Given that there is apparently an obesity epidemic and all our waist lines are expanding at a steady rate, surely plus size fashion retailers are onto a winning thing I hear you ask! Growing market (excuse the pun).
But what I’m going to argue is that retailers like Evans, Yours and Simply Be (to a lesser extent) could find themselves side-lined by standard size retailers who are upping their game by offering plus size ranges.
Well inspired by the statistical wonderousness of major cosmetic brands who survey 5 people about their products and then declare 89% of women loved it (although two worked for them and one was drunk at the time), then I will talk about plus sized fashion using a sample size of one – me.
As a hefty lass of size 26 I buy my clothes from 3 categories of retailers.
Firstly, normal standard size brands. Clothing stores or ranges that go up to size 22. But I’m a 26 I here you cry - but for some clothing types that doesn’t seem to matter.
There are a number of clothing items I would NEVER buy from a plus size range or store. Basics like long or short sleeve t’s to start. Vest tops. Leggings. Jersy tops. All are excellent basics to be worn with your wardrobe and all are cheaper, better quality and more freely available in straight sizes. Even with massive boobs I can buy and wear H&M and other brands size L and XL for less than half the price that the same items cost in plus size ranges or in Evans for example. Leggings are stretchy and I wear size 20 from Primark for £3.
Knitwear. I’m going to type this slowly in case any plus size retailer reads this as I want to get this message across clearly.
Just because I’m fat doesn’t mean I’m allergic to natural fibres.
I want knitwear that has been within spitting distance of cotton in summer and wool in winter. I am willing to pay for this. I am not willing to pay for manmade fibres that will make me sweat and not survive more than one season.
I buy all my knitwear from non-plus size retailers because I can get better quality items from Gap, M&S, H&M (standard size), Topshop, Wallis … in fact anywhere else for the same price or cheaper. FACT.
So, that leaves all those other clothes that we cover our bodies with. Like jeans and shirts and dresses etc. And I am fat and I need bigger sizes. But this is where Evans and other plus-size only stores lose out to high street retailers who have plus size ranges (just read the Evans facebook page if you think I’m alone in thinking this).
Thinking about this the other day I think it comes down to this. Stores like Asos (*swoon*), New Look, H&M (oh and I know BiB is terrible but lots of their straight sizes go up to 22-24), Very, M&S, Next and others do plus size ranges that relate, in least the most passing way, to their main collections. Some even take main collection items and offer them in big sizing rather than design separate items.
And this gives them the advantage. Firstly, if your friends shop at a certain store, you want to as well. If you are younger it’s nice to feel that while you are bigger, at least you can shop at the same cool retailer your friends do, not have to try and avoid admitting your top is from *cough* *mutter* Evans the FAT STORE.
Secondly, because the plus size ranges are linked to the main ranges in some vague way, they tend to follow fashion more closely than those that are available from plus size retailers. If skater dresses are ‘in’, then at least at some point in the next 12 months there will be a version. If padded gilets are in, there will be a version. Sure, you will have to still wade through hanky hem t-shirts even there, but it there will be items that are more on trend.
But plus sized retailers (and some more than others I should reiterate– one starting with E for example) seem to start at a different place. They seem to start their collection with the thought ‘what is going to be make fat women look thinner because surely that is their one and only concern?!?’. And they design smocks. And some women will wear them. But even for that demographic there are only so many smocks you can wear or want.
Rather than thinking what’s in, and fun and what can we do to make fashion accessible to all there seems to be a process by which they think they should be saving us from ourselves. Protecting us from our mistaken desire to show off our waists, our curves and our own style.
And that’s why I think their days are numbered if they keep going the way they are. Fat women don’t want to dress differently just because they are fat. They want clothes that are bigger, cut well, but still essentially on trend and identifiably fashionable. We don't expect fat men to wear dresses or smock tops do we? They just get bigger items but in the same style as smaller sizes.
So, listen up. Get it right or lose your customer base.