Bigger is Better in Plus-Size Industry
Plus-Sized Women Demand More Clothing Options
February 23, 2005 5:16 PM
The sharp intake of breathe can be heard, followed by the anxious question, "Is she wearing your shirt?"
"Oh my god!"
The sound of scrambling feet headed to the door follows the excited exchange.
Darlene Davila, 32, of San Jose, is wearing the same shirt as another women to the party and as any woman knows, this is a cardinal sin. Luckily, Davila and her friends have gotten a room at the same hotel the party is at and are rushing to the room to change.
"See this is what sucks about not having enough stores that carry plus-size clothing," said Davila, office manager at Varian Medical Systems in Palo Alto. "Someone is always wearing your shit."
With the extension of waistband sizes the demand for a larger plus-size clothing market increases. Total sales for the plus-size market were close to $17 billion last year, a 5.5-percent increase from 2003 whereas the overall apparel market increased by only 3 percent. Total sales of apparel for 2004 was $93 billion. The raise in sales may have something to do with the fact that people are just getting bigger.
Sixty-four percent of U.S. adults are overweight. The most popular size for women is size 14 compared to size 8 in 1985, according to the market research firm NPD group.
Most of todayís plus-size persons demand acknowledgement and are not afraid to dress for it. But unlike the plus-size styles carried by department stores such as Macyís and Sears, the plus-size woman isnít apologetic about her weight.
"Itís a giant piece of material," said Kristy Collins, apparel design and merchandising major and president of Fashion Student Association at SF State, referring to some of the clothing that was available in her size 16 dress frame. "There is either no shape or itís boxy. It made me look 10 times bigger."
The fashions which Macyís and Sears currently carry are now making room for stores where being big doesnít mean losing out on style.
One of those stores is Torrid, a "fashion-forward" clothing store that caters to women sizes 12 to 26. Torridís spring line includes a lot of strappy tank tops and knee-length skirts. Nowhere in Torrid would one find the tent-like floral nightgown your grandmother used to wear. Replacing it are see-through lingerie and ruffled panties in colors of red, pink, white and black.
"There are a lot of things in this store that people think big people shouldnít wear," said Amy Bernardi, 20, a liberal studies major and sophomore at SF State. "But it looks cute and it fit me, so Iím going to wear it."
Stores like Torrid, Lane Bryant and Casual Males, Big and Tall are meeting the demand for more fashionable clothing for the plus-size person in a market of few suppliers.
"Their (plus-size customers) perception, until this store opened, is that they (clothing designers) didnít make things in my size," said Christine Deutsch, 40, store manager of Torrid at Stonestown.
"They would ask which section is their's and be surprised that the entire store is for them."
Torrid opened its doors at Stonestown Galleria in November 2004. Torrid is still new to the plus-size clothing market as stores such as Target, Ross and Old Navy have been carrying plus-size clothing for some time. But many complain that some of the clothing available are not as trendy, and cater to a much older and more casual crowd.
Collins concedes to shopping at Old Navy when the usual stores she shops at, Lane Bryant and Torrid, do not have what she is looking for.
Torrid currently has 76 stores nationwide and is planning to open 45 more stores in 2005, growing to
"There are levels of fat," said Darren Battle, a disc jockey at Big Boogie Nights, a nightclub catering to people of size. "And some fat people do live healthy lifestyles. Events like Big Boogie Nights encourage active living." †
Battle, aka DJ Zulu, is not only a DJ and owner/propiertor of Darrenteed Productions, which promotes Big Boogie Nights, he's also a big guy himself who prefers big women.
"Fat people need love too," said Battle nonchalantly.
Big Boogie Nights is just one of a growing number of outlets where size is not shrouded but celebrated. And as most women would say, a celebration is just an excuse for a new outfit. Unfortunately the majority of the clothing industry hasnít heard the call.
For some this is just one more hill to climb to being accepted.
Collins has been plus-sized most of her life. She remembers shopping for a dress during her sophomore year of high school and realizing that she couldnít shop at the same stores her friends were.
"Nothing fit, so my mom took me to Macyís," said Collins. Collinsís discomfort was experienced by many people who had to go through the same episode.
"I didnít really go out to buy clothes because I assumed they didnít have my size," said LaDonna Harris, 32, a public administration major, about troubles sheís had shopping for her size 28 frame.
Harris admits that it has gotten better recently, though.
"Marilyn Monroe was a size 14," said Collins. "And she is an icon."
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