Thursday, September 03, 2009

Bigger sizes not bringing in bigger bucks: why the sale of plus-size clothes is down

Last week the Associated Press ran a story about a slow-down in the sale of plus-size clothes. The article discusses market researcher's ideas as to why sales have slowed; overall, I find their theories unlikely and misguided. Among the theories? Retailers don't want to send out "the wrong image" by marketing to plus-size shoppers, plus-size shoppers prefer to shop online, and plus-size women have been hit harder than average-size women by cuts in pay.

Oh please.

Being a plus-size woman, I have a few of my own theories on why plus-size clothing sales may be down. The number one reason in my book? They were too expensive to begin with! Retailers like Lane Bryant, The Avenue, and Torrid cater to plus-size women, offer fashions exclusively to those size 14+, and have used their niche to charge high prices for plus-size clothes. Given that many stores do not offer attractive options for plus-size ladies, many women were forced to shop at these stores and pay the exorbitant prices. In this economy, however, people can't afford $98 blouses, $188 jeans, or $70 "casual" dresses.

I believe that women are finally cluing in that they shouldn't have to pay super-high prices for clothes simply because they're overweight. As the argument goes, it's more material, but it's not so much more that a size 1X sweater should cost $20 more than a size XL sweater! And women shouldn't have to pay for the "convenience" of shopping in stores that cater to carrying their sizes.

I buy most of my clothes at Kohl's, a department store that has a reasonable selection of plus-size clothes that are both trendy and classic and of good quality. The clothes I buy there are nearly always on sale and those that aren't I buy with coupons. It's more economically sensible than spending two- or three-times as much at a specialty store, and I leave with great clothes. Plus, since Kohl's is a department store, I can also pick up new towels, a toaster oven, or some makeup while I'm there; it's one-stop shopping.

The AP reports that other department stores are getting in on the action, and I see it as a step in the right direction. With more than half of American women wearing plus-sizes, featuring plus-size fashion in most department stores makes simple financial sense. Plus, long-gone are the days of mumus and sack-like garments made to conceal the body. Plus-size women want fashionable outfits just like average-size women. Stores like Bloomingdales, JCPenney, and Macy's all offer plus-size lines, which the AP reports is good for business.

I'm perhaps most excited by the prospect of stores like Forever 21 (a clothing retailer aimed at teenagers) creating plus-size lines. Teenagers and young people need fashionable options that fit their bodies and lifestyles, regardless of their size. It's hard enough to be a plus-size woman; I think it's even harder to be a plus-size teenager, dealing with all the other perils of adolescence. Why trendy retailers haven't thought to reach out to plus-size teenagers before this is beyond me. Teenagers have always had more disposable income than adults and they spend most of their money on clothes. In tough times, more retailers would benefit from marketing to young people, who are more likely than adults to keep spending.

Readers, what do you think? Why is the plus-size clothing market dropping even faster than women's apparel overall? Please share your thoughts in the comments.


Laurie said...

Shopping at the Lane Bryant outlet near my home, I don't find outlet prices, not even with their "sale" merchandise. I also don't find customers shopping their aisles. While the parking lot is full, the customers are shopping at the Old Navy store next door, where they can buy jeans to size 20 and tops to size XXL. AND, Lane Bryant hasn't had a fashion face lift in 30 years. Fabrics are still polyester based, lots of black, red and brown, and really tacky ruffles and baubles. Why pay more for humiliation?

Anonymous said...

I agree with Laurie. Who wants unfashionable stuff for a crazy price tag? Not me! I buy my stuff at Target and Koh;s.