Popkin: Clothing brands are becoming more size-inclusive…but are they really?

Sophia Popkin, Social Media Editor

Over spring break, I went on a much-needed, fun-filled vacation to Chicago with a group of friends. We spent the week eating delicious food, going to the many museums around the city, navigating the CTA bus system and, of course, shopping for new clothes. As someone who has been considered plus size for the majority of my life, I have always hated shopping for clothes in-store with my friends (the majority of whom are straight size). In middle school, I started having to shop in the matronly and unfashionable plus-size sections of stores like Kohl’s and Macy’s because most popular stores only carried up to a size L, or sometimes a tight-fitting XL. 

But, thanks to the popularity of the body positivity movement in recent years, many clothing brands have finally started to extend their clothing sizes or offer a separate plus-size section. I finally have clothing options from the same stores my friends shop at. That’s a win for the plus-size community, right?

Unfortunately, I have to disagree. First of all, a large portion of brands that are now offering “extended sizes” only go up to a size 18 or XXL in their straight-size sections, which should not be considered size-inclusive at all—it’s the bare minimum. For example, Victoria’s Secret has recently been praised in the media for extending its in-store PINK line’s sizes to an XXL. They have also been applauded for hiring Remi Bader, a curve model and new brand ambassador who has amassed a big following on TikTok for critiquing the inconsistent sizing of larger clothes from popular fashion brands. Of course, I’m happy that more people will be able to find their size in-store, as Victoria’s Secret is a famous brand. However, championing Victoria’s Secret as a size-inclusive brand is simply ridiculous. Brands should, at the bare minimum, carry up to a size 24 or 3X in order to be considered size-inclusive. VS PINK carrying a tight-fitting XXL is nothing for the brand to be entirely proud of—especially considering the fact that Victoria’s Secret’s primary lingerie line still only goes up to an XL in most stores and up to an XXL online, with a very limited number of styles available in those sizes. 

Another gripe I have with the fashion industry’s so-called recent “size inclusivity” is that most retailers offering these extended or plus sizes don’t make them available in the actual store. I finally get to shop at a brand with fashionable clothing, but I can only buy it online? Sure, it’s slightly easier to return ill-fitting items since I don’t have to mail clothing back to online-only stores anymore. But I still can’t go to a store with my friends and have the early-2000s dressing room montage of my dreams. Some brands are even taking steps backwards: my local Forever 21s no longer carry their plus-size section in-store. Oftentimes, only the huge, urban brick-and-mortar stores, like the ones on Michigan Avenue in Chicago, offer extended or plus sizes. It feels as though many brands decided to abandon the “trend” of body positivity because they decided it was no longer worth it.

Many clothing brands don’t even try to expand their sizing. These billion-dollar companies should have more than enough money to buy a little extra fabric and at least extend their sizes to a 3X, so why don’t they? It all comes down to aesthetics and the “look” that the brand wants to portray. Most of Urban Outfitters’ women’s clothing does not go past a size L—or XL if you’re lucky. This is not because the company can’t afford to extend their sizing or because there isn’t a market for larger clothing; it’s because they have decided that fat people don’t fit into their aesthetic choices. Even worse are brands like Brandy Melville, which only carries one size: XS/S. For many brands, the aesthetic of a flat stomach and a thigh gap is more important than making clothes that fit the average person’s size—which, for American women, is 16 to 18; 67% of women in the U.S. are considered plus size. 

Additionally, within the brands that do market themselves as size-inclusive, a thick, seemingly impenetrable layer of fatphobia remains. For instance, it’s incredible that VS PINK has hired Remi Bader as a brand ambassador; I love what she does on her social media platform to advocate for better sizing from popular clothing brands. However, she is not representative of the plus-size community as a whole; she still has a relatively flat stomach, a smaller chest and an hourglass figure—she is plus size, but not too plus size for VS PINK. She still fits well within the beauty standard. 

I know this article might read as “fat woman complains about the fashion industry for several paragraphs because it caused her a little extra middle school trauma” (which, to be fair, is a little bit close to what I’m doing), but I’d like to think that it’s doing more than just that. If you are also a plus-size person, I’m sure you already understand the struggle of trying to find a fashionable, size-inclusive store, as well as the embarrassment of having to explain to your thin friends that the store they all want to go to doesn’t even carry your size. But, to any straight-sized person reading this, I implore you to consider a couple things before the next time you buy new clothes. Shopping at size-inclusive brands supports the companies that are making an effort, which might encourage more brands to follow suit. Giving your money to stores that only cater to thin people inherently contributes to the fatphobia that plagues the fashion industry, regardless of how many #girlboss #bodypositive Instagram stories you repost. So, while some progress for plus-size inclusivity has been made in the fashion industry, especially in the last decade, I think it’s time that we all encourage clothing brands to do more.