The average American woman is now “plus size,” but stores still don’t stock clothes for her

No plus sizes available right now.
No plus sizes available right now.
Image: H&M
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“Plus-size” is essentially a meaningless term in the US. In a scathing piece for the Washington Post, Project Runway host Tim Gunn recently pointed out that the average American woman is between a size 16 and 18, according to research from Washington State University. The definition of “plus” varies by brand, but often it starts around size 16, making the average American woman part of a special category in the eyes of many retailers.

The term has remained useful because it allows a woman who is, say, a size 20 to know whether a retailer carries clothes that fit her. Too often they don’t, and even those that have plus collections frequently relegate them to their e-commerce sites. Women who might want to head to a store and try something on are out of luck.

A recent story by Revelist claimed that H&M’s plus line is no longer available at its New York City stores. Revelist visited all the New York locations and spoke with H&M customer service. H&M ultimately replied with a statement, the story says, explaining that ”not all stores have room for all our fashion concepts.”

In an email to Quartz, a spokesperson for H&M said that its plus line, H&M+, is available at the majority of US locations, and on “H&M’s overall product offering in each individual store is continuously cycling depending on the season and campaign,” the spokesperson said. “H&M strives to offer fashion and quality at the best price in a sustainable way to all of our customers.”

Even if the plus line could eventually cycle back into New York City stores, it’s still telling that it would disappear at all, and that problem isn’t limited to just H&M. “There’s still an incredible gap when it comes to physical brick-and-mortar stores,” blogger Sarah Conley said in an interview earlier this year. “Even a brand with as large a retail presence as Old Navy doesn’t actually carry their plus offerings in stores. It’s still online only and it’s been online only for years.” Conley isn’t alone in that complaint.

A spokesperson for Old Navy confirmed that its plus line is an “online exclusive” but declined to comment further.

For years many retailers have acted under the belief that plus-size customers don’t like to try things on. But the perception is one of many that is outdated, says Marshal Cohen, chief retail analyst at NPD Group. Today, they want to shop the same way, and often for the same clothes, as any other woman.

The fashion industry has taken some steps to include plus-sized women. Brands are slowly starting to offer more plus options, for instance, and being rewarded with sales.

Ashely Graham, who is size 14 and appeared in Sports Illustrated’s 2016 swimsuit issue, modeled H&M’s new higher-end studio collection in its lookbook. Unfortunately, however, H&M said plus-size pieces in the collection would only be available online.