By Kit Steinkellner
In the 1920’s, Lane Bryant, (a clothing company known for producing clothes for expectant mothers since the beginning of the 20th century) saw that there was no clothing company mass-manufacturing apparel for larger women and started selling clothes “For the Stout Women.” Of course, we cringe hard at this label now, but the new line quickly eclipsed the maternity wear and by 1923, the company was pulling in $5 million a year (that’s about $69 million in today’s dollars, not bad, Lane Bryant, not bad at all).
The company has long since buried the label “For the Stout Women” (THANKFULLY) and for the past several years has co-opted the term most companies use to describe sizes 14 and up, “plus size.”
However, now Lane Bryant CEO Linda Heasley now wants to give the idea of “plus size” the boot, and describe the apparel the retailer sells as “her size.”
“The demographics are changing, and that is all the more reason to change perception and talk about it as ‘her size,’ not ‘plus size,” Heasley explained to BizWomen. “I wouldn’t want to call myself ‘plus size.’ “
Heasley is responding sensitively to a clientele that does not want their size to be stigmatized, women that don’t want to be made to feel awkward and uncomfortable by the labels presented to them when they shop for clothes.
“We use ‘her size’ here internally. We are trying to show respect, and that size doesn’t matter,” she adds. “We need to be here for her,” she said. “Everything we do is about her.”
We spoke to Dr. Amanda M. Czerniawski, a professor in the Department of Sociology at Temple University and the author of “Fashioning Fat” (NYU Press, 2015) about the controversial nature of the term and she provided us with tremendous insight into the issue.
“The term ‘plus size’ is highly problematic because it is not measured in absolute terms and, quite simply, means different things to different people,” Czerniawski told Hello Giggles. “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,” she adds. “In clothing retail, plus-size retailers generally start their merchandise at a size fourteen (sometimes twelve) and run through size twenty-four. 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.”
Ultimately, Czerniawski sees the “plus size” term as becoming “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.”
On top of all that, there’s remains the issue of the “plus” in “plus size.” “It’s still loaded with huge cultural significance and plagued by stigma,” says Czerniawski. Indeed, the ‘plus’ in plus size is seen, by some, as pejorative and inherently judgmental.
“The term ‘plus-size’ causes anger because the distinction inherently shames the woman concerned,” wrote the Daily Beast’s Emily Shire in a smart screed against the term last year. “Instead of constantly comparing ourselves to each other, we should be able to see different body types simply with veneration.”
It looks like once again, Lane Bryant is setting a precedent for the rest of the fashion world. Almost a hundred years ago, the company started mass-manufacturing clothes specifically for women who wore larger sizes, and now this same company is telling the world that they don’t want to use a label to differentiate between a size 4 and a size 14. There’s no need to set apart women whose sizes run larger. It looks like we’re just about due for another size revolution, one that normalizes all sizes.