The economics of larger sizes

I’ve had a number of people asking me about why it can be difficult to find clothes made for larger women.  Here is one I received by email (thank you Marilynn):

Since you work with very competent Italian houses, are they accommodating the plumper woman by offering (or grading to) larger sleeve circumference for a larger bicep?  Or larger bosoms and/or waistlines?  Or, for that matter, are they cutting for any shape other than the hour-glass?  Those women who aren’t hour-glass are the ones finding the most problems.

There is a simple answer to this question – and it has nothing to do with any infatuation with model shaped women. It has everything to do with simple economics.

As regular readers will know, high quality clothes are expensive for two reasons – the cut and the cloth (and you can add marketing costs if you want to include the big brands in the definition).

So, the bigger the size, the more cloth that has to be used – and it is generally not acceptable to charge different prices for different sizes despite the fact that a size 20 can sometimes use up to twice as much cloth as a size 10. Also, a design needs to be modified when it gets to over size 14 and again after size 18, thereby increasing the cost of the cut. So, many houses find it uneconomical to cater for larger sizes.

Anyone who is not a standard size – and most of us, even if we’re quite thin, are not standard – needs to buy better (and typically more expensive for the reasons above) clothes if they want them to fit properly.  It is simply more accentuated for larger sizes.

So, what to do?

There are companies that start at a larger size so that their economics are built around this.  But they tend not to be designer-led, so the clothes are often not that stylish – and not in wonderful fabrics.

From Wardrobe’s point of view, having just as many customers who are size 14 and over as who are size 8 and 10, I have to be very knowledgeable in my selection when buying as our customers of this size are stylish women who do not want to be penalised because they are more shapely.

One reason that our own designer collection at Wardrobe has worked so well is that we’ve been able to integrate the things we’ve learned on the shop floor with the needs of our clients and persuade a couple of other designers to re-grade to accommodate larger sizes.

Generally, however, for larger sizes – especially plump arms – you’re more likely to find stylish options from German manufacturers who are often more generous in the cut than the Italians. But even there the options are limited.

So the bottom line, excuse the pun, is you get what you pay for no matter what size you are.


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