Informal Survey: What is a Plus Size?

And why do so many of us seem to think "plus size" is an insult?
Publish date:
July 20, 2011
shoppables, plus sizes, h&m, asos curve, monif c, anecdata, gisela ramirez

Recently a friend forwarded me a link to a blog post in which the author was emphatically arguing that “plus sizes” start at 20. The context, near as I could figure, was that the author had read someone referring to a 14 as a plus size and was, like, deeply offended by the prospect.Being a person who exclusively wears plus sizes -- even if they did start at a 20 -- and who purchases a truly obscene amount of clothing on a regular basis, I feel as though I have some small amount of expertise in this area. It is my considered opinion that plus sizes tend to start at a 14. This is the size where most misses’ size ranges tend to end, and it’s where most plus ranges tend to start. Lane Bryant, purveyor of indecently overpriced polyester multicolored-vomit-printed caftans to plus-size-wearin’ ladies nationwide [Eric, xoJane's fashion director, disagrees with this statement. --Jane], has started at a 14 since the dawn of time. ASOS Curve (their plus size exclusive line, by which ASOS is CONSTANTLY in receipt of my money in exchange for pretty pretty dresses like the one above which I will probably be purchasing in the next hour) starts at a 16, picking up from where their “regular” range stops at 14. Many independent designers -- like Monif C, who makes the most amazing swimwear on earth; and fabulous Australian upstart Gisela Ramirez -- tend to start their lines at 14.

The thing is, where plus sizes begin is not overseen by any kind of impartial size-governing body -- it’s decided by the clothing manufacturers themselves. In 2004, Karl Lagerfeld famously railed against H&M, who was producing an “affordable” range of his designs, for daring to offer them in sizes up to a UK 16 (approximately a US 14), saying, “What I’d designed was fashion for slender and slim people.” It’s hardly news that Lagerfeld is kind of a jerk, but this is a good example of how size ranges are subjective, depending on the designers and producers of the clothing in question. Lagerfeld may think anyone larger than a size 4 is a grotesque who shouldn’t have access to his designs, and when he’s not working with H&M -- which he will apparently never do again -- he gets to make that decision.

My problem with the outrage at the idea that plus sizes start at 14 is that it assumes that plus sizes are a bad thing. They’re not. They’re arbitrary, limited, and only meaningful insofar as we assign them meaning: in this case, I presume the negative takeaway is that saying someone wears a “plus” size comes perilously close to calling them fat.

As someone who wears anywhere between a US 22 through 26, and who uses the word “fat” in a value-free or even positive context all the time, this doesn’t bother ME, but I understand that for most people, being called fat seems like the worst insult in the world. I'd much rather we drop the negative connotations with "plus" altogether, as it would make it a heck of a lot easier for me to find cute clothes.

I’m throwing it to you, xoJane readers: what is a plus size?