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October 22, 2013

The funny math of clothing sizes

NEW YORK — When it comes to women’s clothing sizes, there’s some funny math going on.

The average American woman is about 25 pounds heavier than she was in 1960. Yet women’s plus-size clothing, generally defined as size 14 and up, still makes up only about 9 percent of the $190 billion spent annually on clothes.

What’s wrong with this equation? It’s not that plus-size women aren’t into fashion. Rather, the fashion industry doesn’t seem interested in them.

The fashion industry has long spent more time, money and marketing on clothing for taut bodies than for curvier ones because it’s easier and more profitable to do so. But retail analysts and plus-size women say there’s something else at play: Stereotypes about larger women not wanting to dress fashionably keep companies from making clothes that are flattering to them. And in turn, that discourages them from spending more.

“There is still an interesting stigma attached to plus-size fashion and the woman who wears it,” says Marie Denee, who wears a size 16 and studies the industry via her website TheCurvyFashionista.com. “Many think ‘Oh, she doesn’t want to draw attention, live life, date, be confident, wear fitted clothes with bold colors and patterns,’ when the exact opposite is true.”

Carmen Barrington, 32, says that attitude has resulted in fewer plus-size options. Barrington, who wears around a size 22, lamented recently after a day of shopping at Forever 21, Lane Bryant and other stores that she sometimes can’t even find decent plus-size clothing at retailers that specialize in it.

“It was a hot, annoying day, and I spent it trying on stuff, and came up with nothing,” Barrington, who works in human resources, says. “There’s this aversion to being associated with plus-size clothes.”

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