Plus sizes, extending sizing, sizing inclusivity—however it may be defined, the trend toward offering a more expansive collection of sizes for a more diverse consumer group has been a focus for many brands over the past few years.
However, the concept is still relatively new in the fashion industry and brands still have much to learn about a consumer group that largely was ignored until recently.
A new report released by Coresight Research, “New Consumer Attitudes Drive U.S. Plus-Size Apparel Demand,” examined the plus-size consumer and found that this demographic often exhibits unique purchasing behaviors that could play a role in which brands the individual plus-size purchaser chooses to patronize.
To begin, the CDC estimates that there are around 53 million women in the United States that could technically qualify as “obese,” although the term is considered by some to be contentious and nondescriptive. Regardless, the CDC said that 41.1 percent of all American women over the age of 20 may, in fact, be medically obese.
However, only 24 percent of women polled in a Prosper Insights and Analytics survey conducted in April 2019 reported they had shopped primarily for plus-size clothing over the past five years. Even using that methodology, Coresight estimates that the female plus-size cohort still numbers around 31 million shoppers in the U.S.
“Continued demand for plus-size clothing will be met by a growing supply of inclusive apparel to address elevated consumer expectations that are likely to support market expansion for many years,” Coresight researchers explained.
However, additional data from the Prosper survey clearly shows that the consumer group has a lower per-person spend. According to Coresight’s analysis, that means that for every dollar spent by a woman who makes regular purchases outside of plus-size ranges, the plus-size consumer spends 82.8 cents.
Researchers believe that some of that disparity is possibly due to the lack of attention brands have historically paid to extended sizes. However, Prosper’s survey also revealed that many plus-size consumers simply do not have the same resources. Female plus-size consumers aged 18 and over, on average, reported having a household income of $51,350—21.1 percent lower than the national average of $65,175.
Only 20.1 percent of plus-size shoppers in the survey made more than $75,000 last year, compared to 32.4 percent among those who shop for traditional sizes.
Traditionally, plus-sized apparel is bought offline or in-store due to difficulties with both inventory and proper sizing. In 2019, that is still very much the case. Prosper found that Walmart is the most commonly visited location for plus-size consumers; 20.5 percent of all surveyed said they shop there most often. Kohl’s came in second at 13.2 percent and Macy’s followed at 7 percent. Amazon was the only e-commerce platform to place in the top 20 plus-size destinations with 3.8 percent estimating they shop there most often.
However, 5 percent of those surveyed said that internet retailers were where they most regularly shopped, up from 1.6 percent in 2015.
“Many retailers and brands are serving plus-size shoppers more proactively, offering more fashionable choices in stores, online and through other options such as rental and subscription services,” Coresight said. “And, retailers and brands are extending sizing and offerings to meet these demands.”
J.C. Penney, which ranked above Amazon with 5.6 percent of plus-size shoppers preferring their stores, was highlighted in the report as one of the leading department store retailers when it comes to robust plus-size offerings. According to Coresight, the retailer offers the highest ratio of extended sizing in women’s jeans among all retailers. Of all the jeans sold on its website, around 37 percent are sold in plus sizes.
Lingerie, bridal wear and sportswear are the fastest-growing segments for the cohort, according to Coresight—and shoppers are beginning to respond more positively to plus-size models as well. As brands like Victoria’s Secret come under scrutiny for relying on supermodels at the exclusion of other body types, more than a quarter of those surveyed between the ages of 16 and 25 responded that they like plus-sized models “a lot.”
Of those aged 26 through 35, responses were even more favorable, with 36 percent agreeing they liked lingerie ads with plus-sized models “a lot” and 29 percent saying they liked it “somewhat.” That interest dropped off once respondents reached the age of 51 and up.
Brands like Hanesbrands and PVH have made large investments in plus-size lingerie over the past couple of years. Hanesbrands introduced two new plus-size lingerie lines in 2017 and the PVH-owned e-commerce lingerie startup True & Co. sells 56 percent of its products in plus sizes.
“We predict the plus-size market and lingerie categories will continue to see positive disruption from new market entrants,” Coresight researchers added. “And, we expect specialty retailers to further explore marketplace partnerships and collaborations, and to look for opportunities to expand in the US.”
Sportswear is another arena in which extended sizing is receiving more attention from brands. Nike recently made waves when it introduced plus-sized mannequins in its stores, a move the brand said would “celebrate the diversity and inclusivity of sport.”