Women, Retailers and Fashion: Yes, Size Does Matter

Talk about an underserved market: More than half of American women-50.3%--say it's getting harder and harder to find clothes that flatter them.

"Inconsistent sizing across brands and retailers compounds shopper difficulty and is forcing a large share of women to shop multiple departments or size ranges in order to find clothes that fit and flatter," reports a Retail Forward survey released yesterday.

To be sure, it's all part of what many women like to describe as a kind of conspiracy--with evil fashion designers creating looks meant only for bone-thin runway models at a time when two-thirds of American adults should be hot-footing it down to Weight Watchers. And it is true that the size divide just keeps getting wider: The University of California, Los Angeles, reports that while 25 years ago the average model weighed 8% less than the average American woman, today's typical model weighs 23% less.

But more puzzling is that while retailers have added more sizing options--not just in terms of larger sizes but even adding new brands and departments--they haven't done a good job of communicating that to shoppers. "Perceptions of positive changes in fit, as well as style, quality and value, are lower today than in prior years," says Kelly Tackett, a senior consultant with Retail Forward. The change is most pronounced among women 35-plus. "Boomer women are just not getting their needs met at retail," she says. "Retailers just need to listen to women."

In fact, stores like Chico's--which cater to this bottom-heavy Boomer babe--have been off recently. Tackett thinks that's because such specialty stores focus on a certain type of style, "and women want a variety of looks. They don't want to be stigmatized by shopping at a place that only sells Boomer apparel." Instead, she said, the survey found that women were showing more flexibility by department-hopping--maybe buying one type of clothing in the women's department, but purchasing tops in petites.

Size distortion also frustrates shoppers, who may find themselves wearing an 8, a 10 or a 12. "Each retailer and brand seems to have their own sizing, and that's one of the difficulties." The survey found that 43% of women currently own clothes in multiple size ranges, and 35% say they often buy from multiple size ranges.

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