Fashions come and go, but the industry and retail landscape has changed little. In recent years as size 14 has become more common and consumers are speaking up to voice their concerns and praises change has been happening. The underrepresented plus size market is slowly working towards claiming their position in the industry as average.
Studies show that the average American woman wears a size 20W. Other findings indicate that half of American ladies are wearing a size 14 or larger. By comparison the average women wore a size 8 back in 1985. Plus size is the new average. Although, plus size consumers are still treated like outliers.
Average Has Taken on a New Meaning
The definition of plus size has always been vague. The fashion industry generally considers size 8 and up to be plus sized. Outside of the fashion industry size 8, or even size 10, is not considered plus size. To further complicate matters many brands that cater to the plus size community do not start until size 14. This confusion makes it hard for consumers and retailers to understand the parameters of plus size.
Plus Size Clothing Has Been Lacking in Quality and Quantity
Finding clothing that fits can be a frustrating experience. What is labeled as a size 14 from one clothing line may not be consistent with a size 14 from another line. What should be useful information is almost arbitrary. Making the situation worse is that for many brands plus sizes clothing is just scaled up versions of smaller sizes. The fit is not comfortable or accurate.
Evolution of Plus Size Clothing
The logic behind plus size fashion has historically been to cover up the person wearing the clothing. Clothing was to be used as a way to hide. It was simply clothing and not fashion. Unfortunately, many shoppers have had to submit to this rational, because plus size options have been so limited. Shoppers needed to take what they could get. An individual who wears a size 18 or even a size 14 would need to buy clothing based on what they could make fit. How they felt about the clothing, or how they felt when wearing the clothing did not matter. The implication from the fashion world was that no one wanted to see the plus size consumer. Body shaming became ingrained and normal for the plus size world.
Body Positive Movement
It has slowly been gaining momentum, but there has been a body positive movement taking shape. This movement has spurred a greater awareness around women’s clothing sizing and led to a push for more models who accurately represent plus size people. This movement extended beyond fashion with personal care brand, Dove, launched a body positive campaign over a decade ago. A major tenant of the body positive movement is to reduce negative body images and body shaming.
Plus Size Models and Consumers are Underrepresented
There has been a noticeable absence of plus size models on runways, in marketing campaigns and in the media. The body positive movement has galvanized around this issue. Despite there being more plus size individuals than ever before, this is a group that is still overlooked. The fashion industry has been slow to embrace change. Although, change is happening. Plus size fashion is becoming more common on the racks in department stores.
Representations of the New Average in Ads and Media
Overall the numbers are still low, but the fashion industry is featuring more plus size models than ever. Progress is slow, but it is still progress. When Ashley Graham graced the cover of Vogue it caused a stir. As a high fashion staple Vogue has historically featured thin models. At a size 16 Graham shattered expectations and the mold.
Graham’s cover was a welcomed change, but thin cover models are still the standard. It does not appear that the industry is quickly accepting of plus size models. It seems more like the fashion industry and media find it is no longer possible to ignore the plus size segment.
Change Slow to Come to Other Demographics
The focus on the plus size movement has been almost exclusively focused on adult women. Teenage girls are underserved in the market. Men’s fashion is also lagging behind. There are a few lines that are producing plus size men’s fashion. Everything has been met with enthusiasm, but there is still not the momentum that can be found in the women’s industry. Very recently there has also been up uptick in the number of plus size male models being featured in advertisements.
The Role of Social Media
Social media has helped spur the body positive movement and give a voice to the plus size community. Individuals are able to support one another and foster a positive environment. The impact of body shaming is laid bare. #PlusSize is a commonly used hashtag on Instagram and Twitter.
Putting Brands On Notice
Social media not only connects individuals, but it also connects consumers to brands. These platforms provide a way for consumers and brands to engage that has not been possible before. Consumers can effectively reach out to a brand and give their feedback and critique. Constructive feedback is nothing new. Relying on this feedback in a public forum is new. Social media allows others to show their support and agreement on comments made by others. It is no longer a few disgruntled consumers passing along their feedback. Brands cannot brush this off as a few isolated complainers. It is now an entire community of consumers echoing one another’s sentiments.
Fashion Industry is Missing Out
As the plus size demographic increases in members, the fashion industry is missing out. This is a large segment of the consumer market that is mostly ignored. Plus size clothing has traditionally been frumpy and not on par with the latest trends and styles. Many fashion lines have started to create clothing in the plus size range, but the offerings are still somewhat limited. Creating clothing that is plus size can create a huge revenue source for clothing lines. Creating fashion forward designs sized to fit the average plus size Americans can prove to be effective for any clothing line.
Retailers are Cautious
It is a precarious time in the retail industry. Stores are closing and clothing lines are going under. Retailers are shifting their focus from brick and mortar locations to online. All of this is happening while the industry overlooks a burgeoning market. Between 2012 and 2015 the number of American teens purchasing plus size clothing almost doubled. The demand dramatically increased, but the supply did not follow suit. This is not just a trend. This is the new face of American consumers.
Brands Are Changing Their Mentality
When brands continue to manufacture women’s clothing that is less than a size 14 this immediately eliminates the majority of female shoppers. Brands are facing trying times, but still refusing to cater to the most dominant demographic. When Nike decided to increase their plus size offerings things could not have gone better. Their plus size clothing caused a spike in sales that greatly helped the company and impacted their bottom line.
Retailers are Setting Up Shop Online
Physical brick and mortar stores have been experiencing a decline across all product types. Clothing retailers that sell plus size fashion are not immune to this trend. Online sales are the place to be in order to capture these sales. The internet has increased the reach of brands. It is now possible to reach consumers online that a brand would have no access to otherwise.
Brands are Putting Constructive Feedback to Use
Brands are using the feedback collected via social media to craft new lines and sub brands. These lines feature designs that embrace the plus size body. The objective is no longer to just cover up but to dress the body in a way that is flattering and trendy. Cuts and large scale patterns that have been purposefully avoided in the past are now showing up in clothing lines that are specifically designed for plus size individuals.
Creating Plus Size Styles That Fit
Savvy fashion lines do not simply size up their existing designs to fall under the plus size label. Clothing needs to be designed to the shape and silhouette specific to plus size individuals. The fabric and cuts need to fit plus size customers. When clothing is designed for plus size consumers the end result is flattering and comfortable. These are clothes customers want to wear.
Establishing a Following
The plus size community knows how it feels to be left out. They have been ignored and body shame. When a brand acknowledges this group with clothing designed to fit plus size bodies this is appreciated. Quality fits are half of the equation. A diverse selection is the balance. Most retailers in this segment carry plus size dresses, but when a retailer also carries plus size business casual and a variety of options it will appeal to consumers. Shoppers of any size recognize quality products, but plus size consumers are more likely to be loyal to a brand that produces authentic plus size clothing. This loyalty may be due partly because competitor brands are few and far between, but the plus size community has proven to be fiercely loyal to their preferred brands.
Brands Listening to Consumers
There are now even plus size options in the fast fashion world. As soon as a trend is identified it is fast tracked to the retail space. They crank out on trend designs that are priced to sell. These designs are also mostly sized to fit consumers who are not plus size. Brands such as H&M and Forever 21 have dominated this corner of the retail market for years. Newcomers like Eloquii have entered the fast fashion arena and cater specifically to plus size shoppers.
Personal Stylist Online
Eloquii is an interesting study. Eloquii has curated a selection of clothing that is designed for plus size individuals and is only available online. This brand was destined to be discontinued, but when fans found out they made their voices heard. Social media gave devotees a way to voice their concerns and frustration with the supposed fate of the brand. A change in ownership and new financial backers have given this plus size fashion stylist brand a new lease on life.
Established Plus Size Boutiques Changing to Keep Up
Even brands that have historically catered to the plus size demographic, like Lane Bryant, have found they need to adjust to keep up. With more competition, brands need to focus on the designers they work with, as well as marketing campaigns to reach their target audience. Gone are the days of being the staple of plus size fashion.
Online Styling Services Catering to Plus Size Community
Subscription services are even getting into the mix, including Plvsh. They exclusively sell plus size clothing. Subscribers to both boxes are sent five items selected just for them based on surveys they fill out and size information they provide. The recipients can purchase any of the items sent to them and ship the rest back. These online styling services are a great way to get new brands in front of consumers who may not have found them otherwise. These boxes promise fashionable clothing that fits and with an increase in plus size options now available they are able to deliver.
Plus Size Community Going Strong
It is hard to imagine that thin models wearing low single-digit sizes will not always be the ideal portrayed in advertisements and magazine covers. It is possible at some point the ideal may shift, but that is a long way off. Forecasts anticipate growth in the plus size market will only continue. Significant changes have been made, but mainstream fashion and media still rarely acknowledge the presence let alone the normality of plus size individuals. The plus size community has long been underserved and underrepresented, so these changes are logical progressions. It is likely that the clothing industry will catch up to the times and not only acknowledge the new average, but create sizes that reflect this demographic in both women’s and men’s fashion.