Plus-size shoppers are beginning to see positive changes in their market options, and the trend is likely to continue. According to a recent report from Coresight Research, “the woman’s plus-size clothing market in the U.S. is approximately $30.7 billion in 2019.”
The research firm noted that global obesity rates have doubled since the Eighties, with the current rate among U.S. women at 41.1 percent. And while the availability of plus-size apparel doesn’t mean friction-free shopping experiences, growth of the segment is welcomed by consumers even as some shoppers interviewed by WWD expressed frustrations.
“Empowered by technology, diverse consumers around the world desire products once unavailable and, at the same time, consumer shopping behavior toward plus-size clothing has changed,” researchers at Coresight Research said in their report.
Availability of plus-sizes has been amplified online even as shoppers gamble on two-dimensional images and dealing with the inevitability of returns. For wedding planner Jannah Fliegel, the Internet is a fashion paradise. Growing up overweight in a pre-digital era, the dearth of options often pushed her to back-to-school shopping from the boys’ husky departments. Now, she finds “no shortage” of styles to indulge her feminine side.
One of her favorite tricks is finding online retailers who also have a local presence and will process Internet returns in the store, such as Target, H&M and — if she needs something more conservative — Kohl’s. Fliegel finds inspiration and new resources from following plus-size fashion blogs and influencers such as Gabrielle Gregg and Ashley Graham.
For more tactile consumers who eschew online shopping or those simply in a rush, brick-and-mortar options are improving but more slowly. Plus-size shoppers have vented on social media, describing the process of finding plus-size apparel as being “painful” and “the worst” while also saying shopping and assortment were like that of “a prison commissary.”
Among the chief complaints is styling as consumers on social media described most looks as “old-lady styles” — in addition to touting too many floral and animal prints. Solids, and especially light colors, are difficult to find. And anything white in plus sizes is nearly unheard of.
For a self-described “tomboy,” nonprofit professional identified as Stella, said shopping for plus sizes is an “impossible” task. “I would love to be able to wear L.L. Bean,” she told WWD via social media, but said she finds local selections lacking and the sizing running too small.
Instead, Stella finds shopping “a scavenger hunt just to find stuff I don’t hate.” She also complained of the difficulty in finding workout gear in larger sizes, which adds insult to injury when trying to stay healthy.
Chef and candy store owner Diane Reeder echoed that sentiment. When not in her chef whites, she can be found in unisex T-shirts and a limited assortment of elastic-waisted pants. Adding to the disappointment of local and physical retail shopping options, Reeder cited the inadequate size of the fitting rooms themselves.
One bright spot she found recently was a successful hail-Mary dress purchase for a wedding at the flagship store of Karina Dresses, in upstate New York. “Dresses for Everybody” is its mission statement — with sizes up to 4X. Owner/designer Karina Cousineau said about 45 percent of her customers are size 14 or above. Cousineau doesn’t grade her patterns differently for larger sizes, but the brand’s signature full-skirt silhouette and stretch fabrics indeed flatter a great variety of bodies.
Good fit in plus size is a particularly tricky issue, because of the greater diversity of shapes in larger sizes. Many shoppers find sizes can be radically different on tops and bottoms, and therefore lean on separates to fill their wardrobe.
Meanwhile, the advent of the tankini made bathing suits more accessible to many. Formalwear is often still cited as being the least improved, especially wedding and bridesmaid dresses. Lack of standardization in sizes, a universal complaint among all female shoppers, is also exacerbated as sizes increase, especially for a demographic leaning heavily on online shopping. And plus-size Petites or extra tall ladies have an extra layer of challenges.
In interviews with shoppers, retailers with a track record of “getting it right” include Torrid, legacy pioneer Lane Bryant, Roamans and City Chic. Asos, with its Curve collection, and mass-market retailer Walmart have also earned praise.
Most major department stores feature a range of offerings from special occasion to swimwear. Ann Taylor Loft launched a plus line last year to much acclaim, and Anthropologie is new on the scene as well, signaling an increase in options at slightly higher price points and better quality.
Women who wear plus sizes statistically spend less per capita on apparel than the general population — but that may be due to the lack of full availability of plus sizes. Currently, ready-to-wear and luxury designer options for plus sizes are nearly nonexistent. Bergdorf Goodman only lists sizes up to 18 but that, too, could change.
“Larger women, once marginalized, are now courted by designers, retailers and brands,” said researchers at Coresight, who added, “Inclusivity is the zeitgeist of the 21st century.”