Is the ‘Plus Size’ Label Still Useful?
I can still remember the first time my mother dragged me into the dark and gloomy plus size section at the department store in our local mall.
Confused and a little embarrassed, I wondered why I was the only child in the section and why my clothing options weren’t next to my little sister’s.
My mother struggled to explain why this was so. I understood what she was saying, but in the back of my mind I felt uncomfortable about my biggest insecurity being put on display. During that time, the selection of plus size clothes was very limited and the section itself was tucked away into the corner of the store.
Although today the section is bigger and features a wider variety of items making it a little more like its counterparts, I find myself wondering why it’s even needed at all. In the age of body positivity, why do we need to isolate plus size fashion, and by extension, plus size women?
Stoutwear: where plus size started
The first time a retailer decided to create a line geared towards heavier women was in the early 1900s. Retailer Lane Bryant created it to serve pregnant women, but at the time such a thing was still considered taboo.
Not long after, Lane Bryant released its For the Stout Women line. The so-called stoutwear was isolated from the rest of the clothing on sale, and while commendable, the plus-sized or stout consumers were often overlooked and bombarded with what were ultimately offensive ad campaigns.
It wasn’t until the 1970s that the plus size industry would finally see a well-deserved shift in public attitudes. After social movements in the 1960s effectively altered the public perception of large-sized people to a certain degree, fashion became more about loving your body instead of trying to hide and conceal it.
Consequently, modeling agencies that represented plus-sized models exclusively started popping up while businesses flocked to open their own plus size fashion lines. And for good reason too — those that didn’t saw a decline in their sales.
By the 1990s, the plus size section had become a lot bigger than it once was, and began to incorporate more personalized products enabling consumers to better express themselves. One major development came about in the early 2000s, when plus size fashion bloggers began to criticize the industry for the lack of diversity in their products.
For the first time, curvy women were speaking up, demanding change and more options to express their creativity and fantasies. By this point, the fashion industry had begun to acknowledge the plus size community as more than simple consumers.
Today, the plus size community is greater than it ever was. While in the past the selection of plus size options was limited, there is now an abundance of clothing items that allow us, as large-sized consumers, to express who we are through what we wear.
Is plus size the new norm?
In addition to having a wider selection of clothing to choose from, the general attitude towards the plus-sized community has also changed. Ads now address us head-on, in a positive framework. Plus-sized women are now featured on the cover of magazines and even star in movies. Although the community has come a long way, many people wonder whether separation is necessary anyway.
Is it that implausible for a company to simply create a line of clothes suitable for all sizes?
The answer, of course, is yes. But if you’re shocked to learn that there are several companies that create a single line of clothes for all sizes, join the club. Universal Standard, for instance, offers all of their clothes in sizes ranging from 00 to 40. Acknowledging the fact that the majority of American women wear a size 14 or larger, the company aims to appeal to all consumers, regardless of their size.
Universal Standard’s business model evolved as a direct result of consumers’ desire for fresh, new clothing, in a location where all people could shop in the same place at the same time. While this is a commendable act, it also clearly demonstrates that companies in the fashion industry can sustain the mass production of clothing in all sizes.
Which brings us back to the question: Is a plus size section truly necessary in this day and age?
Given that the majority of women currently wear plus sizes anyway, some might argue that the section is needed more than ever.
In the past decade, the plus size market has skyrocketed and gained some much-needed attention, leaving consumers to wonder if the industry can be freed from the burdens of identity politics and cultural prejudices. On the other hand, some individuals make note that if the majority of women are plus-sized, it should be considered the new standard.
While in the past the plus size section was a sign of torment for me, I have become accustomed to searching for it almost every time I enter a store and have embraced my curves without regard to the size of clothing I wear.
Although it was always easy for me to find clothes in my size by going to a smaller section of the store, I often wondered how it would feel to be able to pick an item up off any of the racks. While most stores these days have upgraded their plus size section to include a variety of styles and materials, many people question whether the section is relevant anymore.
Given the choice, most women would prefer to shop in a retailer’s core line, noting a sense of embarrassment for having to shop in a separate store or department. Given that the majority of us are considered plus-sized to begin with, it seems kind of silly to have these distinctions here in 2019.