While you could say that plus size fashion has never been more accessible, it’s still nowhere near accessible enough. It’s long been common knowledge that plus-size fashion consumers are underserved - and though the average American woman wears a size 16, and 70% of American women wear a size 14 or larger, it’s still the case that less than 20% of clothing is made in those sizes.
Yet the tide is starting to turn. A crop of new brands with more inclusive sizing baked into their business models, such as Universal Standard and Good American, have emerged in recent years. Established brands, like Marks & Spencer and Nike, have started expanding into extended size ranges too. And it’s not just the offering of new size ranges that’s changing, but the way in which they are merchandised and marketed; this summer, Old Navy announced it would start offering its entire range in sizes 0-30 and it would stop separating plus-size clothes into a separate section in the store.
But despite some recent progress, the majority of clothes still aren’t available in plus sizes, and there’s still a long way to go when it comes to size inclusivity.
Fashion brands that don’t yet offer extended size ranges would be well advised to get started. But it’s not as easy as scaling up the patterns for existing styles into larger sizes. Universal Standard’s co-founder Alexandra Waldman described this approach to size grading as like “making a photocopy of a photocopy,” resulting in a distorted pattern for larger sizes. Getting it right requires a more thoughtful (and therefore expensive) approach, with greater attention to fit across the entire sizing range. Fabric costs can also be higher, but not for the reason you might think; fabrics don’t typically come in a width that’s conducive to manufacturing plus size garments, which means that manufacturers often end up cutting fabric lengthwise for larger sizes and wasting material.
There are structural ways in which the industry could address these challenges, such as offering fabric in different widths. For now, the main task for brands that want to expand their size ranges is to identify which styles to start with, although knowing which styles will resonate isn’t as easy as it sounds. Given the extra cost of extending a size range, it’s important to get it right. Fortunately, it’s possible to do this by talking to real consumers and gathering predictive insights around their preferences.
As the body positivity movement continues to gain steam, brands can no longer ignore plus size consumers. It’s past time for fashion brands and retailers to get serious about offering extended sizing ranges in a thoughtful and truly inclusive way.