With the news of LOFT discontinuing their plus-size options, this week we take a look at why special sizes like petite, plus, and tall are so difficult for retailers to get right.
More than 70% of women wear a size 14 or bigger, and 50% of American women are under 5’4″…so why it so hard to find great options?
We also cover why plus sizes cost more (maybe), why men don’t struggle with this (not totally true), and what you can do if you want retailers to become more size-inclusive (spoiler: tell them!).
Finally, I share an unpopular opinion.
Links & Resources From the Episode
Retail Dive Announcement of LOFT Closing
Vogue Business What Happened to Plus Sizes?
Joanne Jarrett on Starting a Clothing Line
Vogue Business Should Brands Charge More for Larger Sizes?
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Welcome back! Before we get into today’s topic, I wanted to let you know that I’m working on a little side project. I’m not quite ready to share details yet, but I’m giving myself some extra time to work on it, which means that my solo episodes are going to be a bit shorter for a little while. I’ve got some great interviews lined up that I’m super excited to share with you, and as always, I want to make sure that every episode, no matter how long, gives you the tools and inspiration you need to love the way you look and make life more stylish.
I’ve heard from a lot of you who love the shorter episodes, so this will be great for you. And I’ve heard from those who love the longer episodes because you listen to them while you’re out on a walk–I always say that I’m exercising vicariously through all of you. Seriously, I go on a lot of walks each week. But if that is you, and you’re wishing I’d talk longer so you can walk longer,. challenge yourself to speed walk through the shorter episodes, or do a walk/jog combo. For both of us, we’ll be aiming to get more done in a short amount of time.
Today we’re talking about special sizes, especially, plus sizes, and why businesses have such a hard time getting this right, and I’m going to share my very controversial thought on the subject.
But first, I want to share this Apple Podcast review that was left by
Best style podcast for women!
I’m so thankful I came across Jen’s podcast! She offers such practical style advice. Her episodes on body type have changed the way I view my body and the clothes I wear. I’m much more confident in what I wear because of the advice Jen has shared on her podcast and in her capsule guide.
Flowers 431, I can’t tell you how happy it makes me to know that this show has helped you feel more confident, and how much I appreciate the rating and review. Not only do they mean the world to me, but reviews also make it easier for other women to find the show, and with your help, we can help women everywhere feel more confident. So thank you for taking the time to rate, review and subscribe.
All right, let’s dive in.
I got an email from a trade publication a couple of weeks ago, and I’ll share the article in the shownotes but if you follow LOFT on social media, this probably isn’t news to you.
LOFT has made the decision to discontinue the majority of their plus size options.
Here’s what LOFT said on Twitter “Unfortunately, due to ongoing business challenges, we have had to make some difficult decisions, which does impact our plus collection. Come fall, our size offering will be 00-18/XXS – XXL. We sincerely apologize for any disappointment.”
And wow, was there disappointment. Loud, vocal, angry disappointment.
I know that comes as a blow to a lot of women who were excited when the retailer started offering a more inclusive size range, and at Everyday Style, we were thrilled to be able to include LOFT items in our plus recommendations, so let me state this loud and clear-I think this is a sad thing.
But I want to talk about why this is happening. In its tweet, Loft admits to “ongoing business challenges”, and if you’ve been paying attention to Loft, you know they haven’t been having a great year. Like a lot of retailers, Loft had major shipping issues over the holidays, although from watching social media, Loft was a lot worse.
No other retailer I follow was having the same types of customer service issues in the comments. And who knows, maybe other companies were having the same issues but were better at dealing with it via phone and email, but from personal experience, Loft wasn’t responding to anyone, so people did take it to the comments, which was a public image, and sales blow over the holidays.
Also, I think we can chalk 2020 up to one big ongoing business challenge for most retailers, which Loft isn’t alone in, but I just think that internally, 2020 wasn’t great for loft. They went through a change in ownership, and a chapter 11–so lots of upheaval
But here’s the deal, when any business looks to cut costs, they don’t cut their money-makers first. Plain and simple. With challenges acknowledged, LOFT made a business decision to cut a segment that wasn’t giving them the return they needed, which we’re going to talk about later
I wanted to dig a little deeper though and talk about WHY special sizes seem to be so dang hard for retailers, and why every retailer isn’t doing plus sizes, as women size 14 and up make up 70% of the US clothing market. It stands to reason that the biggest segment of the market would have the most options, right? Wrong. According to an article in Vogue Business, less than 20% of apparel is made in those sizes. That’s a huge discrepancy.
But before you think that plus size women have it the worst in the special sizes category–that’s what it’s actually called. Let me set you straight. They don’t. The situation is just as dire for petites, and worse for tall women.
First, let me say again, I am all for size inclusivity, and hats off to the retailers who are trying their best. Athleta just announced that they’re expanding their plus size offerings–not only online, which is great, but in-store, which is amazing. I used to cringe a little when I had a shopping trip with a plus size woman, not because I didn’t love working with them, I did, but our options were really limited. We were pretty much just stuck with department stores, which was tough.
With 70% of women over size 14 and 50% of women under 5’4”, why aren’t retailers focused on making clothes for all sizes?
One of the things we hear all the time is how difficult special sizing, like plus and petite, is to create. But is it really? And why is it?
First, yes, it really is. In the Vogue article I mentioned, and will link to in the show notes, Alexandra Waldman of Universal Standard, one of the most fashionable, and size inclusive lines out there, discussed the challenges of grading patterns when it comes to plus sizes.
You’ll remember that Joanne Jarret talked about this on our episode on starting a fashion line, but grading is going from one size to the next. Like what’s the difference between a small and a medium, a medium and a large, and so on and so on.
Anyway, what Waldman says is that the more grading you do, so for a more inclusive size range, the more distorted the pattern becomes. She said it’s like making a photocopy of a photocopy over and over and gives the example that a pair of culottes in a size 4 becomes a pair of palazzo pants by the time you reach a 24. So the more inclusive the line is, the more distinct patterns it needs.
The same thing goes for petites, because if you remember back to our episode on what is petite clothing, you’ll know that petite doesn’t just mean shorter hems and sleeves. The armhole placement is different, the knee placement is different. The same goes for talls, just in reverse.
Petite, tall, and plus sizes aren’t just straight size patterns that have been shrunken down, stretched out or blown up in that proverbial photocopier. Everything is a little different…which means more patterns, more samples, more fit models.. Essentially, it is producing multiple lines. When you see retailers that are offering ALL the different options, give them major props. Some retailers–Lands End and Talbots come to mind, do plus petite, which is a terribly underserved community. You pretty much have two options, and I just gave them to you.
When it comes to plus sizes, there’s an additional challenge, and that’s that manufacturing hasn’t quite caught up with fashion inclusivity. Fabric comes in two widths, which often don’t accommodate all plus size patterns, so they end up being cut lengthwise and wasting a lot more material than either petite or straight sizes do.
Knitting machines in some factories often aren’t able to accommodate things like sweaters in bigger sizes, which makes production a challenge–especially for stores who have dipped a toe in the plus-size waters, but are still trying to use the same factories and processes. It doesn’t always work.
Because of those issues, plus sizes are often more expenses. Which begs the question, why aren’t petites cheaper? Why doesn’t a size 2 cost less than a size 12? Well friends, because pricing, like sizing, makes no sense. Retailers tend to spread the cost of all materials over the traditional straight size range, which can range from 00 or 0 to 12 or 14, and then charge more as the pattern changes. Maybe they don’t charge more for petites, because even thought it’s a different pattern, production costs aren’t there. I don’t know.
I did find an interesting article on pricing when it comes to plus sizes which I’ll link to in the shownotes, you can go check it out.
The other question it brings up is why do stores like Old Navy and most others charge more for women’s extended sizes, but not for mens? Well, a couple of reasons. First, mens bodies have fewer variations and measurements. You’re not dealing with bust, waist, hips… so a men’s shirt can kind of become a bigger boxy version of itself more easily.
Also, and probably most accurately, life isn’t fair. The article I just mentioned likened it to charging a fat tax on women, but not men. And you know what? There’s probably a lot of terrible, unfair truth to that. The only thing you can do about it is a) stop shopping at stores that don’t have price parity and b) email customer service and let them know on social media. The least helpful thing you can do is continue to pay more and be mad in your house by yourself. That doesn’t affect change.
You know I don’t talk about men’s clothes, but while we’re on the subject, I’d like to say that men DO face some of this stuff. Why is it big AND tall? What if you’re just big? What if you’re just tall? What if you’re considerably shorter than the average guy? A woman I meant told me her husband had to shop in the boys department, and was always worried that someone would recognize his Brooks Brothers kids clothes. I mean, I know women have it tough, but that sucks too.
Like I said earlier, I applaud retailers who are diving head first into the size inclusivity game, and figuring it out. Another thing Alexandra Waldman said in regards to overcoming the challenges of producing special sizes is that it requires full on commitment, and that quote “the half-hearted approach–producing clothes based on pre-existing, straight sized collections” doesn’t work” end quote. Which may be why we see some retailers dipping their toe in the water, and then getting back out of the game, because their things weren’t quite right, and didn’t meet women’s needs I actually noticed a lot of that on LOFT’s social media over the last week–women saying the fits were just a little off, and they’d stopped buying. I don’t know if that’s the case, but it could be.
When I think back to when I started styling women on my own, every department store had a decent petite section, and a decent plus size section. Banana Republic and Tabots both had a petite store, and Talbots also had a plus store. Over the years, I saw those sections and stores contract, and in some cases disappear altogether. By the time I stopped styling in person in person Banana Republic had closed their petite store, and gave a super tiny, hodgepodge section at the back of their regular store, a lot of department stores had combined the two sections, and the selections were horrible. It was shocking how fast the landscape had changed for special sizes in less than a decade.
Tall women are thinking yea, but what about me? I can’t find anything in stores. I know, and I feel for you, I really do. BUT, this one comes down to numbers. According to census data, around 5% of American women are taller than 5’9”. So while it can be really tough to find clothes, and it is incredibly tough in stores, I don’t know that “underserved” is the right word. The fact that retailers create a lot of clothes that at BEST would suit 5% of women, is actually kind of a big deal. Does that solve your problems? Nope, it doesn’t but look at it from a business decision, and it kind of makes sense. Also, I’d give the same advice to start emailing companies and calling them out on social media. Let them know what you want. Its the only way to get things changed.
Now, with all that said, its time for Unpopular Opinions with Jen. The part of the show where I make a whole lot of people mad. I’m going to let my tall and petite girls off the hook now and just talk to my plus size listeners. You’re probably warming up your fingers now, getting ready to send an email, and that’s cool, I can take it..but listen to the whole thing first, ok?
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First, let me say AGAIN, that I am thrilled with all the brands who are trying to be more size inclusive. That is a good thing. And it is a BAD thing that only 20% of clothing is produced for 70% of the population. Let me be clear on that. And Also, this doesn’t apply to every plus size woman, but it applies to more than it should. So here’s what I have to say…
If you want more great options and more nice things, you have to buy those great options and nice things. If you want retailers to invest in your style, YOU have to invest in your style.
And I know, you’re thinking, BUT JEN, I DO. I buy super nice clothes for the body I have right now! Great, awesome, then this isn’t for you. But let’s think about this for a minute…. 70% of women are over a size 14 as we’ve established. So it stands to reason that a decent percentage of my styling clients should have been over a size 14 right? Wrong. Out of hundreds and hundreds of clients I saw, I’d say it was less than 10%, and that’s being generous.
Over and over from plus size women I heard “I’m going to lose weight, and then I’m going to hire you”. Or, I don’t want to invest in clothes at this size. I’ve talked to women who just flat out refue to buy clothes in bigger sizes than they’d like. And, Of those handful of plus size women I did work with, only a couple were willing to invest in their wardrobes. Those few really stood out to me. The others wanted an inexpensive, just get by wardrobe. They were convinced they’d have a different body next year, and these clothes would no longer fit, so they didn’t want to spend a ton. Whether that turned out to be true or not, I couldn’t say.
Even now, when we put links in the Capsule Guide database, we track what people are buying to give even better suggestions next time. We always try to put price ranges in our special size options, but when it comes to the plus, the higher end stuff hardly ever gets bought..It’s target, old navy, kohls. And it’s true that across all size ranges, our budget friendly links are more popular, but there is a GLARING difference in the plus sizes.
You know, Ann Taylor actually tried plus sizes years ago, and if you notice, they don’t anymore. I read an interesting article back then, that I wish I could find now, but someone from the company said “We made plus sizes, women just didn’t buy them”, and there were a couple of other companies in the article that said the same thing.
The big narrative in the retail world is that plus size women are underserved in fashion and that there’s nothing stylish to buy. That is no longer the case. There are some AMAZING brands out there crushing it in the plus size game. Stop telling yourself you can’t have great clothes because they don’t make them in your size. Maybe they don’t make enough of them, but it’s not all muumuus and terrible jeans anymore. It’s just not.
We have to stop looking at our bodies, regardless of what size they are, as temporary. Yes, it might be the body you have right now, and yes, you might want it to be different at some point, but temporary is a short term thing with a plan. One thing almost every plus size woman I worked with said was that she wished she had done it sooner.
These aren’t the last clothes you’ll ever buy, regardless of size, so while you’re here, buy great stuff. Or, don’t be upset when retailers don’t make enough of them.
Saying that, it sounds like I’m victim blaming–it’s your fault you can’t have nice things–and that’s honestly not what I’m trying to do. when you see fabulous things you love, buy em, even if you think you won’t be wearing it next year, and tell those retailers, with your dollars, that you, and your style, matter.
Make the special sizes, if they’re done well, be the best sellers for the brand. That tells retailers that it’s worth the extra investment, and that plus size, and petite, and tall women aren’t an afterthought.
That’s all I’ve got for you today. Your homework is to post a nice comment on any retailer’s social media account, asking for size inclusion, and price parity. If special sizes don’t apply to you, and this isn’t something you struggle with, you can sit this one out. OR you can do it for your Style Sisters who have a tough time shopping.
Also, head over to our website to see some of my favorite places to shop for petite, tall, and plus clients. You might discover a new favorite!
Before we go.The Spring Capsule Guide is available RIGHT now–with links to all kinds of sizes, like plus, petite, curvy, tall, and lots of price ranges. We want to help EVERY woman of every size, and shape, every budget love the way she looks and create an effortless wardrobe. Head to our website to grab it now, and make this your most stylish spring yet.
I’ll see you next week!