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Plus-Size Clothes, continued...

If it were up to readers of The Checkup, stores would offer plenty of flattering clothes in larger sizes so plus-size teens could step out in style. The poll in last week's blog had 93 percent of 1,175 voters weighing in in favor of making such clothing available for young women. A number of you registered passionate comments about how hard, and emotionally draining, it is to shop for clothes when the stores don't have many in your size.

Only 6 percent of you voted that extra-big clothes shouldn't be offered, on the grounds that their availability removes an incentive to lose weight.

I thought I'd share two related bits of news that add dimension to this discussion. First, a study in the May issue of the American Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology found that, among 81 North Philadelphia women (all but two of them black or Hispanic) of various body shapes and sizes, those who were overweight tended to underestimate their own weight. And when asked to choose an ideal body shape from a set of eight images representing underweight, normal, overweight and obese bodies, many of those women selected the overweight ones as looking best. You can read the full study here.

Across the Atlantic, a major retailer caused a kerfuffle last week by announcing it would charge a few pounds (the monetary kind, that is) extra for extra-large bras. The reasoning? It costs more to make bigger bras. The outrage was swift and severe enough to make the retailer back down. (My favorite line: Charging more for bigger bras added "insult to lingerie.")

But let's think about these things. First, if the findings from that small study were to extend to the larger population, it could be argued that many women don't view themselves as overweight even when they are. Are they likely to be spurred to lose weight just because they don't happen to find cute clothes that fit? I'm thinking not.

As for the bras. You can't of course assume that women buying bigger bras are overweight. But some probably are. If it really does cost more to make bigger bras -- or bigger clothing, for that matter -- should that cost be passed along directly to the people who need bigger sizes? Or should all buyers, regardless of size, pay a share of that extra expense?

I can't wait to hear what y'all think. Here's a poll to get you warmed up.

By Jennifer LaRue Huget  |  May 11, 2009; 7:00 AM ET
Categories:  General Health , Nutrition and Fitness , Teens , The Business of Health , Women's Health  
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Next: Here Comes the Sun. And the Sunscreen.


I'm in favor of letting the price be settled by the market.

I wear a size 9 shoe, which seems to be a pretty popular size. If I find a pair I like and can afford I don't wait for them to be marked down isn't a good idea. They'll have all size 6 & 7 but no size 9.

Retailers can price things any way they want. If demand is there they'll get their price, if not then they won't.

Posted by: RedBird27 | May 11, 2009 7:26 AM | Report abuse

Actually if you ever shop at Saks you will notice that several upmarket designers already do this for clothing. And I pretty sure some catalogs due too.

I'm not sure how fair the actually mark-up are when you consider that material is but a small part of the cost and then there is the standard 50% mark up. But certainly some mark up may be fair when dealing with high quality materials or in the case of bras - even alterations to the design.

For the record I'm right on the edge b/t XL and 1x and it was the very helpful saleswomen in the Chevy Chase Saks that brought the price differential to my attention sometimes saving me as much as $50. They are a terrific group!

Posted by: a1icia | May 11, 2009 8:44 AM | Report abuse

Not sure what rock the reporter has been under while backgrounding for this story, but with rare exception -- larger sizes are consistently priced higher than "average" sizes in clothing.

Posted by: Alexgirl | May 11, 2009 9:20 AM | Report abuse

Sure, there are extra costs involved in making plus-sized clothes so if this is the case we should have to pay for these costs. People who are in wheel chairs have to pay for their wheel chairs usually.
People who take medicine must pay for it. It's no different with plus sized clothing. While plus-sized clothing may cost more, it should be available given the growing number of obese people.

Posted by: Dipsy1 | May 11, 2009 9:27 AM | Report abuse

I remember a very long time ago, clothing items (with the same design) were more expensive in the larger sizes to account for more fabric. I think pricing is still done this way when ordering t-shirts. I have not seen that on retail floors recently though.I think that is because I have not seen regular and oversize clothing in the same designs (or locations). Regular clothing might run up to a certain size and then stop. Clothing designs for larger sizes might start at a 14 or 16 and go up. That way the price difference cannot be easily detected, and the PR impact can be minimized. This is how shops like Victoria's Secret and Lane Bryant work. I weigh 120 pounds at 5'7", and I can fit a size M or L at Vicky's! Isn't that ridiculous! But I have to agree that this is a system that prevents price comparison with different sizes.

Posted by: forgetthis | May 11, 2009 9:31 AM | Report abuse

Plus size clothes already do cost more at the specialty shops. But never have I ever gotten a discount for being small and petite, so it's hypocritical to charge more for plus size.

Posted by: not-lisa | May 11, 2009 9:45 AM | Report abuse

Many catalog retailers like Landsend already charge more for the women's size version of an item than for the misses or petite size. Usually about 5% more.

Posted by: WashingtonDame | May 11, 2009 10:14 AM | Report abuse

I agree that clothing for plus-sizes has always been more costly -- look at even Walmart-$2 higher if plus size. I agree with alexgirl that this reporter has been under a rock if unaware of this. All it takes is going into ANY department, women's clothing, or especially Victoria's Secret!!

Posted by: debbier53 | May 11, 2009 10:53 AM | Report abuse

I'm a plus-sized person and I almost always have to pay more for my things - $5.00 - $15.00 - unless I get them from QVC.

And as someone else pointed out, the manufacturers don't charge less for the size 2's and 4's than they do for the 10/12/14/16 range.

Posted by: destinysmom | May 11, 2009 11:07 AM | Report abuse

I have a size 40F chest, so I'm always going to need to buy bigger bras (and bigger tops), no matter what my weight is. (FWIW, I'm a size 16, but part of that is being broad-shouldered and tall.)

I'm consistently frustrated by the lack of selection in bras and clothing -- I have no issue buying pants/skirts, but I hate having to go to specialty stores or specialty departments to buy lingerie or tops/dresses, especially when I'm getting charged a premium.

If the same top is $20 in an XL and $30 in a 1X (I have actually seen this in retail stores), there's something wrong with the pricing structure.

I'd believe the stores' story about "more material costs more" if they gave discounts to petites! ;P

Posted by: seven_jaguar | May 11, 2009 11:38 AM | Report abuse

I wouldn't mind paying more for plus-sized clothes if a little more thought went into their design. But plus sizes tend to be "scaled-up" versions of size 8's which don't fit anyone or really, really ugly clothes.

Posted by: Arlington5 | May 11, 2009 11:52 AM | Report abuse

I am considered thin, and I pay extra for my clothes and shoes. My shoes are almost all 3A or 4A. These sizes are only available from a catalog company, so I am rarely able to take advantage of sales. And selection is limited, particularly because I am young and do not feel fashionable in shoes with names like Ortho-Walker. I wear a 0 or 2 pants size, and XS or XXS tops. These are nigh on impossible to find, and scarcer every season. I am, in essence, being punished for having a healthy weight. A final thought: There are clothes lines and clothes stores for plus-sized folks, but no such equivalent for thinner folks.

Posted by: EAS1 | May 11, 2009 12:04 PM | Report abuse

I would be more sympathetic to the "charge more for the additional fabric" argument if I hadn't noticed that retailers adopt this argument for women's clothing, but seldom for men's. Until an economist can correlate the price differential with the costs of additional materials and increased production and merchandising costs, I am not going to believe that this is anything but a sly tax on fat women.

I'd rather my "fat tax" dollars went to something of greater civic value than corporate pocketbooks. How about a fat tax that went to fund programs to improve health and fitness among large women?? Doesn't that sound better than giving more money The Limited?

Posted by: prudencebk | May 11, 2009 12:14 PM | Report abuse

You missed the boat on the bra story. The U.K. retailer--was it Selfridge's?--was not charging more for "bigger" bras. It was charging more for larger cup sizes, DD and above. Thus, conceivably, you could wear a size 32A bra (sorry, can't recall U.K. sizing) and pay one price, and wear a size 32DD bra and pay a higher price. Now admittedly, often the larger bra cup sizes are worn by heavier women. But I doubt that a woman wearing a 32 bra, whatever the cup size, could be considered fat. The revolt in the U.K. over the store's practice was that it was based on cup size, not bra circumference. It might take a smidgen more Lycra to make a DD cup, but that wasn't the point.

Posted by: ceetowne | May 11, 2009 12:16 PM | Report abuse

Pretty sure charging for larger cup (and not bra band) sizes is already taking place. All the D and higher cups are often in their own section in a department store lingerie section, regardless of whether the band is a 32 or 42, and that all the bras cost a tiny bit more. In this case I wouldn't consider it so much a fat tax as an economy of scale sort of thing. How much demand do you think there is for a 32DD? And these bras often have different design features (even from the "smaller" bras they are mimicking), such as thicker straps, additional closure hooks, padding around the underwire, etc. I have no problem with them costing more.

Posted by: CitigirlDC1 | May 11, 2009 12:40 PM | Report abuse

I can't think of any non-apparel items that you can buy where the size of the product does not effect the price.

Posted by: willcasey | May 11, 2009 12:50 PM | Report abuse

I'd like to know why if I jump from a C to D I have to pay more when if I were to jump from an A to C I would not have to pay more? If you want to charge for larger sizes, shouldn't that be for all sizes then? Doesn't every size up require more fabric?

Posted by: diamondlady_25 | May 11, 2009 1:03 PM | Report abuse

I kow how to sew (just don't enjoy parts of it all that much), so I know how much the material costs to make the garments we spend so much money on, which is why I NEVER buy designer clothes unless it's from a drastically-reduced price discounter like SYMS. A cotton top is still a cotton top, even if it is made by Jones New York - it's all cotton and it's really not worth the extra money most brand-heavy department stores charge for them.

I am also plus-sized, and while I understand designers do charge more for plus-sized clothing, I believe they really don't have to. They make more than enough money from the ridiculous markup they get from sales of regular size clothes to pay for the extra fabric needed to make most standard plus-sizes. It's really not that much more extra fabric to justify charging up to $50 more for a plus-sized garment than an average-sized one. That said, I when I do buy my clothes instead of making them, tend not to buy from manufacturers that charge $10 or more for plus sizes - that's just outright thievery, and just becasue I'm larger it doesn't mean I should be forced to put up with to take being robbed.

What's a real problem, though, is the absolute dearth of decent looking and proper fitting clothes for plus size women, especially plus petites, and especially lingerie, and even and most especially from the so-called plus-sized retailers. An incredibly vast majority of clothes for plus-sized women is, quite frankly, HIDEOUS. We've basically laid that "you look slimmer in dark colors" foolishness to rest, we aren't all tall, and just because our shape is bigger than some women's, it doesn't mean we want to wear mumus and long, loose tunics and shapeless skirts and pants. But in most plus size stores and departments in larger stores (which is usually a few racks in the back corner compared to the half a floor dedicated to the Misses section), that's what the selection looks like. And don't get me started on the hideous cotton bras and panties that only come in 4 colors - white, black, blush/pink, and nude/cocoa.

Plus women want sexy, too, but most of the designers, manufactureres, and retailers just aren't giving it to us, then have the nerve to charge us more for the garbage they do have to boot.

It's not that difficult to make clothes in miss and plus sizes - retail sewing patterns come in multi-sizes so that consumers can make multi-sized clothes. How is it that hard for the so-called "fashion designers" to do it? Buy a few plus-sized dress forms, hire some plus size models of various shapes and heights, and give it a try, why don't you!!

Posted by: Jacquiem | May 11, 2009 1:30 PM | Report abuse

I've noticed a number of comments which are to some extent suggesting that a smaller size should always be cheaper than a larger size due to reduced fabric costs.

I think this argument misses a key assumption behind charging more for over-sized clothing. The argument that a size 0 should cost less than a size 8 is probably wrong. The reason for charging more for XXXL shirts and the like is not excursively because of added fabric costs, rather, it's because those products do not sell very often and without the added incentive retailers may simply stop carrying the odd-sized clothing outright.

It's about marketability, not just fabric costs.

Posted by: Christopherjhan | May 11, 2009 2:52 PM | Report abuse

I have a size 5 foot -- am I now going to get a discount for using less leather? This whole dispute is ridiculous. The difference in the amount of fabric used for different sizes is marginal -- no matter what size the garment is, the pieces have to be cut and stitched together and the item has to be pressed and shipped to the store. There is no excuse for higher prices for "plus" sizes. And where would that lead? To graduated prices all the way up the scale? A discount for petites, who use less fabric?

Posted by: fmjk | May 11, 2009 3:50 PM | Report abuse

Christopher - the number of overweight folks in this country kinda blows a hole in your theory.

Posted by: a1icia | May 11, 2009 3:52 PM | Report abuse

Keep in mind that if a larger size of the pattern doesn't fit on the width of the fabric, it will take not just inches more but sometimes twice as much material. I don't know about the little extra in a bra, but if it takes that much more fabric to make the garment, it's fair to ask the purchaser to pay more for it.

Posted by: lilkender | May 11, 2009 4:37 PM | Report abuse

This is basically just a version of the airlines charging an extra fee for pillows - because they can. The cost to the manufacturer of the FABRIC in a garment is a fragment of the retail cost of the garment. So the additional cost to make a larger garment is even more miniscule. It's what you can get away with, like always.

Posted by: Arachnae | May 11, 2009 4:41 PM | Report abuse

Regarding the check-up columnists' comment that overweight women's views of themselves are distorted, I took a look at the study that she referenced. I think that the checkup article is somewhat misleading.....the women weren't asked about THE ideal weight, they were asked about THEIR ideal weight. Most of the ones who picked a heavier than ideal figure picked figure #5, which had a BMI of ~26 and was just a little bit heavy. I see this as probably the most realistic....if these ladies are really heavy, getting down to a BMI of 26 probably would be a great accomplishment for them, much more realistic than a BMI of 19 or 22. As a side note, the 19 BMI figure (#2) drawing in the study didn't actually look particularly healthy to me - a bit too skinny, at least for my build.

On one hand, health writers like to cite doctor's advice about the benefits of losing even 10% of your body mass, but very conveniently forget that advice in the eagerness to throw darts out.

Posted by: lizbeth1 | May 11, 2009 10:08 PM | Report abuse

If larger/heavier people have to pay more, then should I get to pay less.

I'm a 5'0" woman and have to buy petites, which simply means that I am shorter than average, not thinner. (for the record, I wear size 6 or 8, which is small-to-average)

I also wear a size 5 shoe, which can be very hard to find. So when I find shoes that fit, I buy them and rarely get to enjoy a sale.

In fact, petites are another place where manufacturers see great opportunity to make $$s. They say the clothes cost more to make b/c it's a different set of sizes (not b/c there is more fabric as with larger sizes, which is a dumb argument, as already noted).

ANY size that veers away from the "average" size costs the manufacturer more (so they say), so we pay the difference.

I typically have to have my clothes tailored even when I buy petites, so I add $20-$50 to the cost of every outfit. Perhaps I should have learned to sew.

Posted by: srchanin | May 11, 2009 10:23 PM | Report abuse

Well, one way retailers could save money is to pay attention to reality or just go back 20 years on pant lengths. The average woman in the US is still 5'4" to 5'6" tall (regardless of girth) and that hasn't changed in many years. However, 20 years ago, rather tall women (5'8"+) couldn't find pants long enough; now, unless you ARE 5'8" or taller, everything from the "regular" rack is way, way, too long and has to be altered. I swear, I bought 4 pairs of pants in size 14 from an upscale retailer (I'm 5'4") and all of them had to have at least 3 inches removed, even with relatively high heels. One pair had to have more than 5 inches cut off; I could have had a skirt for my niece made from that much extra material. For some reason the retailers have swung completely the other way, now they all seem to assume that all women are six feet tall!! (One pair of pants I bought could not have been worn normally without alteration by even a WBNA player).

Posted by: careyarmst | May 11, 2009 11:23 PM | Report abuse

Lizbeth1 hit the nail on the head re: the BMI study. There are numerous problems with the way the study results are being portrayed - and with the study itself. One thing worth noting is that, except for the very skinniest woman, the women thought the ideal body size was smaller than their own. Another is that the drawings jumped from a BMI of 23 to one of 26. Somebody whose BMI is over 30 might well have chosen a 25 were that choice available.

The racial factor also got skimmed over. Almost all of the women in the study were African American. There tends to some racial correlation to body shape, which is not obviously reflected in the drawings they were asked to choose between.

Posted by: xenophilia | May 13, 2009 11:36 AM | Report abuse

If you're going to charge more for more fabric are you going to charge less, for less fabric.

In the 80's I worked in the Children's shoes department. Kids sneakers cost nearly the same as the older kids sneakers and little ones grow out of them faster! You can't tell me a baby shoe uses more leather or material than an 5th grader!

Posted by: CALSGR8 | May 14, 2009 7:29 AM | Report abuse

I wish the two poll answers could be combined. it DOES sound like a fat tax, and it's a great idea! one other benefit would be that they have less money to spend on food, so might improve their health that way. as a society we are already supporting the fat lifestyle by subsidies on corn, soy etc - the main products that are used to make fake food which makes us fat. when I buy a plane ticket I pay the same as a fat person, even though I use less space and less fuel. my taxes and medical insurance pay for their diabetes, heart disease and cancer treatment, even though they will require much more medical help because of their high risk choices. so yeah, letting them a little more for large clothing is reasonable.

Posted by: jwin74 | May 14, 2009 4:19 PM | Report abuse

I sell Modest dresses. Girls and ladies. Most are like new. I have some that are new. If anyone is looking for Modest Plus size skirts. I have 5 of them for sale. Size 24/26. No slits. Brand new. I also have 3 Ladies jumpers. 2X. Lots of Jean jumpers. Many sizes
Email me for Pictures.

I also sell baby clothes.

Posted by: modestdresses | May 15, 2009 6:06 PM | Report abuse

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