As you may have heard, earlier this week, dog-sweater retailer to the twee stars ModCloth has taken the extraordinary step of dropping their plus size section.
They are not losing plus-sized clothing, to be clear, nor is Modcloth henceforth only stocking its inventory with items available in all sizes (which would be a truly radical choice). Rather, the decision is being presented as a movement to no longer isolate plus sizes from the rest of their merchandise, and they are thus eliminating the “plus” section of their online store and integrating those clothes into their respective categories (like dresses, tops, or bulk order polka dots for all your personal polka-dotting needs).
ModCloth is one of very few clothing retailers that is actually doing very good all-size-friendly things in the marketplace. They listen carefully to their consumers, they provide additional product photos for plus-sized garments, they explicitly embrace models with a pretty solid diversity of body types. It’s not all lip service. And I believe that they genuinely think this move to nix “plus” was a good idea.
Still, my personal first impression upon hearing this news was, “Well, that’s going to make shopping annoying.” Ironically, this is the opposite of what is supposed to happen:
Shopping is a social experience, but what stores do you know of where two pals on different ends of the size spectrum can shop side-by-side for the same clothing styles? In most places, there’s a “plus section” — or plus is relegated to an entirely separate store. Can’t we all just shop together?
If “Plus” isn’t a separate section in our [LA and SF pop-up shops], then why should it be a separate section on our site? Instead of “Plus” standing alone as its own category, isn’t it really a part of other categories, like maxi dresses are a part of the “Dresses” category? Eureka! That’s it.
All right! All of this is reasonable to a point. Shopping with your friends of all sizes is great. But there’s a crucial difference between a brick-and-mortar shop and a website; one of them is an actual three-dimensional space that people occupy, and the other is a collection of pages online. I’ll let you guess which is which. When it comes to brick-and-mortar shopping, as an adult lady who’s been fat since childhood, and who had to stand looking intensely at accessories racks that did not deserve such attention while her friends shopped at places like 5-7-9, I am way way down with an approach that might mean today’s fats can shop side by side with their friends regardless of size.
But things rarely work out so neatly. The truth is that brick-and-mortar shopping as a definitively, unquestioningly plus-sized person in a store with fully integrated plus sizes can be super frustrating when the whole store doesn’t carry the full range of sizes. Which items come in your size? WHO KNOWS. You get to dig through all of it to see! Won’t that be FUN. When your slender friend pulls out a cute top for you both to “twinsies!” over, don’t stress that your size may not exist. Also try not to get too upset or feel too shitty when you fall in love with a dress printed all over with handlebar-mustachioed dolphins drinking martinis while riding rollercoasters only to discover it stops at a size 16.
And when it comes to shopping online -- are people really demanding that it be LESS easy to find their size?
There has to be more to this, right? TO THE PRESS RELEASE!
Why? We got the results from our latest inclusivity survey and found that nearly two-thirds of women are embarrassed by having to go to a separate section of the store to find "Plus" sized clothing and over half no longer want to be labeled "Plus".
Look, ModCloth are good people. I trust that they are legitimately trying to do positive things, even while they are also a business trying to make money. They strike a nice balance most of the time, and do better than 99% of their competition, including many stalwarts of plus size fashion I will not name here.
But this is not ModCloth’s finest hour. They’ve chosen to respond to this self-administered survey by basically agreeing with their customers that “plus” is embarrassing and negative, and so it should be eliminated. And they’re not alone -- campaigns like #droptheplus are making a similar argument that the LABEL is the problem, and that eliminating the label will somehow erase cultural and social bias against fatter bodies and the shopping they’d like to do.
The sad thing is, shopping while fat often IS embarrassing. The plus size section in most mall boutiques tends to be secreted away in the back; in department stores it’s often on a different floor altogether from the rest of the clothes, or otherwise impossible to find (and not everyone has the willingness to inquire of a hapless employee “WHERE HAVE YOU HIDDEN THE FAT SIZES?” in my uniquely cheerful and obnoxious manner). Over my considerable shopping lifetime I have browsed a lolsob-worthy number of plus sections literally buried in basements behind housewares departments.
But the better solution is not to accept this ideology of the word “plus” as isolating and ostracizing and humiliating; it’s to ask, what can we do to make this experience less embarrassing? What can we do socially and culturally to create a change? Maybe a good start would be not treating plus sizes like something the store itself is embarrassed to carry. Maybe we can also make sure women know that whether your size falls under the “plus” banner or not, your body is nothing to be ashamed of.
ModCloth is one of very few retailers with the potential to actually make plus sizes something that their customers DON’T feel ashamed by. With their positive attitudes and relentless good cheer, they could have launched an effort to destigmatize “plus” itself. Instead, they’ve effectively told the women in this survey that they are correct to feel unhappy with their size range, and maybe, unwittingly, to feel unhappy with their bodies as well. If ModCloth’s intention was to only offer clothing in the full XS-4X range, such that every single item they sell was equally available to every customer, that would be one thing. But that’s not what they have pledged to do.
In the end, ModCloth’s big announcement is kind of moot anyway; now, instead of being able to go directly to a single plus section containing all plus-sized clothes on the site, you will have to go to individual categories, where there is an “Extended Sizes” option tucked in with typical filters like “Special Occasion” or “Maxi Dresses.” It's also a little odd because you could always do this; if you went to the "Dresses" section and searched by size, you would see only the 2X dresses, for example.
So the only real change is the addition of the term “Extended Sizes.” Which is somehow an improvement on “Plus.” (As I said to Emily earlier, yay, now I can pretend I am an extension of an acceptably-sized human woman! That is so much better!)
Before I go, I'd like to note that having the option to buy the clothes you want in your size is certainly a nice self-esteem boost, but let’s also remember that building one’s self-esteem on a foundation of shopping is hardly the most solid approach. As much as certain big-name plus-size retailers want to repackage a corporatized form of body positivity and sell it back to you as confidence in a cute top, that’s not a confidence you can take with you everywhere you go for the rest of your life. It needs to develop deeper roots than something you wear and take off at the end of the day.
I can’t help but feel that “plus” is a red herring when it’s the shame and cultural bias backing that sense of individual embarrassment that is the real problem -- not the word itself.