OK, I’m a plus-size girl (3X) and yes, an apple-shaped one, so finding fashionable clothing is more than a chore for me at times. That’s the reason for my companion piece on “Why I Love Ebay”, but there’s more to the story. Just for definition, plus-size starts at size 14 and the average American woman wears a size 16.
Plus-size fashion is a $20 billion business and yet major retailers still avoid the business. I guess I fail to understand why retailers would avoid 2/3rds of the retail market that plus size women represent.
Plus-sized lines at department stores and other mainstream stores tend to come and go. New plus sized lines are debuted with press and promises and are then reduced or eliminated like any other line regardless of demographics. That turns plus sized shoppers off. After all, when a woman can’t count on finding her size at a particular store, the store is removed from her list of options. This is incredibly short-sighted on the part of the retailer. After all, those plus sized customers could be spending their money on shoes, jewelry, handbags, and other accessories while they’re shopping for clothes.
Out of the 25 largest clothing retailers by revenue, all but four offer a minimal line of plus-size options. In other words, if you were to ask the CEO of one of these stores about their lack of options for women size 14 and up, they’d likely say that they do offer options for that segment of the market. The thing is, those options are much more limited than the ones offered in sizes 0-12.
At J.C. Penney, 16% of the dresses on the website are plus size. At Nordstrom.com, only 8.5% of the dresses are plus sized. When it comes to a retailer’s brick and mortar store, plus sizes can be even harder to find. Physical stores stock fewer items and have less variety. I shopped two big box stores, Meijers and Target on a recent trip to Indiana, Target has always been a favorite and not too long ago debuted a plus-size line, Apparently they became a victim of demographics too because what I found was pathetic. Strange since I saw very few women less than a size 14 wherever I went
The disconnect between what customers want and what stores offer is plagued by an old stigma in the fashion industry. For decades, brands have shied away from plus sizes in the belief that they are bad for the brand. On the retailer side, stores think of plus size as an add-on to their businesses along with petite-sized and maternity lines.
Stores often hide their plus-size offerings in corners of their stores, making the shopping experience uncomfortable and even embarrassing. Meanwhile, designs are often concealing rather than fashionable and colorful. Still, other stores ignore the category all together such as parent company of The Limited L Brands did with Eloquii. The much-loved plus size alternative to The Limited and Express was shut down after two years. Consumers were upset and made it known. Since then, Eloquii was bought during a liquidation sale and relaunched. Their online offerings now however are excellent.
This fickleness of regular retailers has driven plus sized shoppers online. E-commerce sites simply offer plus sized women more consistency and variety. For example, online sales of plus size retailer Ashley Stewart brings in a third of the company’s revenue. That’s up from absolute zero just seven years ago. And I read some time ago that 40% of Lane Bryant sales are to male customers.
There is a flourishing plus-size business with the speciality retailers and boutique stores.. Stores such as Lane Bryant, Ashley Stewart, Torrid, Cato’s, Macy’s, J.C. Penney, Maurice’s, Roman’s Eloquii, Woman Within, Talbot’s Plus Size, and Old Navy all cater to this growing segment. My personal experience with Lane Bryant, Avenue, Dress Barn, and Catherines is very positive despite some frustration with local offerings
I remember one particular saleslady at an El Paso Lane Bryant who took me under her wing. She once remarked that she ensured I would not be hassled by other customers. Not that it was ever a problem. A Catherine’s manager in an Alexandria, VA store told me how she catered to crossdressers as did the manager of a Fashion Bug store in Columbus, OH during my first shopping trip as Tasi. And there was an Avenue store in Roanoke, VA where the manager, a lady of some years, inquired on my availability for work…if only I had lived close by.
So we are known entities with little to fear when shopping at these TG-friendly stores and moreso, these ladies are more than willing to dispense advice and help dress us in flattering clothes, a Godsend for those with limited to none fashion acumen. Here are a few more recommendations.
Retailers would do well to tap into the buying power of this segment if only they would risk embracing the category. In the meantime, hone up your buying skills through our articles by the Savvy Shopper in the Sister House Boutique and through regular visits to your favorite stores. Rest assured that regular customers are treated very well. That said, you’ll still find a greater selection online so try the store’s website too.