Budget woes have caused stores to cut back on plus-size lines. Bloomingdale's has dropped or cut back on its plus-size offerings, Ellen Tracy no longer offers plus sizes, and Ann Taylor now only sells size 16 online, rather than in stores, citing low demand. From Mach 2008 to March 2009, sales of plus-size apparel fell 8 percent, while sales of standard sizes only fell 2 percent.
Even though the average weight of women in this country is 164 pounds and statistics don't show that number shrinking, the cutbacks make financial sense. Plus sizes are more expensive to make because they require more fabric. Imagine the reaction if retailers marked up prices on those clothes to make up for the costs. Yet, why have sales of plus sizes slumped so much more than those of standard sizes?
Plus sizes are notoriously more difficult to fit. When sizing clothes, manufacturers aim to fit a group of people. However the groups of people who fit truly well into size 18, 20, and 22 aren't very large. While many women will fit well in a size 6 or 8 or 10, many women will not fit well into plus sizes. More women in this country weigh 200 pounds than 120 pounds, but those who weigh more than 200 pounds come in a greater range of weights — a few at 200 pounds and a few at 250 pounds. A size 16 could be made to fit women whose weights vary by, say, 20 pounds. This explains why many plus sizes don't fit well. Why would cash-strapped shoppers want to invest in ill-fitting clothes?
This also explains, as Double X points out, why creating niche markets for plus sizes online makes sense. Women can find things that actually fit them and retailers can make clothes they're sure will sell. Who will be smart enough to invest in this largely untapped market remains to be seen. There must be an unemployed person out there somewhere who wants to take on a project.