But with growth comes a marketing dilemma as brands grapple with
how best to represent their wares at a time when decades-old
terminology may now seem as passé as poodle skirts and
sweater sets. Some consumers believe that the days of "plus-size"
as a descriptor should be over, since the category encompasses the
shopping majority and now has more options. Meanwhile, marketers
are trying to acknowledge the trend by adding more size diversity
to their advertising.
Modcloth, an online seller of vintage-inspired apparel, announced
it was ditching the "plus-size" distinction and simply adding
extended size options to its in-house line.
"Wondering why we aren't calling it 'Plus' anymore? Well, some
folks really don't like the term," the company wrote in a blog
post, noting the issue was hotly debated. "Ultimately, we could all
agree that shopping categories should be defined by types of
clothing, not types of bodies."
Many in retail are divided on the issue. But the majority said
they'll continue to use "plus-size" in their marketing, if only so
consumers know where to shop. Complete eradication of the term
could lead to more confusion, many said. Earlier this spring, JC
Penney sent out emails announcing the launch of its new plus-size
line, with the phrase in capital letters.
"If I had it my way, I would never call it 'plus-size,'" said
Sheeba Philip, VP-marketing, strategy and communications at Plano,
Texas-based JC Penney. "We use it as a term because it's something
to help classify."
The retailer recently ran a three-and-a-half-minute digital
video promoting self-acceptance and empowerment. The spot, called
"Here I Am," featured plus-size influencers, including "Project
Runway" contestant Ashley Nell Tipton, who is designing a capsule
collection for the Boutique+ line. "The bodies don't need to
change—the attitude does," a voice-over in the video
Ms. Philip said that a goal of JC Penney's new brand message is
to showcase authenticity; using real people in the company's
marketing reflects that strategy. "We are really about authentic,
real people and relating to them in a real way," she said.
Eloquii, which relaunched as an independent entity two years
ago, has found that its best-performing marketing assets feature
actual customers who are larger than typical plus-size models.
The company updates its trend-driven assortment with about 200
new styles every month, and saw revenue grow 165% last year. In
May, Eloquii, whose name combines "eloquent" with "soliloquy,"
debuted a section on its site that spotlights user-generated
content and includes a monthly customer feature. It's the brand's
way of adding more reality to its branding, said Kelly Goldston, VP
Many trace the drive for authenticity back to Dove's "Real
Beauty" ads of the last decade. The soap brand's embrace of body
diversity, along with "just be yourself" messaging, has
reverberated across the apparel industry, particularly in the
plus-size sector. Earlier this year, Mattel rolled out a line of
Barbie dolls in a range of shapes, like curvy, petite and tall, and
skin tones to industry applause.
Laird & Partners' Mr. Dorsinville noted that in recent
months, he's seen modeling agencies integrate their plus-size
models with their so-called straight-size models rather than
separate the two by category, as done in the past. "It's become
much more prevalent," he said. "Little by little, there's this