Amid budget woes and seemingly endless losses, retailers are cutting back on ladies' plus-size offerings. Plus-size clothing costs 10 percent more to produce than clothing smaller than size 12, since it requires special patterns, different fit models, and more fabric. Bloomingdale's has dropped or cut back on its plus-size lines. Ellen Tracy no longer offers plus sizes. Ann Taylor stopped selling size 16 in stores (customers can find it online), citing low demand.
Sales of plus-size clothing have dipped 8 percent in the downturn, compared with a 2 percent dip in sales of standard sizes. However, retailers' decisions to cut back on plus-size lines don't make very much sense. The underserved plus-size market offers some of the largest opportunities for growth in the clothing business. The website OneStopPlus.com, which offers sizes 12 and up, is doing fabulously in the recession. About 56 percent of women in this country wear a size 14 and up. How many designers can you think of who serve that market? According to WWD, a 2008 survey found that size 14 is the most frequently worn size among women in this country. But many stores are hesitant to devote floor space to plus-size apparel they don't deem "sexy" or "appropriate." And they don't have the patience to introduce and market new plus-size lines. But now might be the ideal time to start. Anna Wintour may have talked André Leon Talley into a fitness routine, but the rest of the country won't likely be so lucky.