How Stores Are Designed To Fat Shame
March 18, 2017 7:36 AM   Subscribe

How Stores Are Designed To Fat Shame: Store layouts often discriminate against plus-size shoppers, writes professor Kathryn Anthony. What can be done about it?
posted by Room 641-A (70 comments total) 14 users marked this as a favorite

 
The article is blend of insightful and badly out of touch.

The idea that being able to order, try-on and return from your comfort of your own home being a bug, not a feature, for a woman who loves clothes is beyond wrong. Avoiding driving, parking at the mall, store dressing rooms, maybe sales tax? Beloved by big people and small people, fashionistas and I'd-wear-a-toga-if-allowed, and everyone in between.

The idea that discount retailers and specialty realtors attention to plus-size women is somehow a ghetto and they need to get attention from the traditional department stores or generalist mall stores? The traditional department stores and generalist mall stores are failing EVERYONE (their shareholders, creditors and landlords notably); you want this thing to be done right by Kohl's and Lane Bryant because it's their type that will survive.
posted by MattD at 7:59 AM on March 18 [8 favorites]


Just as African-Americans in the South had separate “colored” building entrances, a not-so-subtle form of discrimination occurs in the design of many retail establishments.

I am fat, and sometimes feel uncomfortable in shops. I still think this "just as" is a pretty hideous piece of tone-deafness. What an offensive and silly analogy.
posted by Aravis76 at 8:00 AM on March 18 [109 favorites]


Overall, this was a pretty good 101 for me (this is not something I am in the habit of thinking about), but I think it would have been stronger if it had led with some basic theories about why clothing retailers held these practices, which I think it's probably well set up to refute.
posted by aniola at 8:09 AM on March 18 [2 favorites]


She makes some interesting points that I'd never considered before. Thanks for sharing this article.
posted by Etrigan at 8:23 AM on March 18


. I still think this "just as" is a pretty hideous piece of tone-deafness. What an offensive and silly analogy.

I almost didn't post this because of that awful analogy but I knew it would be shot down quickly.
posted by Room 641-A at 8:41 AM on March 18 [3 favorites]


This is a surprise to these researchers? So they obviously don't shop at any mall anywhere in this country --- it seems like three-quarters of the stores cater to a demographic that is almost exclusively scrawny (many consider size 10 'plus sized'!) and tall (I'm short dammit, but I need clothes too). Apparently the stores are under the impression that the only people who wear clothes or spend money are teenage girls.

(And here's something else that bugs the heck out of me about department stores: why do so many of them find it necessary to put all their bra displays right in their main entrances? I'll consider this one 'fair' when they've got just as large and blatant of a display of men's underwear in an equally prominent position..... but no, the men's stuff is mercifully not shoved in your face, unlike the women's sexy-thong racks.)
posted by easily confused at 8:47 AM on March 18 [2 favorites]


Horrible analogy aside, shopping for "plus-size" people can be an Sisyphus-ian exercise in humility.

Anecdotally, I used to be somewhere in the neighborhood of 280#, and I dated a really nice woman who was also "larger" and shopping was a fucking nightmare. I just go in and buy some pants. I don't have to have a saleslady tell my boyfriend "Doesn't she look sexy?"ad nauseum.

Hope you're doing okay, Jen.
posted by Sphinx at 8:50 AM on March 18 [4 favorites]


Yes, I think the problem is that the analogy does link to broader weaknesses in the argument. She isn't adequately distinguishing different kinds of animus, prejudice and discriminatory pattern, and so her claims comes off as a bit thin and overblown at the same time: there's some good data provided, but it's analysed in quite a facile way. I'd be interested to know, for example, how these decisions about store layout and stock-acquisition get made, by whom, and how images of fatness-as-undesirability and gender biases feed into them. "It's just like racism!" is not just offensive, it's really inaccurate and it distracts attention from all the questions the article raises but doesn't answer.
posted by Aravis76 at 8:51 AM on March 18 [4 favorites]


is it my perception or is Kohl's the exception to this? Often I can't find anything other than XL, 2XL and 3XL in the racks, which is not the size I need.
posted by AFABulous at 8:57 AM on March 18 [1 favorite]


MattD, I agree that shopping at home is very popular and can be very convenient, but for me it can be real problem, too.

Maybe it's easier if you're a man, but as a women who fluctuates between 14-18, women's clothing sizes are so wildly unstandard that I often have to order two sizes (when I have the extra money) which means I need to deal with returning something. Otherwise I have to order one thing, possibly return it, and then order the second, which means it can take a long time just to get a dumb top.

I used to have to order my ex-bf's 2X tees online and I never really knew what the color or fabric would be like.

I'm currently in the 14 range (by Old Navy standards) and one incentive I have to stay here is that it's just easier for me, who has a wide range of retail stores nearby, to just go into a store and buy something.
posted by Room 641-A at 8:59 AM on March 18 [11 favorites]


I agree that she misses the mark about about what her findings mean, why they're implemented, etc. This stood out to me, too:

Many plus-size women shop online rather than face the unpleasant experience of shopping in a store,

Yeah, some women probably shop online because stores are uncomfortable and embarassing to some, but also stores carry more for fat people online than they do in store. Old Navy, for example, has clothes online that go up to a size 30, but in-store only up to a 24, maybe. And for a while, back in 2007, their plus sizes were online only.

I think that this, more than anything else, supports her claim that stores do not want to be seen supplying clothes for fat women.
posted by FirstMateKate at 9:06 AM on March 18 [2 favorites]


The idea that being able to order, try-on and return from your comfort of your own home being a bug, not a feature, for a woman who loves clothes is beyond wrong.

No, it's a bug.

1. order online basket full of clothes in what seems like the right size
2. wait for clothes to ship
3. try on clothes
4. pack and return/exchange the ones that didn't fit
(maybe I am a particularly bad shopper but this is usually well over 50% of items)
5. wait for refund which in the meantime is accruing interest on my credit card
6. lather, rinse, repeat

As opposed to:

1. go to store
2. try on clothes
3. if they fit and look good, buy them and go home

And as others have mentioned, many retailers have much more extensive plus-size selections online only, because catering to this market is OK as long as you don't have to see them in your stores. /bitter
posted by Flannery Culp at 9:11 AM on March 18 [44 favorites]


I think that this, more than anything else, supports her claim that stores do not want to be seen supplying clothes for fat women.

Correlation is not causation. It's entirely possible that stores only carry the larger sizes online because plus-size women don't shop in their stores, rather than vice-versa. The stores know what they sell and what they don't sell and where things sell and where they don't, and distribute accordingly. If you were looking at this same data from the perspective of a business and saw that plus-size women do their clothes shopping online, what business decision would you make?
posted by Sys Rq at 9:16 AM on March 18


+1 to the hassles of buying clothes online. I rarely do it because of the sizing issues. What a pain/expense. And I say that as someone who buys like everything else online.
posted by greermahoney at 9:19 AM on March 18 [5 favorites]


It's entirely possible that stores only carry the larger sizes online because plus-size women don't shop in their stores,

Considering that I've heard women friends complaining about the lack of choice & availability in larger sizes since before there was an internet, I'm gonna go with, "Possible but not likely."
posted by soundguy99 at 9:45 AM on March 18 [23 favorites]


Can I just say how I hate how a lot of stores put plus sized and maternity wear side by side and kind of mesh the edges of the departments, so I'm standing under a sign that says plus sized and the shirt I'm looking at is maternity? Because I hate that. I really hate that and the women who smile at plus sized women and ask when they're due.
posted by 80 Cats in a Dog Suit at 9:46 AM on March 18 [28 favorites]


Props to Target, which seems to have recognized this market. Plus sizes used to shoved in an unkempt corner, but now they have their own in-house lines of clothing which is displayed with the other lines. (Being Target, who knows if it's front or back.)
posted by Room 641-A at 9:48 AM on March 18 [1 favorite]


Not to mention that the clothes you do find are often poorly constructed and made with just plain garbage fabrics - shitty-feeling polyester, ghastly fabric patterns. When I do find nice cotton or linen tops that fit and look good, I buy every one I can find. (Jeans are simple for me: I found the one brand and size that fits, and I bought 10 pairs.)
posted by Mary Ellen Carter at 9:51 AM on March 18 [9 favorites]


I will admit that my previous (deleted) comment could have and should have been phrased (not just better) but differently.

I do feel it's worth pointing out that this badly written, badly supported and strangely narrow article points out a very small part of a much larger issue - how do we engage principles of good design to semi public spaces? not to mention what happens if we don't? I resorted to a badly executed reductio ad absurdum argument (much as the already pointed out comparison to racists denial of service) but this is an important topic that deserves better.

There are many resources and publications Illustrating attempts at best practices for inclusive, accessible spaces.

The shopping experience is effected a great many factors that might be improved with both clearer intent and better design.
  • How did the shopper find the outlet, physical or virtual? Advertising and awareness campaigns are rife with cognitive biases
  • How did they get to the location? The city I currently live in has many centres of commerce well served by public transit - a previous one had (for taxation reasons) much of the retail out in the county with no transit at all
  • How did the get inside the venue? Blocks from my house there's a mall where the only north entry has stairs, a movie theatre that bathes the sidewalk with flashing lights & a 'temporary' bus stop that winter rains have made unusable with mud.
  • Retail space is expensive and margins are thin. There's a balance point between display & inventory. When I am out with my friend who is less than 4' tall she can't see half of the merchandise let alone reach it. My friend in the powerchair can't navigate the aisles at all, even if she can get in the front door. My friend with CP can't carry anything to a dressing room. My girlfriend can't read most of the price tags even with glasses & I can't tolerate the poor lighting without headaches. It's not likely that all of our issues with such spaces can or will be accommodated everywhere but how do tenants and landlords choose to address the subset they can tackle?
This is far from a complete list, it's not meant to be, and doesn't touch on how these spaces could be made to far more comfortable for everybody. I will only mention in passing the terrible way that culture, industry & history intersect to produce the hideous gender asymmetries in manufacture, pricing, sizing & expectations for presentation.

I'm a weirdly shaped dude but if I go to one of the outdoorsy type retailers downtown & buy pants they're either sized in reproducible metrics or I get the 'small'. I can add a large or (hopefully) medium-tall shirt, get a little help from anyone with any appreciable colour sense and be relatively assured that I've completed a purchase of something that will fit acceptably & be presentable in public. My girlfriend in a similar situation is met by clothes that don't wear as well, are sized in mystery numbers that bear no relation to each other between retailers (or even the same retailer year to year) don't terribly mix and match without all kinds of fashion skill and awareness that no one asks me to have, and are expected to be close fitted enough that their fit may depend upon the week of her cycle.

I get that buying clothes is rife with challenge. They're (the clothes) an explicit and implicit marker of status on many levels. Culturally we use clothing to signal many things about ourselves in a nonverbal conversation that we partake in, not because we want to, but because we happen to exist in spaces with other people. Buying these clothes shouldn't be as difficult, expensive and (possibly) frustrating as it currently is.

What I take issue with is how this article takes one very small part of this conversation, makes wild & inappropriate claims, fails to back up it's core argument (department stores are fat shaming their clientele because they don't make more of an effort to give them enough space or display larger sizes more prominently) and takes what appears to be a weaker argument and tries to strengthen it with an emotional appeal that falls flat. And it's a pity because it's a cluster of important issues with complex context that deserves more.
posted by mce at 9:54 AM on March 18 [10 favorites]


What's wrong with owning the word fat? Full-figured, thick, husky, overweight, plus-sized. It's odd to use the term "fat-shame" yet the word itself is constantly toed over as if there's shame to be had. Own it.

Anecdotally, when I was fat, the last thing I wanted to do was shop for new clothes. I'd be curious about the shopping habits across demographics. The article states department stores' reluctance to accommodate larger clientele and that big-box retailers serve as top sellers, yet there's no mention of socioeconomic class and its correlation with body size (and general health, for that matter).

I mean, why not also complain that brand jewelry stores and car shops don't put their discount items on front display? They're all trying to sell you a fantasy. Go invest your dollars in shops that aren't trying to push a false reality instead of asking these arbiters of class warfare to accommodate your interests.
posted by Christ, what an asshole at 9:57 AM on March 18 [2 favorites]


FTA: By contrast, the men’s sector of plus-size clothing is called “Big & Tall,” a less derogatory term that typically covers men with waist sizes 40 or greater, or over 6’2″ tall.
posted by Room 641-A at 9:58 AM on March 18 [3 favorites]


I don't think men and women are having the same experience.
posted by Room 641-A at 9:59 AM on March 18 [48 favorites]


I've never understood why stores don't just make bigger versions of their clothes and keep all the stuff that's the same design on one rack. I don't often like most clothes that have been specifically designed as plus size because they tend operate under the assumption that all fat women want something billowy (to hide) or garish (to distract).

In my experience talking with my also-fat friends, a lot of women would just like these jeans in, like, a size 20.

Ultimately, all women are differently proportioned. A friend who is also a size 16 overall (whatever that means) could have larger or smaller hips/breasts/waistline/shoulders, or shorter/longer legs and arms. And that's fine - not every piece of clothing needs to work perfectly for every conceivable woman - but it's ridiculous to pretend that larger women require clothes so different that they can't hang with the smaller women's clothes.

I am also irritated by women's t-shirt sizes offered by many cool online t-shirt vendors. I have tried up to a 3x in women's sizes - because men's/unisex cuts are not ideal if one has large breasts - but goddamn. How much different in size does Threadless (for example) think the average man and woman are, such that a 3XL in women's doesn't fit a person who can comfortably wear a men's L?
posted by palindromic at 10:06 AM on March 18 [21 favorites]


I don't think men and women are having the same experience.
posted by Room 641-A at 9:59 AM on March 18 [+] [!]

Quoted because it deserves being said twice.
posted by mce at 10:08 AM on March 18 [14 favorites]


  • Clothing stores are already a nightmare in general because they refuse to set them up logically so you will wander forever like a lost lamb in hopes that you buy more shit
  • When you're fat, even more so
  • Online doesn't fix this because bodies are not standardized
  • I am about to straight up murder somebody over the impossibility of buying women's shirts that aren't transparent or women's pants that have pockets
  • Retail clothing has a horrible supply chain full of human rights and environmental abuses making the act of clothes-shopping even more hateful
  • Where the fuck is my body-scanning/insta-printing personalized wardrobe, goddmit
  • As with everything, men have it easier
  • in conclusion fuck clothes shopping
posted by emjaybee at 10:33 AM on March 18 [52 favorites]


I've come up against the issue of how to merchandise my store (touristy gift shop) for plus size people, and it's more challenging than it would appear at first.

1) 2XL and 3XL shirts slide right off our hangers.
2) A lot of vendors don't offer plus sizes at all, and often not for women, even if they do for men.
3) Plus sizes have a $1-2 surcharge per unit.

What I end up doing is making sure I stock up on plus sizes when I can, and keep a stash of them in the back, to bring out for anyone who asks. I really genuinely sincerely want to accommodate everyone, but the amount of display space and otherwise additional consideration it would require in my tiny store is out of proportion to the number of actual plus size customers we get.
posted by BuddhaInABucket at 10:33 AM on March 18 [6 favorites]


BiaB, you might think about providing a sign, where appropriate, that "we have this shirt up to Size [X]! Ask for assistance!" on the racks. Lots of people will otherwise assume you don't and never ask.
posted by emjaybee at 10:39 AM on March 18 [36 favorites]


Thank you for your thoughts, BuddhaInABucket. Anything you do to help is appreciated.

I'm on the lower plus-sized/high regular end, so it's not quite useless to go into brick & mortar stores, but it is discouraging. Even when I have been easier to fit, I have always hated taking clothes on and off; it's just annoying to me. Shopping online is like doing this whole thing in s l o w m o t i o n, over days and weeks. Incidentally if anyone thinks they might want a bra that fit okay at first but irritated the shit out of me after forty minutes and now I can't send it back because I took off the tags, send me a MeMail.
posted by Countess Elena at 10:44 AM on March 18 [3 favorites]


The idea that being able to order, try-on and return from your comfort of your own home being a bug, not a feature, for a woman who loves clothes is beyond wrong.

This is only even plausibly true in the land of "free shipping, free returns" that is the United States. That's not nearly as common anywhere else. Sure, I can order clothes and try them on at home, but everything I send back will have already cost me $10 in shipping and I'll have to pay another $10 shipping to return it, which is a pretty steep penalty for ordering the wrong size in a pair of $60 pants. And that's assuming I didn't order it across a border in the first place, in which case shipping is $20 each way, and I probably also paid $20 to get it over the border and will have to fill out a government form and wait 6 months to get that money back.

1) 2XL and 3XL shirts slide right off our hangers.
In a shocking turn of events, hangers, like shirts, come in more than one size. It sounds like you're selling tourist t-shirts, and I can't imagine how tiny your hangers must be if a t-shirt neckline isn't small enough to keep a plus-size shirt on the hanger. Properly graded plus-size clothing *barely* increases in neck size over straight sizing -- like, 10% of the increase in the bust size -- because necks just don't get that fat.
posted by jacquilynne at 10:54 AM on March 18 [9 favorites]


I'm not fat, but when I want to shop for clothes with my friends, I want to shop with all my friends.* Stores need to fix this.

*OK, maybe not all of them at once. That'd be weird.
posted by asperity at 10:55 AM on March 18 [4 favorites]


I'm not plus sized but I'm tall. I just order online. If you order right at the beginning of the billing cycle and are smart about it you can order a ton of stuff, try it on and return what doesn't work and not get charged a penny. Most big retailers offer free shipping and free returns and they will credit your card once you drop the package in the mail if you use their shipping label. And I'm willing to pay $8-10 in shipping since there is literally not one store in my town that carries tall clothing or shoes in my size. Not one. None. I'd have to get on a plane and fly to a bigger city if it wasn't for mail order. It saves me money over the fruitless searching and driving to and fro for sure. Plus I can try stuff on with my existing clothes which is critical.

As far as sizing up- the way patterns work you can't always just do that. For example a lot of casual womens blazers are unvented or have one small vent but plus sized people or those with a more prominent butt in general are really going to look better in a peplum or double vented blazer. Pants similarly need different taper in the thigh etc. You do need to go to a different pattern.
posted by fshgrl at 11:00 AM on March 18 [3 favorites]


Can I just say how I hate how a lot of stores put plus sized and maternity wear side by side and kind of mesh the edges of the departments, so I'm standing under a sign that says plus sized and the shirt I'm looking at is maternity?

I always felt extremely infantilized in stores that put the maternity wear nowhere near the other women's clothes but right next to the children's department. (Nothing compared to the fat-shaming described here, though.)
posted by Ralston McTodd at 11:09 AM on March 18 [2 favorites]


I would love to be pointed to a non-fat-hating Target that has more than 2.5 short racks (mostly of fucking garbage clothes, almost none of it professional enough to wear to work) mixed in with Maternity. People keep telling me how grateful I should be about this drastic change and I haven't seen it in Los Angeles, Central Valley California, or Salt Lake City.

I order my crap home loungewear clothes online because accuracy and fine detailing don't matter at that price point, but I deserve the right to walk into a store and shop for things so that I only have to take home the stuff I want. I do not return shit, I do not want to return shit, and I do not want to be told how grateful I should be to hide my fat shameful self at home and order clothes. Everyone should get to buy clothes in all the ways clothes can be purchased, regardless of their size. The only reason Target (and Walmart too, they used to have a decent line of clothes and they are down to one shitty rack now too) won't sell fat clothes is that they don't want to be seen as a fat clothes store. Department stores have done it for 30+ years pretty well, but I don't go to malls for anything so I don't especially want to deal with the mall to go to one.
posted by Lyn Never at 11:11 AM on March 18 [17 favorites]


It's entirely possible that stores only carry the larger sizes online because plus-size women don't shop in their stores,

Many stores stop at 14, but I don't think it's because women larger than that don't want to shop in person. I've had the conversation below with salespeople at many stores:

Me: Why don't you carry this in 14 in the store? I love this and want to try it on and buy it now!

Salesperson at Ann Taylor, Gap, etc.: We did have them in 14. As usual, that size sold out first.
posted by pangolin party at 11:23 AM on March 18 [19 favorites]


Why I strongly prefer to buy clothes in-store (or would if that were more frequently an option):

- I can find out that I HATE the polyester texture of those pants before I buy them.

- I really don't like clothes shopping so sometimes I don't do it until I'm down to, like, two pairs of pants, and then I rip one open accidentally on a sharp metal edge, and then if I can't find anything locally I'm a bit screwed.

- "Free returns" is nice but can be a huge hassle if you don't have a car.

- Sometimes you're not home to receive the delivery and then you have to take two buses to the UPS depot.

- Sometimes you have to try it on to realize that the cut or the style or the color just doesn't look good on you, and it's a lot of hassle to order two or three different sizes and then have to return them and not come out of it with a single wearable item of clothing.

...I nearly talked myself into buying a sewing machine last night. I don't have the time or the money to sew my own clothes, but that's really what it's going to come to.
posted by Jeanne at 11:56 AM on March 18 [10 favorites]


Correlation is not causation. It's entirely possible that stores only carry the larger sizes online because plus-size women don't shop in their stores, rather than vice-versa. The stores know what they sell and what they don't sell and where things sell and where they don't, and distribute accordingly.

Which seems more plausible?

A business model -- bricks and mortar retail -- which works to sell millions of products to millions of people fails for this one specific segment of the population through no fault of the retailers who are merely responding in an entirely efficient manner to market desires.

OR

Women who wear more than a size 16 are so utterly ashamed of their fatness that even if they were equally accommodated by nice stores selling nice things that were properly designed to fit them they still would not be willing to overlook the shame of being seen in public while fat so they would not choose to shop in those stores.

As you're solving this particular dilemma, keep in mind that easy online shopping has only existed for about 15 years, while the sad plus-size rack in the back corner of the store has been a thing for much longer than that. Correlation may not equal causation, but you know what 100% can't be the cause? Something that literally did not exist when the problem came into being.
posted by jacquilynne at 11:57 AM on March 18 [16 favorites]


I'll definitely add a little sign indicating that we have plus sizes.

Another thing I've learned while buying for this store is that wholesale costs for women are often arbitrarily higher than similar clothes for men. Literally just a t-shirt, but the women's costs more. I want y'all to know that I mark up my men's clothes higher, and my women's clothes less, so that the shirts cost the same.

One thing that I am completely unable to do is get quality baby girl clothes that are not pink. Not available.
posted by BuddhaInABucket at 12:17 PM on March 18 [16 favorites]


Many stores stop at 14, but I don't think it's because women larger than that don't want to shop in person. I've had the conversation below with salespeople at many stores:

That's my experience too. I do not hesitate to voice my annoyance at stock to places like JCrew and Anthropologie. At 14 JCrew only carries those sizes online and Anthro usually doesn't fit but then sometimes a medium will fit, who knows. The head of purchasing for an Anthro store told me last fall that it sucks because they can't request what sizes they receive from corporate. Even if they know they will sell more if they get more XLs in Chicago they have to wait to see what corporate sends. Usually they only get one L in each item and once it's gone, it's gone. I have no compassion for stores who are showing declining sales.

Online shopping is great, but I'm able to float the money until I get refunded and a lot of people can't. And, to be honest, it's not worth the effort of returning so unless the item seems really great I'm just not going to buy it. I would spend a lot more on clothing if I could buy in person more often (especially J Crew). My winter coat is too big, but last year when I was shopping for a coat nothing was carried in store in larger than a 10. I was interested in 2 styles, both were back ordered in my size(s). So I ordered two coats ($800!), waited 2 months, and when I finally received the coats one was too big and one was too small. I would have exchanged the style I liked for a smaller one but now that size was back ordered. Now it was February and I was cold and needed a coat so my $400 coat is too big, oh well.

...I nearly talked myself into buying a sewing machine last night. I don't have the time or the money to sew my own clothes, but that's really what it's going to come to.

I got a fashion design certificate at night school years ago so I could tailor clothes to myself (back when I was a 10) but yeah, there's no time to do that.
posted by Bunglegirl at 12:20 PM on March 18 [3 favorites]


A big reason why I hate shopping in brick & mortar stores is the "can I help you?" in the tone of voice that really means "you're not welcome here"...and getting it from every salesperson when they've clearly heard me tell the first one no. I just want to find what I'm looking for, try it on, pay for it and leave. If I need help I will ask for it ( firmly saying this usually gets them to back off).
posted by brujita at 12:32 PM on March 18 [3 favorites]


I've crept up from an 8 to a 14 in the 10 years since college and I can vouch for the fact that I would still like very very much to shop in real stores but I am increasingly unable to. Especially tops - I have really broad shoulders and I can't even try on most jackets or dresses available in stores. It's becoming really depressing going in excitedly to a store only to find out they don't carry anything bigger than a 12 and those are all sold out. I used to really enjoy shopping and trying stuff on, and now it's just... not fun anymore. I used to buy all my work clothes at JCrew, but now they just point me to their website, where I can't tell anything about sizing, cut, fabric quality, etc. If I need a last minute dress or suit or something, I can't walk into a store and get it as reliably as I used to be able to. It really sucks. I don't like this online only thing.
posted by olinerd at 12:47 PM on March 18 [6 favorites]


[One comment deleted. Please don't leap in here with a bunch of facile stuff about The Obesity Epidemic, or about how this isn't a problem. Folks are talking about something that's a problem for them; if it's not a problem for you, just skip the thread rather than starting a predictable fight.]
posted by LobsterMitten at 1:09 PM on March 18 [13 favorites]


I know several people who love ModCloth because of the dismal options available at stores, but yesterday it was announced that ModCloth sold out to Walmart (also Facebook thread).
posted by D.C. at 1:12 PM on March 18 [6 favorites]


[Several comments deleted. uncomplicated soups, take the day off. I'm not sure what your issue is but I'll tell you this publicly: leave this topic alone from now on, on Mefi.]
posted by LobsterMitten at 2:28 PM on March 18 [6 favorites]


Maybe it's easier if you're a man, but as a women who fluctuates between 14-18, women's clothing sizes are so wildly unstandard that I often have to order two sizes (when I have the extra money) which means I need to deal with returning something. Otherwise I have to order one thing, possibly return it, and then order the second, which means it can take a long time just to get a dumb top.

Yes, it's much easier for dudes. Dude fashion leans toward fairly standard rectangles, dudes aren't scrutinized or judged as closely on fashion, and dude bodies simply vary in fewer dimensions.

The first time this became concretely clear to me, rather than abstract, was when we were both shopping for formal clothes for our wedding, and I had to go deal with tailors. I was kinda surprised at all of the different measurements it took to get a well fitting jacket or shirt, especially because some of the clothes she was ordering took far fewer inputs. Basically, she explained, getting an accurate representation of proportions for a woman's body takes so many more measurements (and so many more measurements than can be successfully obtained at home) that it's not worth the attempt for most retailers. Men can get away with length and circumference in most cases; women's measurements basically have to include angles too — the difference between geometry and trig. This is also reflected in the price of professional fittings — fittings for women are often double or triple the price of a fitting for a man.

(It seemed like a big enough problem that I was kind of baffled that there weren't a lot of resources devoted to solving it, as the S-M-L-XL or bust-waist-hips measurement systems seemed so bad, especially because they were inconsistent between brands. Why hasn't someone standardized this? They could make millions! She then looked at me like I had just asked her why fish don't drown in water.)

"That's my experience too. I do not hesitate to voice my annoyance at stock to places like JCrew and Anthropologie. At 14 JCrew only carries those sizes online and Anthro usually doesn't fit but then sometimes a medium will fit, who knows. The head of purchasing for an Anthro store told me last fall that it sucks because they can't request what sizes they receive from corporate. Even if they know they will sell more if they get more XLs in Chicago they have to wait to see what corporate sends. Usually they only get one L in each item and once it's gone, it's gone. I have no compassion for stores who are showing declining sales. "

I wonder how much of that is related to the discriminatory practice in brand management, e.g. Abercrombie's desire to not have fat people wear their clothes for risk of associating Abercrombie with fatties. Headquarters may believe that restricting sales of large or XL despite demand makes them more attractive. It'd be a dumb, short-sighted move, but at least it would be more understandably stupid than just not stocking enough sizes to meet local demand, which seems like a much more basic failure.
posted by klangklangston at 2:50 PM on March 18 [4 favorites]


What I take issue with is how this article takes one very small part of this conversation, makes wild & inappropriate claims, fails to back up it's core argument (department stores are fat shaming their clientele because they don't make more of an effort to give them enough space or display larger sizes more prominently) and takes what appears to be a weaker argument and tries to strengthen it with an emotional appeal that falls flat. And it's a pity because it's a cluster of important issues with complex context that deserves more.

mce, I think the problem you might be having is a difference of meaning for the word 'fat shaming'. It was a poor use of words on her part, and I bet that she picked them to garner more attention. I think she really means that department stores are being fatphobic. And while fat shaming is fatphobia, that's not the only way to be fatphobic. You can be fatphobic unintentionally, just as you can let your biases unintentionally fuel any other kind of discrimination.
While you're assuming "fat shaming" to mean an intentional act to make a fat person feel bad for being fat, I really think she's talking about unchecked biases and lack of consideration making the world a harder place for fat folk.
posted by FirstMateKate at 2:51 PM on March 18 [4 favorites]


This is an important topic that I'd like to know more about, but this article was infuriatingly bad.

They can refer to it as a "study" or "research" all they want, but surveying "several regional malls" does not a sample make.

The responses to the questionnaires are useless since questionnaires apparently weren't given to people shopping for non-plus size clothes. It's not meaningful to know that N% of plus size shoppers in this small-and-unrepresentative-to-begin-with sample thought that the plus size department was "welcoming" or "accessible and unobstructed" or "easy to navigate" when we don't know how the non-plus-size shoppers would have rated their shopping experience. We can't compare the shopping experiences without, y'know, COMPARING THE EXPERIENCES.

Also, I well remember when I was in high school and wearing a size 14. Some stores stopped at 12, some would have a few 14s. Beyond that you were out of luck and would have to make the journey to some special fat shop. This was *well* before online shopping existed. It is emphatically not the case that stores don't stock larger sizes because Ha Ha All Those Fat Chicks Are Lazy and Want to Shop From Their Easy Chair Ha Ha.

Women who wear a size 14 are not even "large women" as the article insists on characterizing them. They are, bby definition, absolutely average sized women in the USA today.
posted by nirblegee at 3:02 PM on March 18 [5 favorites]


women's clothing sizes are so wildly unstandard that I often have to order two sizes

Hello, do you have a moment to discuss ASTM D6960 / D6960M-16, Standard Tables for Body Measurements for Plus Women's Figure Type, Size Range 14W–20W?

A family member who works for ASTM International explained the sizing nightmare to me recently. (Conversation summarized for clarity, and it was a little rushed and fragmented due to kids running around, any errors in understanding are mine.) Bottom line: A table for standardizing plus-size clothing exists, but manufacturers don't use it. Because money.

Longer version: ASTM International facilitates the creation of standards for an amazing array of materials, with the ultimate intention of licensing the standards to makers so that everybody (maker, customer, insurer, contractor, buyer, etc.) understands what, exactly, they're getting. A yardstick is a yardstick is a yardstick, for example; you can buy one anywhere and be assured of an accurate ruler. Or that the #2 pencil you buy in NY meets the same specifications as the one you buy in Wyoming.

This company facilitates the creation of the specs, by inviting different stakeholders to take part in a series of meetings about what a thing should be. Scientists, professors, engineers, everyday folks with an interest--all kinds of people can apply to take part in these committees and help hash out the standards. [Long digression here about the teenager who felt that his teammates, the ice hockey goalies, should have neck protectors, and who helped that standard get written so that manufacturers can have guidelines to make them! Neat!]

Makers then buy/license the individual standards, and voila--a repeatable, reliably predictable baseline for gear/materials.

As noted above, the D-13 Textiles committee (subcommittee Body Measurement for Apparel Sizing, D-13.55) has issued a standard for women's clothing (14W-20W) because, as ASTM knew in 2004, "Consistent size and fit is imperative in a climate of popular catalog, online, or television shopping, in which consumers cannot try on clothing. As Peiler said: “Apparel customer returns will decrease if women can walk into any store, or order from any catalog, and consistently purchase the same size.”" Win-win, right?

Well, um, no. As it turns out, "Buying sizing information can also be done in two different ways. Many companies use the sizing charts that come in the pattern grading book they’ve chosen as their house reference and accordingly, I’ll list your best options. You can also buy sizing information as a product onto itself. The standard reference house for technical specifications of all industries (in the US) is known as ASTM, the American Society for Testing and Materials." So. Uh. Not really standardized. And purchasing standards costs. Not as much as, say, retrofitting or re-purchasing all kinds of equipment, which would also need to happen. Then's there's the whole vanity sizing question. And, oh, hey, the fact that "In the U.S. many clothing companies interpret these standard measurements accordingly to develop their own sizing systems based on their own perception of what ladies' sizes 2-20, for example, should be."

Universal sizing system? IT IS TO LAUGH. Bitterly, and at some length. Anyway, the new president of ASTM is a woman, and I might have charged my family member with asking her about the many frustrations of bra shopping, and all he could say was "But we have a standard for that!" and I might have told him that I would effing like to see it in the wild and in all stores that sell that sort of thing, and conversation came to a rather salty halt.

Anyway, the standards for nice things exist. We just can't have them for REASONS, ladies.
posted by MonkeyToes at 3:35 PM on March 18 [26 favorites]


Even a showroom approach would be an improvement. If, say, Athleta (many options online, none in stores) kept samples on hand and could say 'here is that item (or a similar style) in your size to try on, if you like it here are the color choices we can order', my quality of life would go way up.
posted by Flannery Culp at 5:07 PM on March 18 [9 favorites]


if you have the money to shop in slightly higher-end stores like Nordstrom or whatever, be sure to try the largest size they carry on the "regular" racks before feeling like you can't shop there.

Our Nordstrom definitely has XL clothes on the regular racks, I know because everytime I like something all that is left is XS and XL. They also have an entire floor devoted to womens/plus size. And Nordstrom Rack definitely does too. I wonder how much of this is regional. I now because when I special order my giant shoes I walk through Nordstroms to pick them up to try on (free shipping to the store!)

As a person who has not been able to shop at US mainstream stores since I was 14* I think the trick is to forget about stores or lines that don't make your size. Just forget they exist. Shop from the ones that do fit only. You'll be much happier and those brands will respond by making more styles and lines available in your size. Yes, mail order shopping is a pita but first world problems and all that. Keep in mind that literally EVERY item I own was mail ordered or purchased on a trip out of town, barring underwear, socks, sneakers (I buy mens) and a couple lucky finds of maybe 4 or 5 items I bought locally. I have 30 years of experience doing this.

*I can shop the high street in Europe though most places because stuff comes in tall or is made taller. Yay for shopping in Amsterdam.
posted by fshgrl at 6:12 PM on March 18 [1 favorite]


Shopping sends me into either fits of rage, of valley o depression. I hate it. For nice clothes, which I need relatively rarely, I go to Nordstrom and ask for a personal shopper. For no extra charge, they will lead you to.a room, bring you a sparkling water, talk to you for a few minutes about what you're looking for, and then magically reappears with an arm load of clothes. It's amazing. If you're near Dallas, go to the big store and ask for Barbara. She's a goddess among the racks.

The rest of the time I look like a hippie, or a welder, depending on the day. Oh, and I too did the Buy a Sewing Machine and learn to see thing. Sewing is hard. I make a great curtain, but turning a sleeve or collar still eludes me. Sewing dummies don't have boobs big enough, so I had to make my own, and I've spent more trying to make an outfit than if I'd just paid full retail for Eileen Fischer.
posted by SecretAgentSockpuppet at 7:45 PM on March 18 [3 favorites]


Well, let me tell you from the land of fleece and flip flops that being chubby is no picnic either. Now you would think that always looking like you are about to go camping would be easy but nope, if you are size 14 (US) or above certain clothing lines will not work. As painful as it is though, getting ready for the Apocalypse clothing is still way more easy shopping than regular clothes shopping. There is a definite reason that Landsend, LL Bean, Royal Robbin, etc. are popular. I say this wearing clothing designed for a fall hike.
posted by jadepearl at 8:34 PM on March 18 [1 favorite]



My solution for many years was to hand sew everything I could. I have broad shoulders. Even when I was thin, this was a hassle. I'd get men's shirts and hand sew draw-string skirts, or make shalwar. That was fine until I had a job. Then I went to wearing pants suits. A couple jobs didn't really have dress codes other than show up clean. I wore parachute pants and oversized sweaters there and that was fine. Then my size crept up. Pants looked ugly on me due to my belly. The rest of me was fine, but here was this belly. So I began wearing saris to that job.
Now I don't work, but I still like to look nice. All the cute stuff is for the thin women. As for putting together a nice professional look? Expensive and difficult.
I don't order clothes online, other than the occasional political T-shirt. And lest we forget... pockets!
posted by Katjusa Roquette at 10:56 PM on March 18 [1 favorite]


Something that hasn't been mentioned yet is a athletic wear. Without going on a major rant, here is some good news:

Nike finally releases plus-size clothing line for women

Now let's see which stores carry them.

And that reminds me -- a few years ago lululemon opened in my neighborhood and they were handing out really handy canvas-y bags that were covered in logos. I took a couple and painted over all four sides in black, and in a thick silver Sharpie I wrote "My thigh gap isn't big enough to advertise your crap."

I would love to be pointed to a non-fat-hating Target that has more than 2.5 short racks (mostly of fucking garbage clothes,

Lyn Never, the Target in Westwood* has a decent selection, from casual to business to evening. Re "garbage clothing," it's Target. A $15 sweater isn't going to hold up against a $50 sweater, regardless of size, but for people on a Target budget at least they have options. (I live in their $20 maxiskirts and they've held up really well.)

*For those who don't know, Westwood is the home to UCLA, so they're targeting young women just starting out.
posted by Room 641-A at 10:05 AM on March 19 [2 favorites]


(Target's ava & viv plus-size brand)
posted by Room 641-A at 10:17 AM on March 19


My Target has about three racks of Ava&Viv... that blend into their maternity section. All to the rear of approximately 357 racks of their junior and misses wear... It's infuriating.

And someone upthread mentioned Kohl's? My local Kohl's is also kind of infuriating, because while it does have a fairly big plus size section... they think that apparently fat women don't exercise because they devote ONE rack to workout gear. Which is unfortunate, because I've discovered that the workout gear they do sell fits me really well. Or it did the one time I actually found stuff in my size/color, which was a one-off miracle that has not been duplicated. The Kohl's also drives me mad because I have to walk through the section of really nice styles by not-ridiculously-upscale brands like Sonoma and Simply Vera Wang. I would seriously buy pretty much everything Simply Vera Wang makes, except they refuse to offer any of their looks in plus size. The Sonoma and SVW lines in plus size are suddenly hideous, only offer a tiny fraction of the variety of the their straight sizes and come in about two colors. Like fat women don't deserve a full range of options or to dress like their skinnier peers. It is shaming and it's infuriating.
posted by TwoStride at 10:30 AM on March 19 [4 favorites]


My wife and I are both plus-size people and we run into different problems.

My wife loves the Ava & Viv line - it fits, looks good on her, all that stuff. Her big issue is that she's also got large feet and in an odd size - midway between 10 and 11, in such a way that 10s squeeze and 11s float. People in the shoe stores are somehow unable to comprehend the fact that there are half-sizes for women in sizes over an 8.

Me? I get hit with the 'you fail at consistency' part all the time. I went to a big & tall store (Casual Male XL), got three pairs of pants in about my size, all the same (waist, leg, even the line name) except for the color. I went to try them on. One was fine, one was small, one was big. A mighty what the hell went up at this - no reason for that to happen, really. The people at the desk were sympathetic and helped me quite a bit, and I left with three pairs of pants, and two shirts (not intended), and some socks. (That bit about making us feel welcome and valued? They do that well.)

Then I went into a nearby Abercrombie where they all looked terrified to see a fat guy walk in and bought a gift card for my about-to-go-to-high-school fencing/runner niece's birthday. But man, you would have thought the Aberzombies could have caught Being Fat from me the way they acted.
posted by mephron at 12:31 PM on March 19 [4 favorites]


> three-quarters of the stores cater to a demographic that is almost exclusively scrawny (many consider size 10 'plus sized'!) and tall

I disagree re "tall." I'm tall, and as far as I know there are no brick-and-mortar stores in my area that sell tall sizes. It's online only.
posted by The corpse in the library at 4:49 PM on March 19 [3 favorites]


Same with petite (which is often too tall for my 4'11"). Then petite plus overweight? Ugh, nightmare.

The other thing about larger sizes is they often get "wonky". I have big boobs and big arms and so an XL might fit there but then be too big in the belly (like pants being too big in the waist and too small in the butt/hips). And then I go up a size and it is swimming all over. I take my husband every now and then, partly because he's good at knowing what I look good in, partly for moral support, and partly so he can see how goddamn crazy it all is. He now is a total sympathizer.

Also, try clothes shopping in a non-city/metro area. Options locally are even worse. (I don't even have a Target.)

I really want to find someone locally who can sew me custom clothes. I keep meaning to do it online, but think it would be easier if person was local so I could talk about my upper arm/boob problem, etc.
posted by evening at 5:48 PM on March 19


I really want to find someone locally who can sew me custom clothes. I keep meaning to do it online, but think it would be easier if person was local so I could talk about my upper arm/boob problem, etc.

OMG evening, I finally gave in and bought something from eShakti (online custom order from India) and it fit my boobs AND my waist AND shoulders! The fabrics aren't as nice as I'd like but if you follow them and wait for a good sale you can get a custom made to measure dress (and change the length/sleeves/neckline) for like $35 including shipping. It's not the solution, but it's a start.
posted by Bunglegirl at 6:53 PM on March 19 [2 favorites]


One was fine, one was small, one was big. A mighty what the hell went up at this - no reason for that to happen, really.

Actually there is! This is one of my favourite pieces of information. When clothes are really mass-manufactured (usually this gets worse the cheaper you go), the volume of clothing is high, and so the stacks of material for the cutting machines are thick and so the blades go through them at an angle - so the one on the top is smaller on both halves, those get sewn together, etc.
posted by warriorqueen at 9:05 PM on March 19 [6 favorites]


My wife loves the Ava & Viv line - it fits, looks good on her, all that stuff. Her big issue is that she's also got large feet and in an odd size - midway between 10 and 11, in such a way that 10s squeeze and 11s float. People in the shoe stores are somehow unable to comprehend the fact that there are half-sizes for women in sizes over an 8.

OMG! Yes, I understand your wife's pain! I'm a 10.5 double wide (WW or EE). There's 10 WW or 11 WW, but very few 10.5 available. Also? Double wide shoes carry the same problem as plus sized clothes. Most brick and mortar stores don't carry them so it's almost always an online purchase, and things available are SO UGLY. OMG SO FUCKING UGLY. They're fugly as sin and everything costs almost double the regular size.

What I can rec is New Balance for sneakers, David Tate for knee high boots. Good fucking luck on anything else, and she'll never find rain boots.
posted by 80 Cats in a Dog Suit at 7:28 AM on March 20 [1 favorite]


I wear a wide shoe size. At a major chain, when I had finally gleaned one item, the cashier asked me their mandatory "did you find everything you were looking for?" I said no, in fact, I could hardly find any shoes in wide, and could they pass along to corporate to consider adjusting that. She said that she hears the same thing all the time, and every time she passes the comment upstream. The reply? They don't carry wide shoes because there's no demand, and they're tired of constantly getting this complaint from customers.

I have found two shoes stores ever that actually had my real size in stock (9EE). One was one of those comfort-shoe chains who happened to have an abandoned special order. The other is one of those old-school shoe stores that actually still measures your feet, located in the downtown of a rather affluent town.
posted by Karmakaze at 10:09 AM on March 20 [2 favorites]


They don't carry wide shoes because there's no demand, and they're tired of constantly getting this complaint from customers.

Face. Palm.
posted by soundguy99 at 11:04 AM on March 20


> 10s squeeze and 11s float

I had the same problem and I fixed it! I was 10 1/2 for decades and usually ended up buying men's size 8 1/2 shoes. Then I got pregnant twice, and my feet grew to a women's 11.

I admit it's not the answer for everyone.
posted by The corpse in the library at 11:13 AM on March 20 [1 favorite]


soundguy99: "Face. Palm."

Even thousands of complaints doesn't necessarily mean a profitable market exists.
posted by Mitheral at 11:37 AM on March 20


soundguy99: "Face. Palm."

Even thousands of complaints doesn't necessarily mean a profitable market exists.


Which is why I keep thinking we need to go back to having local (or online) tailors and shoemakers. Too many of us are outside the "norm" of what companies will do. (but not enough in any one area to warrant new product lines)
posted by evening at 11:53 AM on March 20


"Face. Palm."

Even thousands of complaints doesn't necessarily mean a profitable market exists.


No, but saying "We're tired of hearing this complaint" is pretty dumb.
posted by Etrigan at 12:36 PM on March 20 [1 favorite]


Well it's probably a statement from a store "manager" or at most regional manager to a clerk rather than an official communique or policy statement from head office.
posted by Mitheral at 12:44 PM on March 20


There's a word for a bunch of dudes showing up in a thread about women's issues and claiming that this is all just the entirely rational market behaving entirely rationally, nothing to do with cultural/social assumptions about the value of women based on their appearance and besides it was probably not an actual Chain Policy . . . What is it? . . . . On the tip of my tongue . . . Starts with an "m" . . . . Ends with "ain" . . . .

No, it's gone . . . Oh well. . . . . .
posted by soundguy99 at 12:58 PM on March 20 [5 favorites]


Which is why I keep thinking we need to go back to having local (or online) tailors and shoemakers. Too many of us are outside the "norm" of what companies will do. (but not enough in any one area to warrant new product lines)

There is increasingly a market for online tailoring. See eShakti, Make Your Own Jeans, Sumissura as examples of the genre but the quality is hit or miss.
posted by jacquilynne at 1:12 PM on March 20


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