The Shrinking Plus-Size Apparel Market

What: To no one’s surprise, apparel sales have been going down over the past year – but the plus-size market has been hit especially hard. This is a bit counter-intuitive, as the number of plus-size women in America (and the world) is actually increasing. So, how could this be? Well, there are a few possibilities – full sized fashionistas aren’t always as open to buying clothes that’s marketed as plus-size. Some prefer (or are forced) to shop online – in privacy – for such items.

What They Say:

According to the NPD Group, a market research company, the overall women’s apparel business is down about 5 percent and plus-size is down almost 10 percent from the 12 months ending in May 2009 compared to the same time the year before.

What We Say: We’re not sure what the latest trends are, but if department stores ignore the plus-size customer, they’re ignoring a significant chunk of the population. We don’t predict the plus-size market will disappear, but that it might be introduced to shoppers in a different way in the near future (ie Old Navy’s move to put their plus size section online-only)

If you’re a plus-size fashionista, we’d love to hear your thoughts on this…

Photo by CRASH:candy

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  1. Shopsista says

    I’m more top heavy than bottom heavy, so what USED TO BE a size X-Large is now considered “Plus Size”.  of the reasons why I stopped shopping Old Navy.  I can’t even check the fit of the clothing unless I purchase it online and then I have to send it back.  If that’s the case, I go directly to PZI Jeans, which are exclusively for “shapely” women.  They can be purchased in “select” Macy’s locations; but they started out online.  Big difference.  Also, when there are sales, plus sizes still charge a couple of dollars more, or you have to pay more in shipping.

    It’s very discouraging.

  2. MusicalPolarBear says

    I think part of the reason that the plus-size market is tanking is because plus-size clothes have always been disproportionately more expensive than “regular”-sized clothes.  Plus-sized women have limited fashion options, so plus-size chains could get away with ridiculous prices.  In a recession, who wants to pay $50 for a button-up shirt or $25 for a tee shirt?  The prices at Lane Bryant, Torrid, The Avenue, and other plus-size shops are way too high.  I, personally, shop primarily at Kohl’s, which offers a good plus-size selection and lots of discounts and sales.  I don’t shop at Lane Bryant anymore.  Their stuff is too expensive and the quality has gone down hill.

  3. Sarah202 says

    I don’t mind buying clothes that are marketed as “plus size”, what I mind is designs that use the “make it bigger and call it plus size” mentality. What we plus size girls usually have to choose from are tent-like clothes, or clothes designed for smaller frames just made bigger. The former isn’t fashionable and the latter isn’t flattering.

    The fit models that these companies use are size 12 (this is plus size?) with flat stomachs and toned body parts. This is not what the average plus size woman looks like. If they start making clothes with actual plus size women in mind, they might find more success.

  4. starrlily says

    I think what I find more puzzling, is that they can call someone who wears a size 12, plus-sized. Plus-sized??? Seriously?? Just about every women I know wears a size 12 or higher, me being one of them. Its just utter *crap* that its like that to begin with, let alone some stores altogether ignoring us ‘plus-size’ ladies.

    Ive turned to sites like to have designers make clothes personally for me. Im tired of seeing something super cute only to find it goes up to maybe a size 10.

    Women have curves, and the quicker people get it through their minds, the better, for everyone. We should not be relegated to buying mumus, or clothes that are less then sexy cos we happen to be ‘bigger’ then a supermodel, or teeny-tiny women.

    Im not bothered by them not having it in stores, Ive learned to look elsewhere, and besides, it will be the stores downfall in the end. Id much rather give my money to someone who will make just what i want, in exactly my size. Period.

  5. NYCPAULA says

    I live in New York and am so disappointed that many high end discount stores have done away with their plus size departments.  All of the Lohemans stores and at least most of the Filine’s Basements have discontinued their plus size sections.

  6. MissB007 says

    Not only has the plus-size fashionista been ignored retail-wise, there’s no actual recognition of sales or discounted apparel for the recessionistas either.  Many are feeling the crunch and cannot spend the money like they used to because of the market or income situation.

  7. BigGirlBlue says

    I’d like to know what they are using for their baseline. Is it department stores? I think the plus size market is growing if anything. There are more specialty brands available that there ever was.

    And with the internet we are no longer limited to what is offered locally. Personally, I’ve shopped in two other countries to get the styles I want.

  8. Curvatude says

    This is just another reason why plus size women need to be very selective with their dollars.

    If a company does not care enough about you to stock sizes that fit you, its a no brainer: shop elsewhere.

    While there have been events, such as Old Navy moving the line online exclusively, which I actually view as a plus (no pun intended) because they can now offer so much more product, I am excited about the individuals and small businesses that see the value in serving the market segment.

  9. fatandfabchic says

    Like a lot of people have already commented, I believe the issue is certainly one that comes down to price and selection. As a plus size woman who has limited funds my shopping budget is very low, therefore I am always looking for deals. I want items that are budget friendly but I do not want to sacrifice quality. Having limited shopping options is very discouraging. I find a lot of stores cater to two types of plus size customers either older women or women who like to party. I am fashionista whose style is ever evolving I would like to find a store that caters to or at least doesn’t neglect me. It can be fun shopping online, and discovering new designers but at the same time a lot of the same cost and quality issue can come into play. Equality in fashion would be ideal.

  10. mskiki says

    The term “PLUS-SIZE” does not bother at all. What does tick me off is that there are no stylish items out there that fit a curvy frame properly. I am a size 16/18 (top/bottom), but well proportined. I love to wear fitted jeans to show off all of my curves. Unfortunately when it comes to tops, i grow extremly frustrated as a huge part of the market offers “tent-like” tops. I don’t mind once in a while wearing a loose flowing top, but then there are times when I too, would like to wear something a little more fitted(with good support) to show off my curves up top. I am forced to have funky/trendy tops custom made for me to look fabulous and in the running of the “REGULAR” sized women.

    I also agree that the market is suffering sales and assortment wise. Comapnies are scaling back on making large sized clothing as materials/production costs are obviously higher. Rather than complain, sulk, or be forced to wear “Old Lday/Grandma” style clothing from stores such as Avenue/Lane Bryant, and cheap quality/poorly made/ over-priced clothing from Torrid, i opt to have pieces custom made. I dont mind spending a little more to get the look I want!!

    Oh to have curves and no options!!!!

  11. lillygavina says

    What I see happening in the market is that they are marketing “plus size” as fat clothes. I am sorry, being a person that has boobs, a tiny waist, hips and a butt doesn’t mean your fat!! I would like to see more clothes made for hour glass shapes, instead of shapeless trapeze huge bags of close they mistakenly call “plus size”.  As for Lane Bryant, I buy bras, undies and pants there. Their tops,and dresses are huge! They should consider the study they did with their jeans and apply that to their entire line of clothes.

  12. says

    Honestly, what I get tired of is going into stores to shop, and even if you go into plus size (I am plus size on bottom but not top), none of the clothes are attractive.  You usually have jeans, khakis and assorted tops that look like tents as someone said above.  I would like to know why everyone thinks just because you are plus sized means that you don’t want to look fashionable.  I do have a waist.  And now many stores that sell the hot clothes only carry up to a size 14.  There are more and more people that wear larger sizes yet we keep being ignored.

  13. lushintransit says

    Plus size clothes are skyrocketing in price. Are companies under the impression that the larger a women is, the larger her bank account grows in a recession bordering on a depression?

  14. hellifiknow says

    I notiiced the The Gap has quietly ended their plus-size options online…probably in their overall reinvention. However, fortunately their well-cut new jeans fit me nicely in a 16. Macy’s also apparently cut out Calvin Klein in full figure in their stores and possibly online, but expanded floor space for INC and other brands which are inconsistent. Please explain why full-figure lines think that larger women want to wear prints?! I didn’t wear them when I was thinner, why would I do it now?

    Anna Scholz, Lewis Cho, and Rachel Palley are all good full-figure lines but expensive. Lane Bryant had a few decent pieces. So does Ashley Stewart, but you have to stick with basics at both places.
    It’s a constant struggle to find good stuff, but thanks for the tip on Evans, I will definitely be looking there. I think I could be a millionaire if I could transfer what I’d like in full figure to someone and create a line. The junk in the stores is insulting!

  15. pnuessen says

    When everyone is “pinching pennies” during difficult economic times, many people are browsing more for standout deals while shopping.  If anything, the statistics above are an attribute plus size women’s ability to notice good deals and enforce self-control. 

    Everyone is browsing more before making a purchase.  It’s hard to shop online when there’s confidence lacking in the sizes of apparel without trying them on, and we’re less likely to buy online from stores that don’t offer friendly return policies.

    Finding “plus size” clothing that isn’t excessively expensive and fits properly takes a lot of time and can be frustrating, but there are many stores that offer it.  What I’ve found is that checking a lot of them and keeping up with special sales and promotions can get you great clothing at low costs, it just takes a lot of time finding them.

  16. myssdiva says

    I totally agree with everyone’s comments above.  I am curvy diva that adores clothes but unfortunately I have to shop at so many places to piece together a fashionable ensemble that fits my style.  With that said I have tried my hand in selling fashionable plus size clothing through my small boutique, but finding fashionable and good quality clothing from manufactures across global has been very discouraging and disappointing. The selection of clothing is truly not out there.  It’s either career wear or casual wear offered by a handful of manufactures that catering to the plus size market.  And reviewing manufactures oversees is the same. You would be taking the chances with the clothing that are two sizes too small, so the fit all wrong.  And, I am sure most of us can contest that with Lane Bryant Seven Jeans line.  The old line when our girl Anna Nicole was the LB spokes person

  17. Stylish Plus Size Fashion says

    I think it’s really a shame. Many retailers are not solely offering fashions online, which I guess is a viable solution, but bad if someone needs something special sooner-rather-than-later. I think this represents a really great opportunity for online retailers of plus size fashion, but undoubtedly, the consumer will be very disappointed. The plus size market is already pretty small as it is. It is a shame that is will get smaller. I also want to invite people over to my website that is designed to fix this problem in the marketplace. I hope it’s OK to leave a link here in the interest of serving ALL women with fashion needs.

  18. MaryMae says

    I am a plus size fashionista and I hate to break it to you all but in order to have more options out there we have to spend more money.  I used to own a boutique.  I carried sizes 0-12 and 14-24.  The 0-12 ladies spent big bucks on their wardrobes while the 14-24 ladies lamented their sizes, telling me they’d come back in to buy something when they lost a few pounds.  They had no love for themselves and so they weren’t willing to spend money when they didn’t feel attractive in anything anyway. 

    The only incentive for a business to carry more product is for us to break out our wallets every once and awhile and pay retail prices for what we want.,,,,,,…the list goes on.  They all have options from trendy to classic.  I agree that we don’t have as many locations to shop as our smaller sized friends, but I am telling you as someone who has been plus size my entire life…the list of labels and designers catering to my size has increased dramatically in the last even five years.  We have to learn to invest in amazing, high quality clothing like James Jeans, Rachel Pally, and Marina Rinaldi.  My skinny minnie friends have to piece their wardrobes together from different stores as well.  Shopping is supposed to be fun!

  19. Nikki Knight says

    I am a plus size women and I have all but given up on going to the store to shop.  Especially Lane Bryant and Catherines.  The type of clothes and fabrics that the outfits are made off is just unacceptable.  I love business suits attire.  But none of the suits are lined and the fabric used is not economical at all.  I usually buy my clothing online.  I am a size 24 and 26 depending on how the outfit is made.  Locally, I have had no sucess with the local stores.  The inventory sucks and the styles and colors also.  The place that I get all of my clothing and believe me they are quite dressy and my suits are all lined is called  I just love them.  I don’t have to worry about ugly colors and styles and sizes to fit me any longer.  I wanted to share this because it is so difficult to find
    plus size women clothing.

  20. R Johnson says

    I have stopped shopping at my Macys because they discontinued Women’s (Plus Size) suits.

    The General Manager said it was one of their best sellers and they have received a lot of complaints and she planned to bring it back in the fall (2009). She also said that decisions on what stores carry is made at corporate not by each store. I guess corporate overruled her because to date (12/09) they are still not selling Women’s Suits.

    Each year I would buy at least 5 suits (Jones New York; Alfani; etc.). Since they have made the decision to only cater to certain sizes I made the decision to spend my money elsewhere. I am a Director and do a lot of presentations and travel so I need suits and I try to make sure I have enough so people won’t see me in the same suit (I know vain is my name:). Macys has lost a least $2,000+ that I spend on work clothes.

    Not sure what corproate is thinking but I’ll spend my money elsewhere.

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