Illustration of how retailers are exploiting inclusive sizing.
Inclusive sizing seems to be gaining mainstream traction, but is it for the reasons you might think? (Illustration by Giovanna Martin, Columbia College Chicago)

Inclusive Sizing: A True Improvement in Retail or Just a Big Trick?

As various clothing brands continue to better their size ranges, many theorize that it’s only being done to profit off of plus-sized shoppers with no fashionable alternatives.

Thoughts x
Illustration of how retailers are exploiting inclusive sizing.

As various clothing brands continue to better their size ranges, many theorize that it’s only being done to profit off of plus-sized shoppers with no fashionable alternatives.

Inclusive sizing has become the newest buzz phrase for every brand struggling to maintain or gain favor with young, and sometimes naive, body-positive Gen Zers. Many of the brands that so ruthlessly excluded plus sizes in the past are now trying to flaunt inclusive collections.

Brands that were previously the bane of existence for any middle school or high school girl who landed in the double digits of fashion are now proudly declaring that “no two people are the same,” a message that must obviously be conveyed in front of two thin and “thin-but-with-hips” models. While many have bought into the new branding scheme, others remain skeptical.

TikTok user that_other_hannah sets out to roast a newer brand, Universal Standard, that uses inclusivity as a branding tool. She decided to comb through the brand’s practices to find what might justify asking customers to pay almost $50 for … a plain white shirt. Her research concluded that, although the brand has a vast range of inclusive sizes, it is neither sustainable nor accountable in its labor practices. The brand is one of the only companies to carry a size 40 and has recentered their sizes around the American average.

One might wonder if their pricing serves to account for the different amounts of fabric used in their clothes, but it’s possible to find sites that carry up to 70-inch waist clothes, aka Universal Standard’s size 40, at much cheaper prices. For instance, Big Dude’s 72 inch T-shirt is currently on sale for an impressive $15.99 (marked down from $19.99) and Yours Clothing, a site that admittedly only goes up to a size 36, has a shirt similar to Big Dude’s for $19.99. The choice to upcharge customers seems directly linked to the line between plus and straight sizes.

Looking at some more classic options, brands that are new to inclusive sizing but have always catered straight sizes like H&M go from $17.99 to $24.99 for comparable “oversized T-shirts.” Or Abercrombie & Fitch, whose largest size of 3X drops female shoppers’ total options for tops from 901 at a size XS to a whopping 16 shirts, at least five of which seem to be the same 3X item, just in different shades.

Smaller companies, like Stay Fat, show that you can include plus sizes in your costs and center them in your size options. Stay Fat has even chosen to incorporate an inverse version of the fat tax that many plus-sized people experience while shopping that requires those desiring smaller items to pay more or have their sizes unavailable.

The fat tax, when used in body positivity circles, is a concept similar to but sometimes more literal than — and often incorporated on top of — the pink tax, meaning that the fat tax requires those desiring larger items to pay more for clothing or have their sizes be unavailable.

When comparing size ranges and prices, there’s also the obvious pair to critique: Hot Topic and Torrid. As a staple of any edgy mall experience, the fact that Hot Topic is in any way aligned with the garishly childish pieces that Torrid has to offer might come as a surprise to anyone unfamiliar with the linked backgrounds of the two stores, but the two do share a history, if not a price point. Previously, Torrid was owned by Hot Topic before it became its own brand. However, while a simple T-shirt might cost $26.90 at Hot Topic, Torrid’s options should be expected to land closer to $40.

This trend of commercializing and exploiting the social taboo on fatness falls in line with the recent commodification of body positivity. The fact that brands are using a social movement focused on inclusive sizing to push products is no surprise — it’s been done with just about every social movement imaginable — but what makes it especially upsetting is how transparently it strings along or directly exploits fat or plus-sized individuals.

There really isn’t a clear way out; finding plus-sized clothing that fits larger sizes while being ethically made, environmentally conscious and affordable is an almost impossible task, made worse by trends that encourage thin people to purchase and rework larger clothing, something that most commonly occurs in thrifting circles.

That said, hopefully growing awareness of body positivity will eventually shift more consumers toward active allyship with fat people and, in turn, companies might expand their offerings. Until then, you should probably wait for big sales and expect slow expanding size ranges if shopping while plus-sized.

Writer Profile

L.R. Staples

Sarah Lawrence College
Creative Writing

LR Staples is a rising junior at Sarah Lawrence College. She loves dogs, fresh laundry and feminist horror books. Her writing process involves looking pensive and scrolling through autocorrect options.

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