We Want Your Money, but Not if We Have to Look at You

So I just learned, via Fatshionista, that Old Navy will soon stop carrying plus sizes in their stores. Grrrr.

As an “in-betweenie”—someone who can wear either regular or plus sizes, depending on the make and cut—I love shopping at stores that give me both options (I am crazy into Talbots these days, since nearly everything comes in regular, plus, and petites in both!), and I also like to support stores that offer plus sizes even if I don’t need them. Old Navy used to be one of those.

Now it’s not, and I have a dilemma. I can still shop at Old Navy, because their regular sizes are pretty generous, and I’m not all that big. But do I want to, knowing they’ve just issued a huge slap in the face to everyone who can’t? To plenty of people who’d been loyal customers over the years? To a $27 billion market?

In fact, economically, I can’t make sense of this decision. There are plenty of fat people with plenty of money, and I’ve seen plenty of them in Old Navy. And especially given the paucity of attractive plus-size clothing options in that price range, I have to assume they’ve been cleaning up. Obviously, since they’re continuing to sell plus-size clothing online, it’s not like those clothes just weren’t making money.

So the only thing I can think is that once again, Gap Inc. really needs to hire me as a common sense consultant. Here’s what Old Navy fucked up with their in-store plus size line: they didn’t put it in every store, and they didn’t do anything to advertise which stores they did put it in. Talbots doesn’t carry the plus line in every store, either (boooo), but they do have big signs saying “Talbots Woman” and big displays of fat clothes in every store that does. So if I’m a fat woman at the mall, I can determine before I go in in whether any given Talbots will have clothes in my size, saving myself time, frustration, and the very possible humiliation of a saleswoman looking at me like I have no right to breathe on the size 4s. You can’t do that with Old Navy. You have to go in and wander around the whole gigantic store to see where they’ve hidden the plus-size section—usually near the men’s or children’s instead of the normal women’s section—and often enough, you’ll find there isn’t one. So why go in at all, when you could just keep walking to Lane Bryant or Avenue or Torrid?

See, to tap into that $27 billion market, you have to, you know, serve it. That means treating the fat girls like valuable customers, not just cramming some clothes that fit them in a corner and hoping they show up. It means advertising to them. It means putting signs out front that say “Old Navy Plus.” It means, if not putting the plus clothes on the same racks as all the rest—in acknowledgment of the simple fact that they are all “women’s” sizes—then at least making the plus-size section attractive, inviting, and easy to find. If you don’t do any of that basic retail 101 shit, it’s not a fucking wonder when carrying plus sizes in-store doesn’t turn out to be cost-effective, eh?

But now, by restricting the plus-size line to the website, they get to have their cake and eat it, too: they can still get the fatties’ money without anyone ever having to, you know, look at one. And without their brand getting sullied by the presence of fat girls in their stores, scaring off the underdeveloped 13-year-olds. The Gap’s been doing that for quite a while (insofar as they have a plus size line); I’m sort of surprised it took Old Navy that long to go there.

And plenty of fat girls are still going to shop Old Navy online, and I’m not going to begrudge them that, because there are only so many cute clothes—especially cute, affordable clothes—over a size 14 out there. But since I’ve got options, I’m fucking done. On the one hand, the internet’s been a glorious thing for plus-size fashion—online stores like Alight and Igigi and Zaftique, and designers like Kiyonna and Jessica Svoboda, are able to reach a vast and grateful market more efficiently and with far less overhead than bricks-and-mortar stores would allow. That’s awesome. But I worry about this leading even more stores to pull an Old Navy and make their plus size clothes strictly available online. Bigger clothes take up more floor space, and bigger customers have historically been perceived as cheapening a brand’s image. (Designers like Donna Karan, Michael Kors, Tommy Hilfiger and Ralph Lauren are all doing plus-size lines these days—money talks, eventually—but for many years, Liz Claiborne was the only game in town, because the others were too afraid that if fat women could wear them, thin women wouldn’t want them anymore.) Economically, making the fatties shop at home is actually a pretty good idea.

But you know what’s an even better idea? Treating fat women like everyone else. Like human beings with fashion sense and money to spend. Because online shopping might make us all look a hell of a lot better than we used to, but what’s the point if we’re excluded from public spaces anyway?

So I’m done with Old Navy. I can afford to shop at other fat stores, and I can still fit into things from regular stores, so I don’t need to support a company that disrespects my bigger sisters (literal and figurative). Good riddance. I still have this internal battle over where to spend money all the time, though. Talbots, for instance, may carry an unusually broad range of sizes, but their plus line only goes up to size 24—that excludes a hell of a lot of people right there. And J. Crew’s nod to plus sizes—a whole section of, I shit you not, just size 16—is so laughably perverse it should be a no-brainer to deny them my money. Except, I am a size 16, and this dress is really fucking cute! D’oh!

I know I can’t save the world for the fat girls all by myself, and I even sort of believe I’m doing some good just by being a semi-fat girl walking around in cute J. Crew dresses and the handful of Anthropologie items that fit, showing the world that yeah, these clothes do look good on women who are over a size 4—even paired with Lane Bryant jeans!—and yeah, we will pay money for them. I also know I’d already be boycotting just about every store I’ve mentioned here if I were a good enough person to really care about sweatshop labor the same way I really care about fat American women. (See above about saving the world.) But sometimes, I have to draw a line, and this is one of ’em.

Screw you, Old Navy. If you don’t want to see my body, you don’t need to see my credit card, either.

6 thoughts on “We Want Your Money, but Not if We Have to Look at You”

  1. I was incredibly crushed this weekend to walk into my local Old Navy and realize that, in the space of a week, they had made the plus-size department disappear as if it were never there. The depth of my emotional response really surprised me and I have been struggling with how to express it. Objectively, I can say that their inconsistent sizing means I am much less likely to order something from them because I don’t want to pay to ship it to me, pay to ship it back when it doesn’t fit, and then pay to ship me a replacement. That would wind up costing more than the garment.

  2. The Rotund’s comment is a good point – I know if I don’t know a retailer’s sizing pretty well, I’m really disinclined to order from them online. I don’t have the resources to spend oodles of money on having this item or that item shipped to me, and back, and to me again.

    I’d rather the chance to try something on in the store, even if I still wind up going home to order the same item online (usually in the case of something being cheaper, having free shipping, or whatever).

  3. Totally. My favorite jeans in the world (Levi’s relaxed fit bootcuts) are only available online, but I was willing to gamble on them because I went to the Levi’s Store and tried on a bunch of different pairs in other cuts, to at least get an idea of what my size is. (And again, that was only possible because I can wear regular sizes–the store I went to didn’t even seem to have a plus section.) Size charts, as I have ranted on Fatshionista numerous times, are a load of crap; they all have the same measurements but different fit models, so there’s just no way of knowing if something will fit your body. I still buy a lot online, but I’ve donated more brand-new clothes than I care to think about to Goodwill, because I never get around to sending them back. It’s a huge waste.

    And The Rotund, I totally hear you on the intense emotional reaction. I mean, this is a store you’ve patronized for years, and bam… you’re just erased. The message couldn’t be any clearer that you’re not a valuable customer, and in fact, not especially welcome in the store. That’s not just deeply offensive–it’s hurtful. I don’t blame you.

  4. Obviously, since I’m based in the UK, this doesn’t affect me, but it makes me righteously indignant on your collective account.

    I noticed there’s been a very large response on this subject at Fatshionista. Since there are so many members now, why not try some mass activism? Typewritten letters rather than email as they’re not so easy to overlook. Even those who feel compromised by continuing to shop there can voice their extreme displeasure, while those who have no intention of ever patronising Old Navy because of this move can state their reasons and remind them just how much potential revenue they’re turning their backs on. Try reminding them they don’t just sell clothes while you’re about it – by making fat consumers feel unwelcome and uncomfortable in their stores there’s a whole shitload of fashion accessories they won’t be selling either. I honestly don’t think this last point ever occurs to them.

    Getting a few disparate angry letters isn’t going to have much of an effect but a couple of thousand just might cause them to reconsider their actions.

  5. Buffpuff, I think that’s already happening. As someone who works in customer service pointed out at Fatshionista, they do COUNT all the e-mails and phone calls they get, even if they don’t read them carefully. And check out what an ON customer service rep posted on his myspace here: http://www.bfdblog.com/?p=66

    Apparently, we’re getting noticed. And apparently, they hire huge assholes.

    I pointed out in my letter that they’re also losing customers for their regular line, and that plenty of fat women have partners and children they shop for there–I did forget about accessories, though. (And dog stuff! I have two ON dog beds and a squeaky squirrel in my sight right this second!) I really can’t wait for this decision to bite them in the ass, and I truly believe it will.

  6. I just came across your blog and am pleased to know that other people are as outraged as I am about the growing number of stores that are offering larger sizes by mail order only. I remember when I was smaller I always shopped at stores like the Limited, which went to a size 14. When they phased out the size I just stopped shopping there, rather than write letters, make calls, etc. I’ll think twice next time!
    Btw, love your blog.

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