Why Don’t Fatties Buy Clothes

I’m reading this article in the NY Times about the fact that 60%+ of women are fat, and yet fat clothes revenues are only 8% of the total.  WTF – are there a bunch of naked fatties running around?

I read on and the article talks about how fat women don’t buy clothes because they don’t like what’s offered (d’oh – yah think?).

But clothing manufacturers say they can’t make fat clothes because you can’t predict how the fat body will be shaped (yay us – diversity rocks). 

Well excuse me, but have they heard of separates?  You know where you can buy one size pants to fit your big ass, but another size top which fits your smaller top – or vice versa?  Hello? 

This is not rocket science folks.

Go into any store in the mall for the “average” sized (not fat) woman – and will you see rack upon rack of dresses?  Nooooooooo – chances are you will see rack upon rack of separates. 

Sorry clothing manufacturers – we’re fat, not stupid.  As Terry Pratchett says, yank the other one, it’s got bells on it.


23 thoughts on “Why Don’t Fatties Buy Clothes

  1. I really don’t get this whole no clothes for fat people thing. Sure if I walk in a department store I might not find any but there hundreds of online retailers that offer plus size clothing. The clothing revenue stats must not include these stores.

    • The problem is that because clothing manufacturers vary the sizing of their own product, it is hard to tell if what you are buying online is going to fit. I think a lot of the online retailers are small independent companies whose output is so small, comparatively, that it is not enough to be statistically significant.

  2. I think there is another possibility. Most fat women wear straight sizes. Most overweight women are probably just above the normal/overweight range; I wore a size 8 in that range. I’m now going through menopause, middle-age spread, and I’ve put on about fifteen pounds at my height that brings me to the top of the overweight range. I’m now a size 12. I figured if my weight ever reach over the overweight/obese line that I would be wearing a size 14. Granted, I’m small for my weight, but I’m not the only one that is.

    Most overweight women probably wear straight sizes and the smaller obese women as well. Since a very small percentage of heavy people are larger than that, it’s not surprising that most of clothing sales are in straight sizes.

  3. I guess there are a lot of reasons coming together why so few money is made on plus-size clothes.

    The first that comes to mind: If you do not shop for clothes for fun, but only because going naked is frowned upon, you tend to spend very little money. In twenty years of being fat, I have always spent less on clothes than on cat food, because buying clothes is a chore. Nothing fits, nothing looks good, nothing’s worth the money, and the sales assistants look down their skinny noses at the fattie who has to ask if some item is available in 3XL. Usually it isn’t, or 3XL is a size 14. The the tailor who fixes ripped seams, patches holes and puts new zippers into pants is my best friend: he makes the rare item that fits and looks nice last for ten years.

    Also, (but this is probably uncommon), at my fattest I was wearing mostly men’s clothes. Those are cut to accommodate an apple shape. (Plus, no spandex that painfully shows off every roll of fat.) In men’s clothes, I could wear straight sizes when I was a size 22 in women’s clothing.

  4. @Lillian: actually, the average American woman wears a size 14, which is about where the ‘normal’ stores start sizing us out. When it comes to clothing, ‘plus size’ or ‘fatty fat fatties’ means size 14 and up.

    I think one thing that really adds to our problem is that while you can go to a mall and find twelve stores that carry ‘straight’ sizes, you’re lucky to find one specialty ‘plus’ store and perhaps a tiny section of a department store that carry our sizes. Once you get beyond size 26, good luck finding a single piece of clothing you can try on in an entire mall.

    And so we are told it’s easy; just shop for all our clothing needs online. But that isn’t really much of a help when you get down to it. Every line has its own peculiarities of fit and quirks of construction that may or may not work for me when I put them on. Different manufacturers mean different measurements when they talk about the same sizes, and those measurements may be either the size in inches of the actual garment or of the size body they are designed to fit. Finding the size chart on many of these sites is a labrynthine process, to boot. And then once the garment arrives, if it doesn’t fit after all, there’s the hassle of returning it and waiting to see if the next size up or down works better.

    On top of all of that, I can count on one hand the number of plus manufacturers who use a significant proportion (anything over roughly eight percent) of natural fibers. Just because I’m bigger doesn’t mean my skin doesn’t need to breathe. I don’t like spending California summers in a parade of polyester, nylon, acetate, and spandex. Even a few more blends with cotton, wool, linen, or silk would help significantly.

    So to sum up, there’s little styling choice, there’s no opportunity to try most things on for fit or flattery before buying, the bigger you are the harder it is to find even one manufacturer who will cater to your needs, and the vast majority of the clothing available to us feels crappy to wear.

    Why would we go to the trouble to spend our money on that? The big question is why aren’t more of us adopting a naturist lifestyle?

  5. “Can’t predict how the fat body will be shaped”? It’s not as if all straight sized women have the same proportions. There are different body shapes across all weights, so… excuse does not work! By their logic nobody would have clothing.

  6. The only, only, reason I’m not out there buying clothes is price. I’m willing to accept a small markup to accommodate the fact that a new pattern had to be drafted and there was more fabric, but not a 200% markup. $40 for a shirt and another $40 for a pair of pants? Not going to happen, not ever.

    I found a consignment shop up the street from me and there was a leather (or something) skirt for $12 in my size. Next time I get the urge to buy clothes, I’m going there instead of Lane Bryant. Any time retailers want to stop punishing me for being a customer, I’ll come back with my money.

  7. I’m guessing that at least part of this is age and income related. We tend to get fatter as we age, and also to have less time and money and interest in buying a closetful of new stuff every year.

    Ergo, if you are a clothing manufacturer looking to maximize your profits, you pump out lots of small-size clothes for the younger, thinner, crowd.

    I was never a big clotheshorse and thought of myself as a minimalist when I was 19, but I spent a LOT more time and money on clothing then than I do now.

    Part of it was just experimenting– what works, what doesn’t? What kind of message am I trying to send the world? What does this leather-laced pair of jeans “say” about me?

    Ten years and fifty pounds later, I don’t feel as much a need to experiment, and wouldn’t be able to afford it anyway.

    All the “extra” money goes to kids and the retirement fund. lol

  8. And yeah, fatter women have more proportion diversity than thin ones. That’s not a lie. I make most of my clothes these days, which forces me to pay attention to fit issues, and most of the women in my family are excellent seamstresses, so we talk about this a lot.

    Making clothes for a 18-year-old who’s never had any kids is generally a MUCH more straightforward fitting proposition than making something for her 40-year-old mother. We get more interesting as we age; that’s good!

    What’s not good is insisting that it’s a giant clothes-manufacturers’ fault that stuff off the rack fits ill and that it’s all a conspiracy.

    One way to compensate for this issue on a manufacturing scale is to use a lot of “forgiving” stretch materials– synthetic, synthetic and more synthetic.

    • I do think it is the manufacturers fault – simply because separates pretty much takes care of the different shape issues. I don’t think it’s a conspiracy, I think they just don’t care — which is kind of a strange attitude for a business to have about an income source. So maybe I do think it’s a conspiracy. I’m so confused!

  9. I don’t think separates are the entire answer. When considering bottoms, there’s the waist/hip ratio to factor in. With tops, well, some women are quite buxom with a relatively small chest otherwise, some may have a broad back and be small-breasted. Fat distributes itself in quite a few ways among us.
    You CAN have natural fabrics with a little stretchy synthetic mixed in.
    The way I see it is that some clothing designers will make excuses and some will make money. If 60% of people wear plus sizes and 90+% of stores in malls don’t cater to them at all, there’s a business opportunity there somewhere. The fashion industry must be making gobs of money if they can afford to turn this opportunity down.
    And as long as I’m complaining, why can’t we get a decent choice of nice shoes in wide wide widths? Why can’t we get more swimsuits that aren’t black on black next to black? Why is it so hard to find pretty gloves for larger hands? Why can’t I find more glasses frames to fit my big head? Why… oh, never mind, I’m sure y’all have your own lists of things you’d buy if only they existed.

  10. So many clothing manufacturers are totally failing to serve plus sized customers that I am not surprised to see those numbers. (I do also wonder if and where children’s clothes are being factored in, and if the rate that children need their clothes replaced is helping to inflate the straight sizes percentage of profit.)

    I am reminded of Lesley from Fatshonista’s post sometime last year where she compared successfully shopping for plus sized clothes to slaying a dragon.

  11. It’s the anomaly that manufacturers are simply IGNORING the plus size market. Because a lot of offerings are in the neighborhood of shapeless tents, poorly made cheap pieces, and of course the realm of nothing but stretch fabrics. There’s not nearly enough CHOICE as there are for straight sizes.

    I agree with Twistie about ordering online– I do prefer shopping online, not for the reasons these so-called experts think I do– but namely because it’s a otimesaver for me that despite living in one of the best shopping cities in the world, I just prefer not dealing with pushy salespeople, hundreds of people pushing through the same racks as me, lugging it all home, etc.

    But online, there comes the hassle of returns and losing money if you have to get a refund; same with exchanges if possible, or if you’re an ebay addict like me– the possibility of the item not being up to par with the seller’s description and knowing that returns/exchanges are nixed 80% of the time.

    I don’t mind assuming the risks with ebay since you can buy stuff there soooo cheap and I usually stick to the brands where I know the sizing well enough (gotten many a $5 Lane Bryant work blouse, Jones NY suits for $20 or less, etc.) and for stuff that doesn’t fit I either list it again myself or give it to a friend who could use it; I feel I break even from how much I sell and how many times I ended up winning more than I paid.

    Truthfully, I’d probably do the same shit if I were straight-size– I like going to ebay from the comfort of my desk and being swept up in auction frenzies, putting BIN listings on my watchlist just waiting for the seller to mark it down…seeing my feedback score go up…

    Difference is I’d have more freakin choice with the clothes.

    I’m one of the many pissed-off Torrid customers that remember when they were just a plus-size extension of Hot Topic (when THEY used to a be a great store for my taste in clothing! And sold up to size 3X/4X and extended men’s sizes too…wtf happened to that? It was great! I’d get my crazy animal print pants and Dad could get casino shirts all at low prices on the same trip!) and sold all kinds of great stuff…I don’t need to explain here how they mostly suck now!

    That’s the other reason why fatties aren’t buying clothes– not enough variety and not enough suitability. I hate the sleeveless empire-waist babydoll offerings at every plus-size store around. I need suits for work and cool punk and rockabilly styles for when I go out. Don’t have as much time for DIYing as I used to.

    So despite living in one of the biggest cities in the world for shopping? I STILL have to go on ebay to find stuff I need that fits my lifestyle AND my ass!

  12. I’m gonna throw my weight in *snort* with inge. Before I discovered online shopping and FA I spent as little time as humanly possible buying clothes, and I bought very spesifically to what I needed. Obviously, this makes for less money spent. This is why I can’t understand why Lane Bryant would hesitate in embracing FA, at least to a certain degree. If people are made to feel better about themselves when they visit you, they will want to come back often!
    Also I think it has to do with marketing. Plus size brick and mortar stores do minimal advertising in my neck of the woods, and people obviously can’t shop somewhere they don’t know exists.

  13. Yeah, separates don’t really solve the problem. Women’s pants are actually extraordinarily hard to fit even for someone who has a lot of experience, and even on people who aren’t fat.

    (have you ever met a woman, fat or thin, who didn’t face pants-shopping with trepidation?)

    Clothes manufacturers deal with that by just making a crapload of different pants, but they’re betting that their clothing-experimenting customers will make it worth their while. Old fattish ladies are less inclined to buy stuff just to experiment with it. We got a mortgage and 2.5 kids to feed.

    Same thing goes for blouses. Some women, as they gain weight, get bustier, and others gain weight in their midsections. Some have fat arms, some don’t. We resemble each other less and less as we gain weight, not more and more.

    That’s wondrous from a human-appreciation perspective, but lousy for people whose jobs it is to make money by pleasing a mass market.

    I’m not going to deny that there is some classist/ageist stuff at play here– for one, if your brand gets a reputation for being popular with us frumpy, chubby middle-aged moms, your fashion-conscious big-money customers will pretty much drop you like a hot potato.

    Not worth it to attract Cheryl, who will agonize over spending 300 dollars on clothing herself this year, and lose Chloe, who will drop 3000 without blinking.

    The ones I feel sorry for in all this are the young fat ladies who would surely like to have better options for fashion; I suppose places like Torrid are figuring how how to cater to that market WITHOUT attracting the Mommy crowd.

    My solution: learn to sew. Granted, some will snort. But it’s the surest way to get what you want and to learn a lot about your body in the process. 🙂

  14. Is it possible that a lot of the fatter woman look for just a few things they really like and go with them as much as possible, where thinner women periodically go for a whole mass wardrobe change? Or sew for themselves? Or buy from clothiers these surveyors don’t know because they’re unincorporated sole propietorships? I mean hell, I think the majority of Kat’s things are bought from NAAFA and Vegas Bash vendors, or Cupcakes and Muffintops, with an occasional sortie to Catherine’s.

    • Indeed, though some small businesses might be included in the figures because a lot of sales data is taken from trade associations– trade associations do represent both large and small corporations, LLCs, partnerships, sole proprietorships, etc. Rather than just corporations’ income statements.

      While I’m not surprised by this number given, but irked by it, it’s just an anomaly that makes my brain hurt if I really sit down and think about it. I mean, I learned in 7 years of post-secondary and post-graduate education of accounting and business that large corporations cater to general needs (mass market) better than small businesses, which cater better to niche markets. So it’d make sense that someone is larger than average or smaller than average would have to give a small business their money; on a clinical economic studies perspective.

      But clothing, like food, is a general need. And we’re always having this “ZOMFG teh obesity epidemic!!!11!11oneone booga booga” shoved down our throats and yelled in our ears; so wouldn’t it make sense from a manufacturers’ economic point of view that 1) demand clearly exists, 2) there is not much supply to satisfy this demand, in fact the demand curve is way out of proportion to the supply curve, and 3) shouldn’t OUR company make money and satisfy this demand?
      Then get into the more right-brained aspects of what kind of clothes, the styles, fabrics and designs, level of customer service and guarantees, etc. because firms exist to make profit.

      But what will the media think?! No! Still a niche market! And the cycle continues.

      Seriously, I’d consider opening up a plus size clothing company of my own if I had the startup capital to do it. I have a little background in fashion merchandising; and I’m an accountant and businesswoman that not only SEES this opportunity but has experienced the clothes-buying frustration since my teenage years firsthand!

  15. Actually, I buy almost all my clothing online & very seldom have fit issues, though I wish that sizes were more consistent, so that I did not have to study the size charts at every different site as if I were prepping for the SATs. Of course, my wardrobe largely consists of jeans, tees, & hoodies, which does simply things.

    And terri, always glad to encounter another Pratchett fan.

  16. Before I discovered FA/started to like myself I hated shopping – I felt like nothing ever fit my stupid body and nothing that was comfortable ever looked good and, clearly, that was a well-deserved punishment for being so fat and gross. Thank goodness I have my head on straight now. I may not have a ton of options when it comes to the local shopping mall, but the internet is my fat-fashion playground and I take full advantage of the outfitters who care about my business. Money’s tighter now than ever, so I can’t afford to screw around with clothes I don’t like or only sort of like. I deserve an awesome wardrobe and I’m finally having fun putting it together!

    Someday I’m going to team up with a cobbler and put out a line of wide-width boots that aren’t frumpy or made of cheap materials. There’s a market you’d think people would be falling all over themselves trying to fill, given that fat-calfed women are looking for boots and so often have nowhere to spend their money!

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