More Than Just Mannequins
Plus Size Apparel Market Misses Its Potential
By Shamontiel Vaughn | Contributing Writer
(RETHINK Retail) — All good things don’t have to come to an end, but it appears to be the pattern with many plus-size stores. Avenue, a plus-sized retailer, is about to close its 222 nationwide stores. During its closing sales, the store is going out on a high note — donating a minimum of one meal to Feeding America for every $10 that is spent online or in brick-and-mortar Avenue stores.
While this is a memorable way to close stores instead of the usual way of just providing sales and clearance racks (they’re doing that too), the 200-plus store closing may bring back old-school nostalgia for other plus-size stores that have come and gone.
From Functional to Fashionable
Popular plus-size store Lane Byrant is still trying to hold on after news broke that its owner, Ascena Retail, owes $1.4 billion to lenders. (Ascena also owns women’s retailers Ann Taylor, Loft and Dressbarn.) Initially intended for maternity clothing in 1904, the Lane Bryant chain expanded to more than 800 stores in 47 states. Unfortunately there have been many mixed feelings regarding the fashion, some claiming it is not the most attractive or fashionable. This retailer is not alone. Old Navy shelved its plus-size clothing in 2007 to step back and invest in better clothing that “flatter curves and ensure ease of movement.”
Arguably one popular Charming Shoppes Inc. chain of stores did a better job than both: Fashion Bug. Before Lane Bryant and other stores were acquired by Ascena Retail Group, Fashion Bug was once at the top of the chain. With more than 1,200 nationwide stores, Fashion Bug had a range of junior sizes, misses sizes and plus-size clothing. However, the final Fashion Bug retail locations were sold in 2013.
Additional plus-size stores under Charming Shoppes Inc. that have since closed include Dimensions, The Answer, Modern Woman and PS (Plus Sizes, Plus Savings). Another one of the U.K. stores that Charming Shoppes Inc. partnered with, Monsoon, closed in the United States but the U.K. online store still ships “Monsoon Curve” plus-size clothing to the United States. Although Accessorize, another former U.K. partnership, is no longer affiliated with Charming Shoppes Inc., the U.K. retailer does have plus-size beach clothing available.
Is plus-size clothing the norm or a novelty?
Ed Razek, Victoria’s Secret recently-departed chief marketing officer, held firm to not selling plus-size lingerie and clothing in their retail stores. In his Vogue interview, he mentioned that a 2000 television special for plus sizes didn’t quite work out how Victoria’s Secret wanted it to.
Razek also noted that its then-sister division still sells plus-size lingerie for a “specific range, just like every specialty retailer in the world sells a range of clothing … As do we. We market to who we sell to, and we don’t market to the whole world.”
Lane Bryant and Victoria’s Secret were both previously owned by Limited Brands before the two parted ways in 2002. (Charming Shoppes Inc. lost ownership of Lane Bryant for a short time, regaining it in 2007 and then selling it to Ascena Retail Group in 2012.)
Regardless of which side of the argument Victoria’s Secret shoppers are on, the larger question is whether there are enough alternatives for those who can’t wear a “VS” stamp or pink dog on their undergarments. Teen Vogue counted off 10 other options, including Knix, Third Love and Savage X Fenty. Lingerie and apparel brands are not only diversifying the color of their clothing to match a variety of skin tones, but form-fitting clothing (ex. leggings) that once were solely marketed toward slimmer shades are arriving in larger sizes.
Mannequins ‘plus’ clothing changes in retail
Even plus-size mannequins are showing up on well-known brands, such as Nike. The activewear brand is testing the mannequins out in London before expanding to the rest of the world. While Nike may be one of the most popular for activewear, this company is not the first ever to do it. Other retailers such as Target have been using plus-size mannequins (up to a size 22) to show off clothing since 2017. Now that Old Navy has relaunched its in-store plus-size clothing line — after more than a decade — the size expansion of mannequins are popping up too.
While there may be mixed opinions on the change in fashion and mannequins, even the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention point out some obvious truths: We’re not the same size we used to be. As of 2016, on average, men between the ages of 20 to 39 weigh about 196 pounds while women in this same age group weigh 167 pounds. For ages 40 to 59, men’s weight increases to 200 pounds and women’s weight is approximately 176 pounds. By senior age of 60 and up, men lose a little weight since their 20s, averaging at 194 pounds. Women do the same, weighing in at 166 pounds.
While there may be some retailers who continue to deny the change in weight and fashion trends, others have come around to embracing customers who want to shop in their stores but possibly couldn’t before. And for those who were already plus-size shoppers, now they have curvier, more comfortable options to work with.