Despite the fact that the plus-size apparel market was worth an estimated $21.4 billion in 2016 — representing a growth of 6 percent — and the fact that two-thirds of American women are above a size 14, there remain huge gaps in the retail space for plus-size consumers looking to get involved in fashion.
Nowhere is that more true than in the luxury retail space. Even while the luxury market is in the middle of a big turnaround — it just rebounded to a projected 6 percent growth forecast, a number which includes both apparel and accessories — brands choose to ignore the opportunities in the plus-size sector. Plus-size clothing represents 10 percent of retail sales and has outpaced its straight-sized counterparts for over three years, with that coveted Gen-Z group driving an estimated third of all sales.
There’s no question that extending sizes isn’t as simple as scaling up existing patterns. Getting into larger size ranges often means incurring extra expenses, like hiring another fit model, creating more patterns and using more fabric. But unlike smaller or newer brands, at the luxury level, these companies have the money: Gucci, as just one especially prosperous example, saw a 49 percent sales growth in the first fiscal quarter of 2018 alone, worth some $2.2 million. And there are a growing amount of would-be partners willing to facilitate the expansion into plus sizes, like new luxury e-tailer 11 Honoré, which offers expert pattern makers to brands and eats any extra costs incurred during the process.
If it’s easier and more profitable than ever to expand into plus sizes, why aren’t more brands doing it? The answer may be as simple as good old-fashioned snobbery. “Being overweight is not very healthy, so it doesn’t matter how much of the population is fat; it’s not a healthy image to be putting out there,” one anonymous exec told Glossy in 2017. Designer Prabal Gurung said that when he told people he would be collaborating with plus-size brand Lane Bryant, there was “snickering,” with one person even asking, “Why are you designing for fat people?”
Ultimately, it matters that luxury brands offer plus sizes because they’re the trendsetters of the industry. Yoox/Net-a-Porter Group went fur-free in June 2017, and Laura Brown announced that InStyle had been fur-free since she took over as editor-in-chief in 2016. When Gucci announced it would go fur-free in October 2017, it set off an avalanche of brands rushing to follow in its footsteps, like Versace, Michael Kors and John Galliano. What happens in one area of fashion generally becomes a trend, and then a movement, trickling down into the contemporary and mass markets. Perhaps these brands and retailers don’t care that they’re leaving money on the table; perhaps it’s enough for industry insiders that plus-size women have options at the fast-fashion level. But they are quickly finding themselves behind the curve when it comes to the reality of the apparel market.
It’s time for plus-size inclusion to become a true movement at the luxury fashion level. If designers and brands could offer larger size ranges, bigger sample sizes could be made available for editorial shoots with plus-size models or celebrities and runways could become more representative; if retailers would stock those sizes, they’d be available for women attending the shows to borrow or buy to be shot for street style. Most importantly, the joy of fashion would become available to a wider swath of women.
There are obviously a number of luxury brands on the market and, quite frankly, most of them have a sizing problem. We narrowed the field down by choosing a combination of established luxury labels from Interbrand’s list of the 100 Best Global Brands of 2017 and buzzier names from Lyst’s top 10 brands of 2017 published on Business of Fashion. Certain big names, like Chanel and Dior, were hard to track as they don’t retail their ready-to-wear online and thus did not make the final cut.
Brands’ sizing was determined by finding the size charts listed on their own websites, and then perusing the ready-to-wear options on each e-commerce site. It’s worth noting that it’s possible that higher sizes, often regarded as outliers, are produced in smaller runs and thus sell out faster, which could explain limited availability; these brands may also have the capability to offer custom sizing for top customers. Because there is no firm standard for sizing, actual fit will, of course, vary from brand to brand, even within the same size.
There are, of course, luxury fashion brands which make plus sizes — most notably Prabal Gurung and Christian Siriano, who are proving to be pioneers in the space. The trouble comes when retailers either refuse to stock extended sizes, or neglect to push the designers they stock to extend their size range. For the plus-size movement to really take hold, it’s essential that retailers get on board, too.
To keep things broad, we choose luxury e-commerce websites which could easily be shopped globally; sizing can become more limited at the brick-and-mortar level, especially when talking about independent boutiques. It should be noted that items could have sold out in certain sizes, which would make for discrepancies in what is actually offered. We took samples from offerings in smaller sizes to show variance. And again, because there is no standard in sizing, retailers may translate sizes differently from the brand’s own e-commerce (for example, Dolce & Gabbana lists an IT 50 as a US 14, while Matches Fashion lists it as US 16).
With the secondhand market poised to overtake fast fashion in 10 years, there’s no question that resale is going to be a huge component of the future of retail. Of course, consignment shops and sites can only stock what they’re sent, which means the lack of plus-size garments in standard retail inevitably trickles down into this space. To show how this happens, we took a sampling of options available at The RealReal; there are, of course, many other resale sites out there, but we chose The RealReal for its broad luxury selection and ease of sorting.