The new plus size woman is too confident (think Camryn Manheim) to let merchants get away with offering her frumpy frocks. Secure with her size and femininity, she is demanding fashion for her taste level and lifestyle, and finally starting to get it.
No more muu-muus, please
In America alone, there are 40 million women over size 14, spending $25 billion a year on clothing, or a quarter of all clothing sales, according to American Demographics.
But despite the buying power of voluptuous women, merchants and designers seem to have just discovered the potential of the plus size fashion market, particularly for young, hip customers.
Women and girls, regardless or their size, want to be able to choose from fashionable apparel. "They want color, novelty and trendy goods " said Norman Weiss of Syd & Sam (now called Alight.com), an e-tailer serving the special sizes market. The bottom line? Plus size women want the same selection as missy and junior sizes.
Unfortunately, outside of major metropolitan areas, stores aren't able or willing to give up retail space to stock a selection of larger sizes. "We have also learned that the plus customer is the most dissatisfied with the store shopping experience and buys more frequently from catalogs. The next natural extension is for her to shop now online," said Weiss.
Why shouldn't a 20 be as 'normal'
as a 10?
London designer Anna Scholz, who is a size 20, is one of the few designers worldwide who are working to smash the barriers of sizism by offering fashion in sizes 8-26. "I think it's going to take ages for things to change and for shops to stock larger sizes as a part of their fashion sections," she says in Fashion UK "There is racism, sexism and sizism and I have a non sizist philosophy."
The Internet itself is also a great equalizer, allowing a few savvy niche merchants to treat all sizes equally. After years of hunting down obscure plus size departments, shoppers can now see styles in their sizes, right along with missy and junior sizes.
One innovative company has taken a very subtle approach to integrating large-size junior apparel. In the Girlfriends LA catalog, sizes up 3XL or 25 are listed right along with it's other sizes. No special distinction is made between plus and other sizes. The message here? If you're over a size 13/14, you're totally normal.
So what size are you anyway?
A lack of standardization in the fashion industry means that with online shopping you'll have to pay attention to measurements, not just sizes. After all, missy sizes are sometimes cut to a 20, and women's sizes usually start at a 14W. Not to mention that UK sizes may look the same as the US, but they usually run about a size smaller.
A rule of thumb? Women's sizes are usually cut more generously than missy sizes, so if you see a W at the end of the size (not to be confused with WP which means women's petite) it is larger.
Technology will cure some of the fit problems with the advent of avatars (3D models created in your exact image) to try on clothes. Some futurists predict that mass customization will occur, and clothing will be made to order just for you.
In the meantime, make sure you're checking
measurements on everything, verify the return policy for online purchases and don't be
afraid to email the company for further information.
b]Tips for looking your best
- One-piece dresses look sleeker than separates. Look for stretch fabrics and well-placed dars to help the fit. If you do separates, remember the brightest or lightest color or print "pops" and accents whatever it's on. A good way to balance out a top heavy figure: zebra skirt with black turtleneck. You get the idea!
- Don't be afraid of sleeveless garments! It's very flattering to show a little skin. If you don't feel comfortable with your upper arms, drape a beautiful, sheer shawl around your shoulders or pop on a shrug.
- The worst thing a woman can do is cover up head to toe. Pick your best asset, maybe shapely legs or a curvy bust. Flaunt it! Wear V-necks for your bust or shorter skirts for your legs.
- Use the tight-loose rule of dressing in separates. For example, you can wear a fitted camisole under a looser top or a slim pair of pants under an easy, long jacket. All baggy is a sure-fire way to tell the world you hate your body.
- Why are plus size departments in stores practically hidden -- tucked into corners or shoved into basements?
- Why do plus size designers still think all women over size 14 like bright colors, loud prints and embellishment on everything?
- Why can't women order their pants the same way as men -- by waist and inseam?
- Why do manufacturers put elastic on the waistband of all women's sizes?