Clothing Brands Need a Plus-Size Makeover

When I was in middle school, H&M was my favorite clothing store. One opened in the mall near my house when I was in seventh grade, and the first time I went in I thought I was in heaven. There were at least five different colors of every item, T-shirts (my favorite clothing item) were relatively inexpensive, and their clothes were not particularly trendy. The one problem I had with the store was that they did not sell clothes over a size 12, and already, at the age of thirteen, I couldn’t fit into their clothes.

Throughout middle school and high school, finding clothes was and continues to be a struggle. I couldn’t go to the mall and wander through multiple stores to find a plethora of options readily available to me because of my weight. The very few plus-size clothing options were always bright colored, printed, or super trendy — not clothes I would want to wear once the trend passed.

Once I discovered the online British plus-size clothing mecca of ASOS Curve during my junior year of high school, things got a little better, but the clothes available were unreasonably expensive and I wished for a cheaper, more accessible alternative. Clothing retailers are missing out on creating an H&M-like store for plus-size people, an untapped market in the mainstream commercial clothing scene.

According to Bloomberg News, plus-size clothing sales increased by 17 percent from 2014 to $20.4 billion in 2016, despite the fact that clothing sales are decreasing overall.

Plus-size clothing sales have outpaced overall apparel sales, which only rose by seven percent that year.

Brands fail to recognize this burgeoning clothing market by not providing the same amount of options as they do for 'normal sized' clothing. Only 8.5 percent of Nordstrom’s clothes and 16.5 percent of JC Penney’s clothes are plus-size. This does not make sense when considering that the average American woman is plus-size, and that the average American weight is increasing as well.

Plus-size clothes are also even harder to find in department stores. I went to Nordstrom over spring break to get more professional clothes and shoes for a networking trek. Once I got to Nordstrom, I discovered that that specific Nordstrom store did not carry plus-size clothes — only two Nordstrom stores in the Los Angeles County area did. The store also had a very limited wide shoe selection, which I need for my long, kite-shaped feet.

I left the store disgruntled and frustrated at how not all women have the opportunity to shop at every Nordstrom store. If I had not had a car and been able to drive to the other Nordstrom, which required driving for 30 minutes, I would not have been able to get clothes in time for the trip.  

Although the way in which people define plus-size is shifting, the majority of American women fall into this category. As of 2014, 62 percent of women were overweight and 34 percent were obese.

There is a large disconnect between what retailers are willing to provide and the size of the audience to which they could potentially market. Many brands believe that having plus-size lines will denigrate their overall brand presence and cause them to lose money, but once they try out a plus-size line, they will then understand its lucrative potential.

Brands should present plus-size clothes to women in a positive way by making clothes that reflect all aspects of fashion, like classic and fashion-forward pieces. Plus-size clothes should also be put in the front of the store or integrated in with the rest of the store’s clothes.

These clothes are often in an awkward back corner, where customers feel insecure going because they don’t want the other people in the store to know that they have to go to a separate area because of their body type. Eliminating the corner would help to diminish a lot of plus-size people’s anxieties when shopping and make people feel more comfortable in stores — myself included.

As a 20-year-old who has had to endure awkward, anxiety-provoking experiences shopping for clothes in malls, constant judgments from my peers about my weight, and pressure from my parents to lose weight, it frustrates me to know that I will continue to face these struggles trying to buy clothes for the rest of my life unless the fashion industry makes major changes in the way they market to women.

The fashion industry is greatly misguided in the way in which it thinks of female bodies, and its rejection of plus-size bodies as a valid identity highlights the unacceptable and prevalent discrimination that plus-size people face on an everyday basis.

Jo Nordhoff-Beard  SC '19 is from Seattle. She enjoys Sam Hunt, almond croissants, and women's sports.