Why Do We Call It "Plus-Size" Anyway?

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I don't remember when I started shopping in the plus-size section, but I do remember how it felt. As I wandered through the home goods in the basement of a major department store, past the towels and off-season Christmas decorations, I wondered if I had misheard where it was. Then, winding around a corner, I spotted it; a tiny nook stocked with disappointing styles that made my heart sink. Was this my initiation into womanhood?

While trudging through the sad racks, I quickly learned that my size was something to be ashamed of, something requiring a label. Whether the section is called “plus-size,” or “curvy,” it’s named in a way meant to illustrate that its denizens are considered outliers; it’s named in a way that shows the rest of the sartorial society what to do with us.

The current definition of plus-size starts at a 14, or an 8, or a 20, depending on who you ask; the term plus-size was created because most clothing only went up to a size 14, an arbitrary marker even then that has changed over time. The sizes beyond that point were considered to be “specialty,” and less in-demand than "straight sizes" (another unnecessary moniker, if you ask me). But, the average American woman now wears a 14; which means women who wear that size are the exact opposite of rare.
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In using words like “plus-size” or “curvy” to designate a certain segment of merchandise, you’ve gone beyond doing a service to the customer and entered a space where those labels are being attached to the people themselves. How different is that, then, than just calling your shoppers fat? And, someone who wears a size 14 knows that she wears that size, and looks for clothing with a label denoting those two digits. No other label is necessary to further define just what kind of person might be leafing through that particular rack. Unless those "plus" markers aren't for the wearers, at all, but for everyone else, which begs the question of why we need to label, or separate space on the shop floor, at all.

Style blogger and Marie Claire contributor Nicolette Mason explained “I think that right now, when it comes to fashion, there is an important distinction, simply based on the fact that not all brands or designers cater to women [size 12 and above], so we need to have some kind of signifier to help find the clothes and fashion that do fit and come in our sizes.”

Until the day comes that all brands expand their offerings to include all sizes, there will always be size-defining labels. There have to be. Because women who wear a size 14-plus are not catered to by the majority of stores, they are forced to seek out a style clarification so that they don't waste their time slogging through every boutique and online shop in the hopes that they’ll find something that fits. But, by refusing to cater to the statistically average woman, brands aren't just hurting that left-out segment of shoppers, they are hurting their own bottom line (a topic we've covered before).

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Some women have no qualms about the “plus-size” marker. “You can call me any size you want, as long as I have amazing clothes to wear,” stated model Candice Huffine. “Above all, you know, I want — like all other curvy ladies — beautiful, well-made, on-trend clothing that fits. If a label has to go in front of it, so be it, I suppose. I am all about the fashion.” Style blogger Margie Ashcroft added, “As a fashion-forward woman who also happens to be plus-size, it is just a way for me to Google search clothes.”

Still, it's not just a way to categorize clothes. Every plus-size fashion post on Facebook starts an argument — about health, about sensitivity, about whether the model is plus-size enough or maybe, somehow, too plus-size. The term has become a way to define women, yet again, by their outer appearance alone — and that is a problem. But, is there an alternative? Could there be a way to distinguish items available to the larger end of the size spectrum other than this additional label? Likely, that answer is no. Until fashion truly becomes inclusive, there will continue to be classifications arbitrarily assigned to those the industry deems out of the “norm.” Maybe it's just a question of the "norm" growing to fit what's actually normal these days.

If "the industry" were to ask you, would you say you're fine with the term “plus-size” and its current use? Would you prefer a different label, or maybe no designation at all?