United States / Industry Insights
Plus-Size Clothing Industry Gains Momentum in the United States

What information do you want to see from IBISWorld on COVID-19? We'd love to hear from you

by Marisa Lifschutz
May 22 2018

Plus-size fashion has picked up steam in recent years. Large retailers have begun to answer the calls of plus-size consumers by devoting more resources to the traditionally underserved market. Retailers have begun to capitalize on an expanding customer base for plus-size fashion, with the average US woman today wearing a size 16. For example, in May 2018, major fashion retailer Nordstrom Inc. announced the company’s decision to expand its extended sizing collection to 30 of its retail stores, with over 100 brands adding more zeros, 2s, 14s, 16s and 18s across several categories of apparel. Meanwhile, retail giant Target Corporation also recently announced its decision to expand its in-store options to carry plus-size women’s clothing in 300 stores by the end of 2018, doubling its current offerings.

However, initiatives to expand plus-size collections have been mainly limited to women’s lines, with plus-size men’s clothing retailers turning to creative solutions such as subscription boxes to fill gaps in the underserved market.

Plus-size women’s fashion outperforms traditional women’s clothing retailers

The Plus-Size Women’s Clothing Stores industry, which includes brick-and-mortar retailers specializing in clothing for women size 14 and up, has outperformed the traditional Women’s Clothing Stores industry over the past five years. Whereas the overall women’s clothing industry declined an annualized 1.8% over the five years to 2018, the plus-size industryincreased an annualized 0.5%. Traditional or straight-size women’s clothing brands have generally overlooked the plus-size market, seeking to avoid the extra costs associated with manufacturing plus-size clothing such as different fit patterns and additional fabric. Meanwhile, longstanding major players in the plus-size women’s market, such as Ascena Retail Group’s Lane Bryant and Catherines brands, have struggled in recent years, plagued by the broader decline of brick-and-mortar retail that resulted in the retailer’s closure of 31 plus-size stores in fiscal 2017.

plus size women's clothing

These factors have left gaps in the retail market for plus-size women’s clothing, which have only intensified as the industry’s customer base continues to grow as a share of the nation’s population. As a result of these gaps, relatively new industry players such as Eloquii Design Inc. and Torrid Inc. have been able to expand at a rapid pace. For example, Torrid has largely expanded its presence in recent years to include over 480 stores throughout the United States and Canada, and it also filed an initial public offering (IPO) in July 2017. Meanwhile, large department stores and major retail chains such as Nordstrom and Target have tried conquering the market from a different angle, increasing offerings of extended sizes in an effort to market a more inclusive shopping experience. While sales from large retail chains are excluded from the Plus-Size Women’s Clothing Stores industry’s sales, they represent an important directional shift toward more comprehensive fashion.

plus size infographic

Plus-size men’s fashion has outpaced men’s straight-size retailers

The Plus-Size Men’s Clothing Stores industry, which comprises brick-and-mortar retailers specializing in clothing for men with a waist size of over 40 inches or a height of 6 feet 2 inches, has also outperformed its straight-size counterpart over the past five years. Commonly referred to as big and tall men’s clothing, the plus-size men’s clothing market has been similarly underserved by traditional clothing retailers, with a largely expanding customer base fueling demand for a shake-up in men’s plus-size fashion. However, initiatives to increase inclusivity in mainstream men’s fashion have been slower to materialize than similar efforts across women’s retail chains. As a result, the spread between performance in overall men’s clothing and its plus-size sub-market is much narrower. The plus-size industry expanded an annualized 0.2% over the five years to 2018, while the overall men’s clothing industry decreased an annualized 0.4%.

plus size men's clothes

The men’s industry is more concentrated than the women’s industry, with retailer Destination XL Group Inc. controlling 34.6% of revenue for the Plus-Size Men’s Clothing Stores industry in 2018. Meanwhile, although major department stores and large retailers generally carry a men’s plus-size line, retail chains have mostly held back from launching initiatives to expand these lines or offer extended sizing, instead prioritizing expansions in their women’s plus-size lines. As a result, smaller plus-size men’s clothing retailers have had the most success targeting male consumers in unconventional ways.  One way these consumers are being targeted is through subscription boxes; startups, such as Brandon Kyle Menswear and The Winston Box, both of which specialize in big and tall men’s clothing, have emerged in recent years to meet male consumer demand for plus-size clothing. Subscription box start-ups have gained momentum within men’s plus-size fashion by promising to address isolated portions of the market often experienced by big and tall consumers, offering fashion-forward garments and consistent sizing at competitive price points. While revenue generated from these subscription services is excluded from the industry, the emergence of big and tall clothing subscription boxes indicates an upward trajectory for the broader men’s plus-size fashion market.

Edited by Anam Baig. Designed by Rebecca Simon.