Thursday, October 20, 2011

Plus size retailers/boutiques offering regular sizes: Good or bad?

Recently, I saw a question posted online that sparked my interest. The question was:

How would you feel if a plus size boutique or store added regular sizes to their collection, expanding the size range downward to a size 4?

As a size 26-28 and often a “forgotten” woman when it comes to plus size clothing retailers, I felt this was a topic worthy of discussion. In a time and age where mainstream retailers are discontinuing their plus size lines altogether or just offering them online, it troubles me that now we have to contend with plus size retailers…“our” retailers, toying with the idea of becoming mainstream. Not to mention the fact that many plus size retailers don’t offer past a size 24. While I understand that these retailers feel that this could be a lucrative move for their business, there are some important factors that should be looked at.

There are many thin women who don’t want to shop at a plus size brick and mortar (B & M) store:
I personally have a friend who would not be caught dead inside of a Lane Bryant or any plus size store because she does not want to be perceived as being plus size. Mind you, she wears a size 14, which is considered plus size in retail. But she would rather shop in Marshall’s or TJ Maxx where she feels there isn’t that stigma of shopping in a “big girl” store. Believe it or not, my friend’s attitude is something that I have seen and heard many times. Many thin women do not want to be seen in a plus size store. They feel embarrassment and shame. Which leads me to my next point...

If the retailer or boutique offers size 4 – 24, would they still bill themselves as being a plus size retailer?
Retailers like Old Navy and Forever 21 offer plus sizes but they don’t promote themselves as plus size retailers. If a plus size retailer starts to offer sizes 4 – 24, then they are not solely a plus size retailer anymore. Unless they are going to bill themselves as solely a plus size retailer, now offering regular sizes, which is the reverse of what Old Navy and Forever 21 does. However, knowing how some thin women may negatively perceive a plus size store, I am concerned that these retailers would start to market themselves in a more mainstream fashion and no longer would like to be known as a plus size retailer in an effort to gain customers who wear under a size 14.

What about those of us who are size 24 and above?
Those women who are sizes 14 and under would definitely benefit from this size expansion but those of us who are above a size 24 are the real losers here. We already feel excluded by plus size retailers but for them now to expand their size range in the opposite direction just reinforces those feelings of being forgotten. A plus size retailer or boutique should be embracing us and not excluding us in favor of our thinner counterparts. As I wrote in my previous blog post two weeks ago about us forgotten women at the end of the size range… just because we are above a size 26, does not mean we are any less fashionable or don’t want to look pretty. We want to be able to wear beautiful clothes too.

Thinner women have more shopping options – why add to that when extended sizes are more needed?
This point goes hand in hand with #3. Thinner women have so many places they can shop at. You walk into a mall and there will be maybe 2 plus size stores in there and 20 mainstream stores for my thinner counterpart. Now plus size retailers want to offer regular sizes too? Listen, I’m all for equality and I certainly do not advocate sizism. However, if stores want to open the size range then why not just offer sizes 4 – 32? Let’s not exclude anyone.

But at the same time, I will admit that it does bother me a little because plus size women have limited shopping options to begin with and now we would have to share our stores with thinner women, who already have a magnitude of options available to them.

Listen, I get it. We are still deep in a recession, retail is a business and money is not being spent as it used to be. So retailers are looking for ways to increase revenue, which unfortunately means some sizes will be dropped and some added. A few months ago, I read a lengthy discussion on a blog regarding J. Crew dropping size 14 from their stores, which had many women in an uproar. However, J. Crew’s reasoning was that size 14s don’t sell in their stores. Their size 14s are now just available online.

I just think that while retail is a business and revenue-driven, the customer is important too. Especially within the plus size community, where we appreciate having our own stores and places to go to buy beautiful clothing, hard to find shoe widths, bras in larger sizes and accessories… we want to feel like the retailer cares because that in turn makes us want to shop. We shop because we have faith in the clothing and the retailer that backs it. But if retailers exclude us in the name of money, they risk their business and their reputation.

What are your thoughts on retailers and boutiques offering sizes 4 – 24?

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