Edinburgh based plus size style and fat positive blogger AmandaApparel discusses brand image, online shopping, and the unexpected ways fat tax impacts plus size consumers.
Earlier this week, River Island confirmed to Cosmopolitan that it was the latest store to pull its plus size collection from the high street to online only. Various sites such as The Pool published stories on the subject, but as a plus size consumer I feel that I have my own two cents to add to the discussion.
River Island isn’t a specialist plus size brand. It is a generalist clothing brand that first and foremost serves the straight size (non-plus size) market. This shift from in-store to online only plus size offerings isn’t new. In fact, it’s the latest in a grand tradition of forcing fat people out of stores. New Look, another generalist brand, is an excellent example of this.
I live in Edinburgh, a capital city. There are six New Look locations in town, and only one carries their plus range. It’s about a 30 minute bus ride out of the town centre, and the minuscule curve collection shares a dark, dingy corner at the back with maternity wear. There is a fixture of denim, a fixture of leggings, a few basics, and a handful of “trend” pieces, none of which mirror the actually trendy items from their core range.
Specialist plus size brands are guilty of the exact same thing. Take plus size retailer Simply Be for instance. Earlier this year they closed the doors on all 20 of their UK stores in order to focus on cultivating an online only brand. The thing is, research shows that most plus size purchases do take place online, but the studies lack nuance. Fat shoppers tend to shop online out of necessity, rather than preference. Plus size consumers know this from experience.
I wear a size 24/26. Say I need an outfit for an event tomorrow afternoon. In Edinburgh (again, a capital city with many more stores available than in smaller towns), my options are limited to the previously mentioned New Look (Fort Kinnaird), a small Yours Clothing (Cameron Toll), a small H&M+ department (Ocean Terminal), and a Marina Rinaldi boutique (West End) that is extremely out of my budget. I’ve included their locations to note that they are all in VERY different directions. Because I rely on public transport, visiting all 4 shops would take the majority of a day, and would be exhausting.
Hopping on the train for an hour allows me to peruse Glasgow shops as well, but even then only an additional Yours Clothing, H&M+, and Evans are available (that I know of). Just describing this process is frustrating. Actually doing it is so, so much worse. Odds are I would be able to find something to wear, but it’s unlikely that it would be something in my preferred style or price range.
But thank goodness there’s online shopping, right? Well, yes. Obviously. However, it’s not that simple, and it’s not that positive. Shopping online as a fat person requires a huge amount of foresight. A community of fat babes can be so helpful, because you can ask around for recommendations, size guidance, etc (shoutout to my Edinburgh Fat Club babes!), but if you order from a brand that’s new to you, then you might be in for a struggle.
If you’re unsure which size to order, you have two options: you either order two sizes and return one later, or your gamble on one knowing full well you may have to return it and order another size (and pay for shipping a second time). Never mind the fact that plus size garments usually costs more than similar style and quality straight size garments, fat consumers also have to spend extra time queueing at the post office to return items that weren’t a good fit. Simply put, the fat tax exploits our time, not just our money.
In 2017 plus size market was worth an estimated £6.6 billion, and is expected to grow to £8.3 billion by 2022. With that kind of money on the line, why are fat people still forced to shop online? Why don’t retailers want plus size shoppers in their high street stores? Simple: brand image is more important than fat coins. Corporate hatred of fat people is greater than its love of money.
There’s a framework known as image congruence theory, which asserts that consumers are likely to align with brands that they think are inspiring. Therefore, in theory, because fat people aren’t seen as aspirational, consumers sizes are likely to align with brands whose values exclude plus sizes. This is why image heavy brands like Topshop will be the last retailers to jump on the plus size clothing bandwagon. This is also why designers like Michael Kors date fat shoppers in the dark, meaning they are willing to take our fat money, but they aren’t willing to advertise offering plus sizes or feature plus models in any brand imagery.
So why has this topic pulled me out of a six month blog hiatus? Because I’m fed up. I’m fed up with brands underserving plus size people. I’m fed up with thin women thinking it’s sooooo bizarre that fat folks do all of our clothes shopping online. I’m fed up with brands dating us in the dark.
Fashion is supposed to be a fun way for people to express themselves. Nigel in The Devil Wears Prada says fashion is “greater than art because you live your life in it.” Maybe one day fat people will get to experience fashion in that kind of nuanced, meaningful way. But for now we’re expected to be grateful for the scraps we’ve been given, lest they be taken away.