Kmart recently announced that it changed the name of its plus-size clothing to “fabulously sized.” This is the latest retailer to “drop the plus.” (Remember Lane Bryant’s “her size”?) So, let’s put this in sociological perspective:
The expression “plus size” is often misunderstood or unknown (and usually equated with fatness). As many could surmise from a single glance at magazine photos of plus-size models, the basic definition of “plus size” in modeling does not match the cultural image of a fat woman. Most casual observers of plus-size models would probably not even perceive them as “plus size,” let alone fat. Indeed, many of these models are of “average” size and weight, typically wearing women’s sizes ten to eighteen; retail industry experts estimate that the average American woman wears a size
fourteen sixteen. Typically, the industry considers anything over a woman’s size eight as “plus size.”
The term “plus size” is highly problematic because it is not measured in absolute terms and, quite simply, means different things to different people. Without standardized sizing practices and the added complication of vanity sizing (i.e., size inflation), a static dimensional form of plus size does not exist. On top of that, there is the inconsistency in the categorization of plus size between the modeling and retail clothing industries. In clothing retail, plus-size retailers generally start their merchandise at a size fourteen (sometimes twelve) and run through size twenty-four. (Super-size apparel begins at size twenty-six or 4X to 6X.) On the other hand, the fashion modeling industry considers anything over a woman’s size eight as “plus size.” This presents an interesting scenario where it is not uncommon for models to be hired to advertise for plus-size clothing lines while they, themselves, normally do not fit into plus-size sizes. Consequently, many of these “smaller” plus-size models use body padding to effectively size up because clients want a plus-size body but thin face.
Ultimately, the term “plus size” becomes increasingly meaningless when used to categorize clothing sizes that the average woman wears. It does not accurately reflect the nature of the bodies it supposedly describes. The term “plus size,” however, is still loaded with huge cultural significance and plagued by the stigma of fat. The “plus” in plus size is not really a positive but a negative, which explains the increasing movement by fashion retailers like Kmart to distance themselves from the term.
Do you think this move away from the term “plus size” is a positive move for the fashion industry? Should we drop the plus? Add your thoughts in the comments.