Ah, shopping. Americas’ favorite pastime. Loved, and hated, by millions of people around the world, but a necessary evil in our modern, civilized world. If you’ve ever walked through a mall, you’ve likely seen about a thousand mannequins in windows and displays, flaunting the latest amalgam of fabric and stitching to cover your body. If you’re a man, these styles range from graphic tee to polo, jackets, pants and shorts. For women, however, you’ll find five different lengths of skirts, a dozen styles of blouse, tee shirts with four different neck-hole styles, a dozen types of jean fit, and a million varieties of shoes. You would think, with all these options that finding quality, well-fitting clothes in every personal style and form imaginable would be easy, right? On the contrary. None of these things matter, because the fashion industry has become so antiquated and set in their ways that they’ve forgotten how to dress women altogether, and have begun to treat them like mannequins; faceless, unrealistic carbon copies of the ideal female form.
This may seem like a harsh stance to take, but let me explain. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the average male will spend between $323-444 a year on clothing, while the average woman will spend between $571-793 a year. You might attribute this to the notion that “women love to shop,” or that “you can never have too many shoes,” but, sexism aside, these notions are harmful and inaccurate. The real reason women spend so much more on clothes isn’t that they can’t get enough, but because they cannot KEEP enough. Women’s clothing is not designed with durability in mind. Walk through your closest clothing retailer and pick up a women’s T-shirt and a men’s T-shirt. Notice how the women’s shirt is considerably thinner, and possibly even see through? That’s intentional. See, in order to maximize profits, clothing companies have figured out that if they make their clothes as cheaply as possible, and with the thinnest and least durable materials possible, not only will they save money on production, but they’ll also force women to buy more layers (tanktops, undershirts, jackets, etc.), as well as force them to buy whole new items when their clothes start to fall apart.
If you’re still in the clothing department, take a step over to the jeans section. Pick up a pair and find the pockets. If you’re lucky, you might find a pair that seems to have pockets all-around, two in front and two in back as you’d expect from a pair of jeans. But if you try to reach into those pockets, surprise, they’re either too shallow to fit your whole hand into, or they’re fake, just a decorative seam put in to disguise the fact that they didn’t include those few extra inches of fabric. If you’re wondering why that is, then prepare for a brief history lesson because it goes way back. In the Victorian Era, when women wore dresses almost exclusively, they didn’t have pockets either. For a long time, they simply carried small satchels or bags, and even that was rare, as women of the time didn’t have much to carry around, or weren’t allowed to go out alone and therefore had no need to carry things themselves. Bags became the mainstay as fashion evolved, however, and with that evolution came classism. Working women often carried much larger bags than aristocratic women, thus the smaller the bag, the higher the status symbol.
Then, as women began to wear pants, for the briefest of moments, they gained pockets, as they were wearing pants designed for men. Society deemed these pockets too masculine, and unflattering on the female figure, and pockets were stricken from female clothing. So, to make a long story short, despite the fact that women carry a ton of stuff around these days (phones, wallets, feminine hygiene products, etc.), women’s pants and purses still aren’t being designed for functionality, all because someone decided that big pockets were unsightly, unflattering and for poor people.
Let’s step out of the store for a moment and address the bigger issue. Specifically, the
“Bigger” issue. If you’re not the kind of person who exclusively buys their clothing from a single store, then you’ll notice some pretty glaring inconsistencies in sizes as you go from place to place. What constitutes as a women’s large at one store will be a 2X at another store, and a pair of jeans from Old Navy will say size 18 but will fit the same as a size 12 at the GAP next door. This is because clothing brands decide their own sizing system, and because, over time, we’ve developed smaller and smaller numbers for sizes to make consumers feel better about themselves when they buy. The fashion industry believes that you feel skinnier, and therefore more confident when you buy a smaller numbered size, but skewing the numbers like this, and making it non-standard from your competitors, only serves to frustrate and alienate consumers instead of encouraging them. Vanity Sizing does far more psychological damage than benefit, and it needs to be addressed, for the sake of every anorexic, bulimic and “misshapen” girl out there, who have suffered at the hands of an uncaring system.
Image credit to Time magazine.
The worst part of all of this, however, is the fact that women’s clothing, especially for plus size women, is not only incredibly hard to find but also incredibly expensive. Sure, companies like Meijer have made an effort to be more size-inclusive by desegregating their sizes, but that doesn’t really solve the problem. You can’t just scale up your measurements and expect your clothes to fit bigger people. Realistically, everyone’s body is a little different, and so it’s understandable that you can’t be expected to fit everyone perfectly when producing on a massive scale. You can, however, make an effort to make your plus size versions more flattering, or at least styled in a way that looks similar to the smaller-sized version. On any given rack, there’ll be two different versions of these styles, and the shift between the two versions happens around the plus size mark. Why? Well, it’s someone’s idea of inclusive, but in reality, it’s an expensive cop-out to avoid putting in the extra effort and paying stylists who know how to work with and design for larger people.
Image credit to HuffPost.
As for the pricing, while it’s universal at stores like Meijer thanks to their desegregation of sizes, it’s far more apparent back at the mall, in stores like Torrid that specialize in plus-size clothing. Some mall stores have made efforts to include plus sizes in their line-ups, like Hot Topic for example, but they too fall prey to scaling instead of styling, and if you’re going to buy plus size, you’d better bring the bank, because there’s a serious upcharge. It isn’t explicitly obvious until you compare the tags, or if you shop online, but plus-size clothing is almost always more expensive. Many people attribute this to plus-size clothing requiring more fabric, but if that were enough of a justification, then why aren’t the extra small and medium shirts different sizes as well? Because the fashion industry knows that plus size people have fewer options, and therefore feel justified in charging them more because where else are they going to go? Your options are either nice clothes in current trends and styles at expensive mall stores or online (which is another nightmare in itself because you can’t try things on first), or going to a department store or general store like Meijer and buying the cheapest, easiest basic necessities. I don’t care who you are, being told you can only afford to wear t-shirts with Tweety Bird catchphrases on them for the rest of your life is demoralizing, and the fear of receiving less respect from your peers simply because you can’t afford to dress nicely while also accommodating your body size is the biggest body shame of them all.
In short, we cannot keep putting plus-size people down, and women overall deserve better options, better quality and better standards. The fashion industry will turn a blind eye to these issues because they know we have no choice but to buy clothes. I’m not suggesting we start going nude, but instead, we make our voices heard, and support brands and designers who support us in return.
Sarah Nowack is a senior professional writing major who is minoring in graphic design. Her days are spent haunting the local library, consuming copious amounts of coffee, playing unpopular video games, and making terrible puns. She can be found at @battlerouge on Twitter and @shiverbound on Instagram.