Campaigns centered on body positivity are plastered across digital and in-store landscapes as fashion brands answer consumers’ call for size inclusivity. But despite the universal push, the men’s plus-sized category is still severely lacking. Retail intelligence company Edited says that, while plus-sized apparel is already an underserved market, there’s an even larger gap in men’s.
“Considering how important fit is within denim, it’s still an underserved market, especially compared to women’s with less than half the investment,” said Kayla Marci, Edited market analyst.
Though it varies by brand, the average men’s “big and tall” sizes begin with waist size 38—and many American men fall into this category. According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the average American man over the age of 20 has a waist measurement of 40.5 inches.
Despite the need, in-store men’s plus offerings are waning. Data from market and consumer data company Statista indicates that the plus-sized men’s clothing store market size dropped from $1.12 billion to $848.9 million since 2010, partly the result of the pandemic, as one of the greatest drops was documented between 2019 and 2020. Big and tall men’s clothing retailer Destination XL has also landed on S&P’s watch list of retailers at risk of default in recent months.
The companies leading the charge in men’s plus-sized denim may come as no shock to industry analysts, as they also happen to be some of the major brands supplying apparel for markets around the world.
A denim brand originally designed for rodeo workers, Lee has offered men’s plus sizing for the past nine years, and is continuously updating the ways in which it reaches its customers.
“Since our first plus-sized product hit retailers, Lee men’s has continued to expand product offerings and gained floor space with key retailers,” a Lee spokesperson told Rivet. “Today’s offering includes everyday staples as well as more on-trend styles.”
The Kontoor Brands-owned label offers men’s jeans up to a size 60 waist and 36 length. Though the category can sometimes carry a higher price tag, Lee’s plus pricing is on par with its standard sizing, hovering around the $60 mark for regular-priced items.
Heritage denim brand Levi’s, which often sets industry precedent with its progressive views and offerings, features a big and tall offering that extends through size 60 waist and 40 length. Its popular 541 athletic jeans, which feature extra room in the seat that tapers down to the ankle, were designed to “look bespoke without the trip to the tailor.” The style sells for $79.50, comparable to its standard-sized fit.
Target’s men’s plus sized offerings range across big, tall, and big-and-tall, with bottoms in sizes up to 5XL and 50 waist at price parity. Similarly, BoohooMan offers sizing through 5XL and 46 waist at price parity. According to the site, denim is “perfectly tailored for big men” and accommodates larger frames with higher rises, distressed detailing and dark washes.
In recent years, denim brands have expanded their sizing to accommodate the push for size inclusivity. Earlier this year, Abercrombie & Fitch launched a campaign reflecting its most inclusive collection yet, featuring a men’s line available in sizes 28-40 with various inseam lengths. And for its Fall 2019 denim collection, American Eagle began offering men’s denim for sizes 26-48, and made them available in stores as opposed to just online.
Jack and Jones also launched extended sizing in recent years, with a Fall 2019 size range featuring sizes 1XL-6XL in tops, bottoms with waist sizes 40-54 and inseams from 32-38. The range featured super stretch fabrications spun from a unique mix of cotton, polyester and elastane.
Despite some brands’ and retailers’ progress, improvements still must be made in the way their offerings are positioned to customers in stores and online. Big and tall products are typically offered separately from standard sizing, either in a different section of the store or a separate category online—a concept that Marci predicts will be a feature of the past.
“Due to how the industry is evolving, there aren’t any pros in keeping plus lines separate for men or women,” she said, pointing to Old Navy’s recent approach with its women’s line as an indicator of what’s to come. In August, the retailer launched Bodequality, an omnichannel shopping experience that aims to democratize its fit process and how women of all shapes and sizes shop for fashion, offering sizes 0-30 and XS-4X for all women’s styles at price parity. Its fleet of more than 1,200 stores and online shops will be transformed into fully size-integrated shopping experiences as well.
“The retailer is streamlining prices and incorporating fit, design and marketing for all sizes, so consumers are no longer ‘othered,’” said Marci.
Old Navy currently offers men’s sizes XXL to XXXL, with tall sizes available from M to XXXL, and a waist size through 54, and carries one of the most affordable price points in the category.
Much like its standard-sized counterparts, men’s plus sized denim is experiencing a new cycle. The looser fits and comfort-focused fabrications that are defining the trends are also being adopted in larger sizes, with Edited’s latest denim report indicating straight, slim and tapered styles are most popular in the U.S., though skinny continues to dominate the U.K.
Dark washes are typically favored over lighter colors, and earthy tones with utility details that nod to the Gorpcore aesthetic are an essential segment of the category. Companies are also taking this opportunity to flex their comfort-focused fabric innovations, as seen in American Eagle’s “Airflex” technology which offers lightweight flexibility and features waist sizing through 48, and Lee’s denim which features extreme flex waistbands, thermal regulation and moisture-wicking properties. The technology gives the wearer up to two extra inches of flexibility, performance stretch in the body fabric and an inseam gusset.
“Our product is specifically made to be comfortable in areas that tend to be an issue for larger men,” said a Lee spokesperson. “The men’s big and tall market is seeking comfort above all else.”