Why Plus Size Fashion is So Expensive

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Have you ever wondered why plus size fashion is expensive?  Or whether it is right for a plus-size woman to pay more for a piece of clothing simply because it is plus size? Is it discriminatory? What is the moral logic? What of the business rationale? Is there a correct ‘stand’ on the matter? Read along, for answers to these and more questions.

The additional expense in plus size fashion is simply because plus size clothes are bigger. This seems to be the case whether or not more fabric, greater skill, labor or time was used in production compared to other similar clothes in a different size.

The price of clothes is dependent on an array of factors – quality and quantity of fabric, the skill and labour needed to design, the time needed to produce and the type of cuts and fancy designs a piece of clothing may have. The general assumption about expensive clothes is that they are of a ‘higher quality’. This tends to justify the expense as the clothing is designed to be durable, comfortable and still maintain its polish look after several wears and washes.  

However, the majority of plus size clothing, however expensive, are neither more durable nor more comfortable than regular options. Plus size clothing can be cut from the same fabric and stitched together by the same tailor but still will be priced higher than a regular-sized t-shirt, jumper or pant.

Good Business Practice or Flawed Business Logic?

It is debated that plus size clothing presents a different set of dynamics than regular-sized clothing for designers to work with. The popular explanation, for the high prices, is that plus size clothing consumes more fabric than other sizes. Notably, the fabric is one of the greatest resources when it comes to fashion and thus the price can drastically fluctuate according to the amount spent. In this case, prices are considered directly proportional to the amount of fabric used. This, therefore, justifies the expensive nature of plus size clothing.

The rationale seems quite reasonable and several real-life examples advanced to buttress it. All in one way or the other justifying this ‘business logic’. If the costs of production increase, prices must shoot to maintain the profit margins of the company.

Fortunately, however flawless and reasonable the rationale appears to be, it is flawed in several ways. Several implied assumptions are over-simplification of complex issues which work to derail any prying eye as to what is the true cause of the expense. Contrary to what many may expect, this ‘fabric-excuse’ is not reflective of the true status quo when it comes to designing and producing plus size clothing. It is not the FULL representation of the considerations made by fashion companies when it comes to pricing their plus-size pieces.

Some of the flaws in this well-crafted ‘business –logic’ are:

1.      The presumption that plus size clothes always take up more fabric

Plus size clothing takes up a lot more fabric in SOME – not all types of designs and cuts. Actually, some designs and cuts will typically utilize a similar amount of fabric for both a regular-sized and a plus-size silhouette. But this is hardly ever mentioned.

So, if there are designs that utilize similar amounts of fabric, is it justifiable for such plus-size clothing to be expensive than those of smaller-bodied women? With the ever-increasing advents in fashion design and styling, new designs, patterns, fits and cuts are constantly being adopted. These new techniques help minimize the fabric-intensive nature of plus size clothing.

Furthermore, even in the plus-size category, there is a wide array of sizes. There sizes that utilize more fabric than other sizes still within the plus-size category. If this business logic held true, why aren’t there variations in prices in similar pieces in the plus-size clothing rack? Why is it that all plus size tops cost higher their regular-sized tops equivalent? Whether they be an inch or 10 inches wider than regular sizes.

2.      The erroneous assumption that regular sizes should be the reference point when it comes to pricing

This assumption is common when it comes to evaluating plus size clothing. It nearly is ‘a given’, when we analyze fashion trends, designs and the like. Regular-sized clothing has always been deemed the measuring stick. No one ever stops to ask why?

Plus size clothing is then pitted against the ‘standard’ and compared in various respects. This metric suffers from 2 weaknesses. For starts, it implies that plus size clothing is a departure from a perceived ‘norm’ or ‘normal size’. Secondly, it subjects the fashion needs of plus size women to that of their smaller and thinner counterparts.

This line of thought works to completely exclude plus-size needs from the centre stage. All inquiry and conceptualization of fashion pieces are, therefore, made in light of the perceived standard – the regular smaller sizes. Unique cuts, designs, patterns and accessories are designed with the smaller sizes in mind and not the plus size. Through this lens, plus size clothing is deemed ‘more wasteful’ compared to the ‘normal sizes’ and therefore more pricey.

The question is, how can smaller sizes correctly be considered the reference point of all women fashion whereas over 70% of American women are plus size? Why does the point of reference have to be the size of the minority? If size must be the metric in pricing, it’s only logical that the standard is set at the plus-size mark.

3.      The belief that size is the only element that should dictate the price

Several factors can be used to determine the price. These factors can be used as individual elements or in various combinations. So why are size and the amount of fabric used the ‘primary’ consideration?

For example, the level of skill and technique applied can serve as a ‘primary factor’ instead. Designs that are more complex and require greater ingenuity to tailor, whether regular or plus size, can be priced higher. And clothes with simpler designs whether regular or plus size should be lowly priced.

It is completely within the hands of fashion outlets and designers to control the various factors that influence pricing, to regulate the price imposed. However, many choose not to, leading to the heightened expense of plus size clothing.

Having debunked the popular logic, let’s hear what fashion companies both great and small have to say about this concerning trend.

Small v Big Fashion Companies: The truth why they still insist on imposing higher prices on plus-size pieces

Over the years, several companies have been questioned and asked to explain to their plus-size clients why plus size clothing is 3 or 5 dollars more compared to regular-sized clothing. The responses are synonymous.

Smaller fashion outlets have fewer resources at their disposal. Typically, they do not benefit from the economies of scale or scope when it comes to production. In most instances the few staff personnel, limited resources coupled with the starting low production volume may present great challenges for small and medium-sized companies to break into the plus-size market.

Greater expense is also incurred when trying to design fashionable clothes in a range of plus –size sizes. Being smaller in size, these organizations do not have large buying power or bargaining power for that matter. They will more likely purchase fabrics at retail price as opposed to wholesale prices – which only more financially established companies can. However, in both plus size and regular size cloth production, the amount of thread, electricity use and labor are relatively similar. Except for fabric, nearly all other factors of production remain constant.

Due to this, smaller companies with limited resources and financial muscle find it difficult to subsidize prices. Every extra expense incurred due to fabric must be passed on to the end consumer, and justly so. The additional expense of marketing plus size clothing and the hiring of models and advertisement, may well cripple such companies. If any such advertising occurs, the company is unable to absorb the extra expense but has to pass it on to the consumer.

On the contrary, larger and more established fashion outlets do not face similar problems. They have the financial muscle, resources and know-how to conceptualize, design and produce quality pieces for both regular and plus-size frames. They have a strong buying power to obtain fabrics at relatively low wholesale prices and, due to their production volumes, they benefit from the economies of scale and scope etcetera.

These companies can, therefore, profitably produce plus size clothing at a cheaper cost. The excuse that it is too expensive, for them to do so, really does not add up.

Granted, businesses are there to make a profit. They do this by offsetting costs. However over- pricing clothing that cost very little to produce in the name of making some profit looks like exploitation. Which is not fair, to say the least.

The Moral Dilemma of Fat Tax

Speaking of fairness and what is right, many people argue that the expensive nature of plus size fashion constitutes a fat tax which is discriminatory. Plus size girls are left to feel that they literally have to pay more for being big whether their big frames were because of genetics, eating disorders or other causes. Usually, this does not elicit a flood of empathy from society at large and fashion designers. It is not even regarded as an issue. Many hold the view that if you do not want to pay more, lose the pounds.

To look stylish plus size girls are forced to chip in a bit more to look as dashing as their fellow women. With a limited budget, this could be disadvantageous as the extra 2 dollars for a dress here and the other 4 dollars for a jacket there, will eventually lead to having fewer pieces of clothing compared to the rest of the women demographic.

Is it fair and worthwhile to have bigger women feel that their sizes are not ‘normal’ and therefore somehow punish them by having them pay for any extra fabric or thread used in making them a well-fitting clothe? If there are ways brands can reduce prices in plus size fashion, why do they continue to levy a general higher fee on ALL plus size clothing?

A Way Forward

Common sense dictates that it would be impractical to ask companies to run at a loss. Even on grounds that subsidizing costs will secure equality between all shapes and sizes of women. The whole fashion industry will collapse if this were the case. It would also be unfair to require that all plus size women be subjected to a higher price, especially in instances where all the cost of production remains relatively similar to that of other sizes.

Some fashion experts have argued that fashion houses should consider increasing the prices of regular sizes to help subsidize plus size clothing. That way all sizes would be within the same price mark, there would be perceived equal treatment of all sizes and the company would make its well-earned profit. However, this suggestion also imposes several moral challenges.

Primarily, whether it is just and right to have regular-sized women ‘pay for’ the increased cost of production in producing plus size clothes. Especially, in cases where companies do incur extra expense in producing plus size clothing.

A second proposal would be to permit companies to produce expensive plus size fashion but demand that they be stylish, high-quality, durable and not overpriced. Those who agree with this thought appreciate that costs of production may vary distinctly especially in smaller companies. They maintain that big girls will not shy away from dazzling, well designed and well-fitting clothing even though they cost more.


Striking the right balance between business efficacy and what is morally just and fair is not as easy and straightforward as we would wish it to be. There’s no cast in stone methodology on how to determine the ‘right price’ and what should and should not affect pricing. More thought should be given on the matter. The solution will only be realized – progressively.

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