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The scene is played out each day in dressing rooms all over the world. Women pass clothes back and forth, critiquing each fashion. Laughter echoes through the long hallway of doors and 180-degree mirrors.
Shopping can be a bonding activity for women. But what if there are no clothes in the mall for you? Does it ruin the fun? This is something plus sized women often have to deal with.
Fourth year St Thomas University student, Melissa Babin, doesn’t feel left out, butsometimes finds herself annoyed.
“It’s just crappy that I can’t go to the mall and be like, ‘Oh sweet, we’ll all just go to this store together.’ And it’s like, ‘Okay, cool. You guys can go to that store and I’m gonna wait because I have to go to this one.’ I don’t like that.”
The 21-year-old says she can sometimes find her size 20 clothes in regular stores, but does most of her shopping at specialized stores. She says this can be frustrating for other reasons.
“I feel like the plus size stores get the good stuff three or four months after everyone else has it, which drives me nuts. I hate that, but they do get it.”
Addition Elle and Penningtons are staples of plus size clothing shopping in most Canadian towns and cities, including Fredericton.
Former STU student, Krystle MacLeod, has worked at both. The 29-year-old started at Penningtons in Moncton nine years ago, and is now a manager at Addition Elle in Fredericton.
MacLeod likes that there are specific stores for plus size.
“It makes finding the clothing easier. However, I think it would be great if more stores would carry both regular and plus sized options,”she said.
According to a 2009 report by Euromonitor International, the top ten general women’s clothing stores in Canada that supply both small and large sizes make up for 33 per cent of the overall plus size market. This is comparable to the top ten plus size women’s retailers that make up for 57 per cent.
This means the majority of plus sized women are shopping at specialized stores.
The same report says the plus size market is a great opportunity for Canadian retailers to grow, and says that they should.
Why aren’t more retailers taking advantage of this chance? Babin thinks it’s because they don’t want to encourage a larger weight.
“They want everyone to better themselves and take care of themselves, rather than just accept and stay that way.”
She says it might also be because they’re not sure the business is there.
“They might think there’s not a market for it because people don’t want to shop there because they don’t want to feel they need to.”
According to Statistics Canada, 32.7 per cent of Canadian females reported themselves as overweight or obese in 2011. Depending on their size, potentially 5.5 million women made up the plus size market in 2011.
Those 5.5 million women need to buy their clothes somewhere.
The term itself – plus size – can be viewed negatively, but Babin doesn’t have a problem with it.
“I’m super comfortable being who I am too. I feel like if I wasn’t, I would hate it. Because it’s like, ‘Oh, cool, I’m large.’ I’m cool with being large and that’s just okay with me. I can understand how some people would be upset with it.”
MacLeod doesn’t mind the term either.
“There’s just more of us to love. I know some people think it’s a negative term, but in terms of fashion, it helps to categorize product. I’d rather be plus sized than an ‘extended size’ which I’ve seen before.”
The term is one that is hard to define. The cut-off point for regular apparel tends to vary. Some stores stop at large while others go until MacLeod’s size, 18.
The modeling industry, however, defines things a little differently.
A January 2012 feature by Plus Model Magazine says the majority of plus size models are between a size 6 and 14.
While this represents sizes closer to the average woman than most models, it doesn’t represent plus size women.
Babin says this doesn’t surprise her.
“I think that the modeling industry has always been smaller than real life, so it’s not surprising that there’s a size 10 or size 12 being a plus size model.”
MacLeod says the models for Addition Elle and Penningtons are true plus size models, size 14 and up.
Just as the mainstream modeling world reflects branding and fantasy, the plus size market tweaks sizes and perceptions in order to sell.
Women in the real world carry this sizing mindset with them – another reason labels and sizes are skewed.
“A lot of people don’t believe that they are plus. Many women carry their weight in different ways and our models are tall and toned for their size.”
No matter what size a body, there are clothes available to fit it. The shopper just needs to find the right size and, much like MacLeod and Babin, own their own perfect fit.