The chicken-and-egg problem of plus-sized fashion

There is an article in today’s New Yorker that talks about Full Figure Fashion week and the plus-sized fashion industry in general.  Before you read the rest of this, go read the article.

Go ahead…

I’ll wait….

Done?

Good.  Moving on.

I was thinking about the article, and more specifically about a couple of the observations it makes about the disconnect between what many bloggers SAY plus sized buyers want (more fashionable clothing, higher end, cutting edge, etc) and what we buy (shopping the sale racks, etc.).  What we have here is a chicken and egg problem.

Plus-sized shoppers have, unfortunately, been trained.  We’ve been trained very well to have exceedingly low expectations for what clothing will be available to us. We’ve been trained by fashion magazines to look for things that are “flattering”:

  • Black/dark colors will make you look thinner and white/light colors will make you look bigger
  • Don’t wear anything too tight
  • Horizontal stripes make you look wider
  • Cover your jiggling parts (upper arms, thighs)
  • Crop tops?  NEVER!  Bikini?  The world might end.

Etc.  Heck, magazines give this advice to straight sized women, so if it applies to them, it applies doubly to us, right?

And the fashion industry has supported this by providing us few things that didn’t fit that mold.  Lots of stretch polyester tents (god forbid we should want a natural fiber) and elastic waist bands, shirts that reach practically to our knees and shapeless everything.  Heck, who wants to pay a lot for things that look like that.

Before Torrid, there were no options for trendy plus clothing, and their initial offerings ran to the Goth end of the scale and were completely inappropriate for a grown-up. [I was so pissed that they came along 10 years after my goth phase…]

Then Eloquii V1 came along and was the exception that proved the point.  Limited had this great idea for a cutting edge brand, and threw it out there (essentially online only, although they said there were a few stores that carried the line) with almost no marketing, gave it very little time and then killed it when it didn’t succeed immediately.  We hardly had time to realize we had an alternative before it was gone.

We have had years (decades in some cases) of training to overcome, both in terms of what we want to wear and in what we are willing to pay for it.  And we were given mere moments to adapt.  Not surprisingly, we weren’t able to.  One has only to look at the success ASOS has seen to realize that we are capable of making that change.

Honestly, the what we wear will change before what we are willing to pay for it. We live in a culture where everyone wants a discount on everything, and retailers encourage that behavior by having sales going on pretty much all the time.  My day job is in higher education, and studies have found that a student would rather go to a school with a list price of $10,000 and a $2,000 “merit” scholarship than a school with a list price of $8,000 and no scholarship.  The price is the same, but it is the perception that changes.

To take the example at the end of the article, frankly we ALL know that everything at Lane Bryant goes on sale on a very regular basis.  Wait a week or two and you can pick it up for less, so unless you can’t live without something (very rare), why pay full price?  That is a reflection of our broader consumer culture, not something specific to plus sized fashion.

One last comment.  I really struggle with the fact that many of the more up-market department store brands want my money but refuse to acknowledge my existence.  I love Michael Kors, Eileen Fisher, and several similar brands, but I hate that I can’t walk into their stores and try things on.  I can’t decide if I am more annoyed that they do that or that Kate Spade and that type don’t make my size at all.  (I would pay full price for Kate Spade clothing in my size, and that’s a promise. If you could encapsulate my dream style, that would be it.)

Anyway, no answers, just some random thoughts.  Change is hard, and asking a large group of consumers who have been trained to shop one way to suddenly shop another takes time.  If the writers like the New York Times author want to help, perhaps they should remind retailers of that.

 

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