If you’re a woman and you’ve shopped for a swimsuit, you’re probably breaking out into an anxious sweat from just reading this.
Well, I want to tell you something. If you’re a woman and you also wear clothing over a size 14-16, the above experience is a pretty accurate description of what all in-store shopping is like, not just swimwear.
That panicky, flustered feeling of wanting it to be over, the dread of turning to look in the mirror, the heartbreaking agony when something that looked so great on the rack and the straight-size model on the poster next to it looks nothing like what is staring back at you.
Shopping for clothes as a plus-size person is at best, difficult and at worst, impossible. And most retailers aren’t making it any easier. I have personally been plus-size my entire life and as an adult, I’ve worn every size from a 16 to a 30. I can tell you first-hand, there is no such thing as “one size fits all” when it comes to plus-sizes. The difference between a size 16 and a 26 is far greater than the difference between a size 8 and a size 16. It’s for that reason I want to be very careful about lumping all women who shop plus-sizes into the same category – not to mention the women who can’t even find their size in the current traditional plus-size spectrum. But, having said that, there are some pretty simple things retailers can do today which will help this grossly underserviced market.
Offer an online experience
The first thing to keep in mind when catering to a plus-size customer is that we were the early adopters of online shopping. The prospect of trying and buying in the safety and comfort of our own homes was and continues to be a true saviour. If I had a dollar for every time a salesperson has looked me up and down with the words “we don’t have your size” driving a dagger into my heart, I could buy the whole of ASOS. Most of us have spent a lifetime avoiding shopping altogether to dodge awkward encounters like this, not to mention the handful of times I attempted to fit into the largest size Sportsgirl offers, only to hear the all-too-familiar popping of stitches along a seam.
So, if you are a bricks-and-mortar store and you want to sell plus-sizes, you better be sure you offer online shopping too. And while I’m on that, free returns are a must. Many of us like to order multiple sizes of an item to make sure we get the right fit.
You know what else sucks? The shame of going to the allocated plus-size section of a store. Other than City Chic, there isn’t a single store dedicated to women in my size range and age group. Not only is the offering of plus sizes usually very limited, but it’s also always such a harried, awkward experience avoiding eye contact with the other bigger people braving their local H&M, Target or Kmart.
As plus-size people, we are othered every day by a weight-biased society. If you want us to spend money with you, don’t make us feel like we don’t belong. Do better when designing your clothing. Give us more options and allow us to be a part of the latest straight-size trends. Not all plus-size women want to hide their bodies in shapeless black sacks made from man-made fibres. The great thing about City Chic and ASOS is that they offer a wide variety of silhouettes, colours, styles, fabrics and cuts. There’s even skimpy lingerie on offer for crying out loud! We deserve to have the option to dress however we like, rather than only being given the options of muumuus or stretchy pants.
Show. More. Diverse. Bodies
My biggest bugbear of all is an even more simple fix than the suggestions above. It’s something any clothing brand can implement almost immediately. Show. More. Diverse. Bodies. In. Your. Clothes. It’s that simple. Even City Chic is guilty of not doing this. Their fit models are often, if not always, wearing their smallest size. There is little to no representation of women wearing an XXL. How are we meant to know what would or wouldn’t look good if we can’t see it on someone who looks like us? If we can’t see it, we can’t be it.
Unfortunately in Australia, we are way behind showcasing a diverse range of bodies. In the US, brands like Universal Standard, Superfit Hero and Fabletics not only create advertisements with a wide range of body types but on their websites, you can see what an item of clothing looks like on someone who is your exact size. What a revelation! I wish Universal Standard was just that – the universal standard for how to market to plus-size women. I’ve never felt so seen, respected and catered to and that feeling makes me want to spend money with them. A lot of money. Because us plus-size people are begging for more options. I am personally taking a leaf out of the Universal Standard handbook as I launch my own brand, Club Melon, a range of activewear specifically designed for plus-size women.
There’s a hugely under-served market here, ready to be seen and understood. Don’t force us to hurry through your shop floor picking up anything that looks like it might fit, only to fight back hot tears as we try things on under the harsh changeroom lights. Make us feel welcome and we will repay you. In cold, hard cash.