The interweb and teevee media have picked up on a social media-driven attempt to get Old Navy to stop charging more money for plus size clothing. You know it's serious when a Change.org petition starts to circle. And by "serious" I mean, "likely to peter out soon-ish."
The objection is this: plus sizes at Old Navy are about $12-$15 more expensive than straight sizes for women. Men do not suffer from the same financial penalty for the size they wear. Or do they?
Frustrating Thing #1: Do men even really have a plus size at Old Navy?
It's not entirely accurate to say that plus-sized men at Old Navy aren't charged a premium for their girth, because Old Navy doesn't sell "plus sizes" for men. The company sells "regular," "tall" and "big." It's that third one there that people seem to think is Old Navy's equivalent of plus size for men. But all "big" seems to mean is XXL and XXXL. Those sizes are also available for "tall" men, but not "regular" men (their sizes go up to XL). Moreover, when you look at the size chart, the "big" sizes are just a continuation of the regular sizes; the measurements tick up inch by inch.
For women, "regular" sizes go to XXL. There are also "tall" and "petite" sizes. But women's plus sizes aren't a continuation from the straight sizes. Plus sizes at Old Navy are 1x, 2x, and 3x, but the 1x isn't the next size up from biggest available size in the women's "regular." In fact, the XXL in regular is actually bigger than the plus 1x if you look at just the chest and waist measurements. The plus size charts also have hip measurements, but the straight sizes don't—so I'm not sure what factor they play in the proportions at play in each size change.
The traditional argument of why plus sizes exist at all as their own separate thing is that fat women are bigger in different ways; but the chest and waist differences in each size, straight or plus, is about eight inches, so who knows (if you do, say so in the comments).
This brings us to . . .
Frustrating Thing #2: Women's Plus is a different entity
Old Navy's defense against the protests over the pricing differences is that Women's Plus is its own thing and is designed differently using different fabric. Whether you buy the argument that that means the clothes are fairly priced at as much as $15 more than regular clothes is up to you. Likewise for whether you think fatter women need clothes that are proportioned differently than straight sizes.
But for me, the the fact that Women's Plus is it's own division doesn't excuse the price differential because I only barely wanted those close in the first place.
Frustrating Thing #3: I don't want to shop in Women's Plus
I want to shop in the same store as my friends, for shirts and pants and dresses in the same shapes, sleeve lengths, materials, print, and range of color that my size-six BFF can purchase. When she e-mails me a link asking what I think about a dress and I think it's amazing and like it even better in the purple, I want to be able to buy it for myself. I want to be looking for a dress and find one that would be even better on her and email her that link. Even better? I'd like to be able to walk into one store and shop with my best friend, and I don't want that one store to be a department store where we each take turns in the section where its possible for us to find clothes. Because I'm fat, not pregnant. This isn't temporary. This isn't prom. This isn't a wedding. It's just an everyday kinda wanting to look cute.
Frustrating thing #4: Plus size departments continue to underestimate their customer
Straight size clothes are often more fun and offered in a wider range of colors. I know it's fall and therefore the fashion palette is more subdued, but look at the range of colors offered to straight size women versus the range offered to plus size women. Just in the long-sleeved boat-neck tops, straight-size women can purchase it in teal or black, but plus-size women are offered it only in black. Oh, and the straight-size shirt has more fashion-forward details, like the off-kilter stripes up by the neck and the zipper in the back.
A cursory glimpse at the Women's Plus dresses compared to the regular dresses shows a customer that is older, more drab, and more serious than the straight size customer. Which is not true. I promise that I, and most of my other fat friends, are just as silly, vain, and flirty as anybody else. We're just not offered the clothes that let us say we are.
Old Navy's defense is that plus-sized clothing for women is available in different fabrics than clothing for men and that helps drive the difference in price—why fat women pay more than thin women but fat men don't pay more than thin men.
But this takes away my agency as a customer. If I want a stretchy dress, I will seek out and buy a stretchy dress (and I know plenty of thin women like the four-way stretch as well). If I am willing to endure a stiffer fabric because of the aesthetics, then I will buy a stiffer fabric. Or I would if it were available to me.
There's a difference between knowing your customer and thinking you know what's best for your customer. Knowing your customer means not ordering a lot of skin-tight red catsuits in 3x. Thinking you know what's best for your customer is not ordering it at all.
Frustrating thing #5: The inevitable argument that you're using more material so you should pay more
I don't know how many people who signed the Change.org petition think it's ok for people who wear larger sizes in general to pay more for their clothes and how many of those people object simply to the difference between what bigger women pay compared to what bigger men pay. The person who started the petition indicated that she was fine with it, and my guess is most people are like me: not exactly excited to pay more for my clothes as a larger person (thigh rub makes me go through pants pretty fast, after all) but not opposed so long as it's applied fairly.
To me, "fair" would mean a shirt that uses X amount of material should cost Y dollars, regardless of the gender of the person for whom it's intended. If we assume women's sizes are smaller than men's, then women's petites would be cheapest, regular women's medium would cost about the same as a men's small, women's and men's tall sizes would be a little more expensive than the regular sizes, and men and women in the "plus" range would be paying the most. That's fine. That's a kind of fair.
But I doubt it would ever happen, because I don't think clothing companies are ever going to tell "normal" women that they have to pay more than "petite" women. No matter how the numbers play out, that just doesn't feel right.
So the people who pay more are larger women, who are conditioned by society to believe that their clothes reflect who they are, who are encouraged to take an interest in dressing nicely, and who don't have a lot of other options when it comes to finding clothes they can afford that are available in the size they wear.
Frustrating Thing #6: Straight sizes are under "Women" while larger sizes are under "Women's Plus"
Let me tell you what happened this week.
I got an email from Old Navy that said women's cardigans were $12. That's a great price, so I followed the link... but found that it was actually only for Women. You see the difference? So do I, but only because I'm thinking with my I-used-to-want-to-be-a-lawyer brain. The special price was for straight-sizes only. And worse, the plus sizes weren't even on discount. Thinner women could buy a cardigan for $12 that day. But me? I was gonna have to pay $32.
I was excluded from the definition of "women" because the size I wear is a Women's Plus size at Old Navy. Not effing cool. So I complained to customer service. The rep who was saddled with my email wrote a long and apologetic response about how the company doesn't want to offend anyone and is very sorry that the special wasn't available to me. Then I was offered a discount.
Ten percent. $3.20 compared to $20 bucks isn't exactly enough to keep my goodwill. Unfortunately, it is enough to keep my business. After all, I don't have tons of options.
But I did not buy that cardigan.
TL;DR: Yeah, it's not just the gender problem.
Image via OldNavy.com