online shop and not in brick-and-mortar is not a fix.)
Founder, Made on a Generous Plan
P.S. Straight-size shoppers… I ask you to consider Ijeoma Oluo’s question, Why don’t we think fat people are worth fighting for? in deciding where you shop. What impact could you make if you chose not to shop at places that don’t carry plus sizes? What impact could you make if you pointed out to proprietors that this is why you’re avoiding their establishments?
P.P.S. Plus-size shoppers… I am working on an uber-list of plus-size retailers. Want to know when it goes live? Sign up for my newsletter!
- Christel, Deborah A., and Susan C. Dunn. “Average American women’s clothing size: comparing National Health and Nutritional Examination Surveys (1988–2010) to ASTM International Misses & Women’s Plus Size clothing.” International Journal of Fashion Design, Technology and Education 10.2 (2017): 129-136.
- Fryar, Cheryl D., et al. “Anthropometric Reference Data for Children and Adults: United States, 2011-2014.” Vital & health statistics. Series 3, Analytical and epidemiological studies 39 (2016): 1.
- Berr, Jonathan. “The fashion industry thinks big about plus sizes.” CBS News, CBS Interactive, 4 May 2017.
- Marks, Hallie. “Fat Shaming or Smart Marketing? Why Lululemon (and Others) Don’t Sell Plus Sizes.” BUST.