The Majority of Women Wear Size 14 or Higher. So Why Aren't There More Plus-Size Options?

The so-called "plus-size" market is notoriously underserved and continues to be ignored. . (Photo: flil/Shutterstock)

Even though it's the most practical thing in the world — wearing clothing to cover our vulnerable bodies — the fashion industry is built on fantasy. The fantasy that clothing appears as if by magic, rather than sewn by very poor people and children for appalling wages in even worse conditions; the imaginary world where 40 pounds of textile waste from poorly made fast fashion per person per year is a dismissible cost of doing business; and the curious place where women who wear clothing are all a size 4 or 6.

The reality is different. Designers and fashion execs seem comfortable accepting as human rights and our environment have been sacrificed to increase profits for the third-largest industry in the world, but at least that makes sense from a for-profit mindset. However, not making clothes in sizes and shapes that fit your customers doesn't make economic sense.

The so-called "plus-size" market is notoriously underserved and continues to be ignored. As fashion expert Tim Gunn wrote in the Washington Post: "Despite the huge financial potential of this market, many designers don't want to address it. It's not in their vocabulary. Today's designers operate within paradigms that were established decades ago, including anachronistic sizing. (Consider the fashion show: It hasn't changed in more than a century.) But this is now the shape of women in this nation, and designers need to wrap their minds around it. I profoundly believe that women of every size can look good. But they must be given choices."

This isn't a small group of women who are looking for fashionable plus-size options, either. Sixty-seven percent of American women are a size 14 or larger. (Depending on the retailer, a size 12, 14 or 16 is considered the first in the "plus-size" category.) A recent study in the Journal of Fashion, Design, Technology and Education reported: "Findings suggest that, contrary to popular assumptions, the average American woman's (AAW's) clothing size is larger than anticipated. The AAW wears between a Misses size 16–18."

Compare those numbers to those from the website Refinery29, which reports that only 2 percent of images that we see in fashion, advertising, media and elsewhere include anyone in the plus-size category and, that means we are all literally seeing a world that's not representative of (or even close to) reality. "It's not just about fashion, it's about representation," a video that's a part of their new campaign #Seethe67 points out.

In order to correct that disparity on their own site, Refinery29 decided to include representative images on their website's editorial pages — but just as I had trouble finding a nice image of two women who were roughly a size 12 for this article, they did too. So, they had to create their own: "For the last six months, we've been shooting stock photography and redesigning illustrations to more accurately reflect the women who make up the majority of our country." They're not the only ones that had to go the DIY route.

It's gotten to the point where actress Melissa McCarthy has launched her own clothing line called Seven7, which carries sizes 4 through 28. She tells Chelsea Handler in the video below that she was already working with a designer and having her own clothes sewn up, so she figured she might as well turn it into a business.

Leslie Jones, a comedian who starred in this summer's "Ghostbusters" movie, couldn't find a dress to wear to the film's premiere and had to put out a public call for help because no designer would dress her. Christian Siriano of "Project Runway" fame stepped in and Jones ended up wearing a stunning figure-hugging red dress that he designed.

Other women are trying to get retailers to come up with a new sizing system (or at least a consistent one). Vanity sizing has been a problem for at least the last 20 years, and it's costing all of us time and money. According to an article in Time magazine: "Customers return an estimated 40 percent of what they buy online, mostly because of sizing issues. That’s a hassle for shoppers and a costly nightmare for retailers, who now spend billions covering 'free' returns."

Consumer frustration about vanity and inconsistent sizing has led to another campaign, this one originating in the United Kingdom, proving these problems are not unique to Americans. The #NoSizeFitsAll campaign during London Fashion Week had three goals: to reduce the shame that some women feel about the size labels on their clothes, to point out that sizing is a mess and to spread the word that women wear a variety of sizes.

Will any of the new stories, criticism, frustration and studies change the resistant fashion industry? These complaints have been going on for years, but beyond a few retailers that sell sizes larger than 12 or 14 (Modcloth, Asos, Aerie), there hasn't been any significant shift — just a lot more awareness, except, apparently, from fashion industry execs.