Size Matters: The Fat Tax

Tasha Fierce
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Tasha Fierce is a writer living in the occupied Tongva territory known as Los Angeles. You can follow them on Twitter at @tashajfierce and read more of their work on their website.

It’s become general knowledge that class influences weight. Working class families often don’t have as much access to healthier foods as middle and upper class families do, and working longer hours means fast food can be an appealing option for those with little time. So if fat folks, and specifically fat women, are more likely to be working class, why does it cost so much to clothe yourself as a fat woman? Why are more fashionable clothes in larger sizes so damn expensive?

You might be tempted to think that it’s the extra fabric (ha ha), but we all know most clothes cost a great deal less to make than they sell for. Thin people have fast fashion outlets such as Forever 21 and H&M to turn to when they want fashionable clothes at low prices. But Forever 21’s plus size division, Faith 21, offers clothes of the same quality yet at higher prices. Torrid, a fat fashion mainstay, has much higher prices than their parent company Hot Topic. And stalwart fat fashion store Lane Bryant is well known for their outrageous prices in relation to quality and stylishness. I jokingly call the higher price of plus size women’s clothing the “fat tax,” but it’s a sad truth.

Working class women are already often stereotyped as slobbish and homely in the media. Add fat to the mix and you have an explosive combo of perceived unattractiveness. Some would argue that the lack of access to fashionable clothing is unimportant to working class women compared to their other struggles, which may be partly true. But feeling good about how you look is something that all women should be able to experience, not only because of societal pressure to look a certain way but also for personal self-esteem. If fashion is something that is important to you, or even if you just want to stay out of muumuus and stretch pants, this is an issue that affects your everyday life.

As a middle class fat woman, I find the prices of plus size clothing to be a barrier as well. I can afford a $50 dress or a $40 sweater here and there, but scoring several items of clothing per shopping trip is something that rarely happens unless I’m shopping at a thrift store—and thrift stores are not exactly bastions of stylish fat women’s clothing. It seems as if because there are so few fashionable options for fat women compared to thin women, we really are subject to a kind of tax, because where else are we going to go? As designers and stores are becoming more fat friendly, more options for cheaper clothing are cropping up, but mainly for women on the smaller end of the fat spectrum. You want a size above a 20, you’re pretty much limited to a few expensive stores.

Some crafty people take this as an opportunity to make their own clothes, but this option is not realistic for everyone and the choice to DIY involves some class issues as well. Unfortunately there’s no simple solution for this problem. As more and more fat women demand access to fashionable clothing and make their demands known to the fashion powers-that-be, hopefully fat fashion stores and clothing lines will lower prices to a more reasonable level. Until then, save your pennies.

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26 Comments Have Been Posted

Really great post!

This is a really great post! This summer I was bathing suit shopping and was looking at the plus sized swim suits on the web. Not only was the swim suit "order only" it was almost twenty dollars more expensive than the small and medium suits. I don't have that much to spend, so needless to say, I just went with the big t-shirt and shorts option.

Clothes shopping is the worst when you're fat. :-(

I so agree with you, Tasha. The clothes they make for the larger-than-size-20 set tend not only to be ridiculously expensive, but generally hideous, and something that I am embarrassed to wear.

Like really? Prints the size of Texas that clamor "HELLO, I'M FAT & WITHOUT ANY FASHION SENSE AT ALL!!! Really?? Or, alternately, everything is black. I'm neither a goth chick, nor am I going to a funeral every day of the week--so not everything I own has to black. It's humiliating what places like Lane Bryant and Catherine's offer to women of size as fashion choices. And, on top of it all, most of the clothes sold in large-size stores are not made of natural fibers, and polyester is not a forgiving fabric.

We get "taxed" 3 ways: we're overcharged for clothing; we're made to look singularly unattractive by the fashion industry; and we're shamed in the process of having to shop in such stores in the first place, because those are the "Fat Stores," the stores that the skinny girls skate right on past and snicker at.

I hate all of it.

In a cutthroat marketplace

In a cutthroat marketplace where everything is driven to the lowest price point, with tens of millions of potential customers, no-one's figured this one out? Maybe it's not a conspiracy. Maybe we're harder to dress mass market because our body shapes are even more varied than body shapes in smaller sizes.

Lane Bryant's "tax" is similar to the "tax" at petite stores, btw. Maybe it has more to do with serving a smaller segment of the marketplace with a generous return policy and frequent deep discounts. I mean, seriously, who pays the tag price at LB?

As for the "DIY choice" (which used to be, you know, life), demanding cheap clothes involves some major class issues as well.

"Who pays the tag price at

"Who pays the tag price at LB?"

Those who have popular larger sizes like say anyone between size 18 - 24! Whenever I peruse their racks I find my size - 14 - and racks of 26s and up. This means folks not in those size ranges find themselves force to get the merch the minute they see it. In addition, those with smallish band sizes/larger cup sizes find their bras are NEVER on clearance nor available when they are on sale.
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"In real life as in Grand Opera, Arias only m

how about quality

I'd like to see more quality clothing available in a wider size range, not necessarily cheaper clothing.

Fashion is not only frivolous

I'm not really into fashion, but I've been thinking a lot lately about how important this issue really is. Fat women are often stereotyped as sloppy... which isn't surprising, given how hard it is to look polished when you're plus-sized. It's hard to find the simplest things (like hosiery and underwear), and even harder to dress well for something important like a job interview, with such slim pickings. And that's without considering the cost involved in finding quality clothes in plus sizes. I wonder sometimes if some of the employment discrimination faced by fatties is related to us having a less 'polished' look. Maybe I'm drawing a long bow there, but I really do think that the lack of clothing choices impacts on not only self esteem but maybe quality of life as well. It's ridiculous. I don't know how Anonymous up there can claim that poor old Lane Bryant is catering to a smaller market when in fact, it's the women who wear single digit sizes who are in the minority (but who have a wealth of clothing choices at all price points.) If people believed fatties deserved to dress well they'd make better clothes for us. The market exists, that's for sure!

Amen. Since we're required

Amen. Since we're required to wear clothing (for the most part) the issue is not about fashion, but parity in clothing choices. What we wear on our bodies can shape how we're read by society and if one wishes to be at the very least, treated <em>neutrally</em>, it's helpful to have clothing options that don't set you apart if that's not your desire.

Many workplaces insist on "professional" attire, which privileges thinner women who have many options for cheaper, proper "professional" wear. Even as a small fat, finding a suit that effectively conveyed the level of professionalism required by prospective employers took countless hours and a resourcefulness beyond what the actual situation required. In the end, I opted for three shift dresses - in charcoal, black and navy - which worked fine, but severely frustrated and demoralized me.

Given all of that I'm not sure how folks - feminists particularly - don't understand how limited fatty fashion options can economically marginalize women, which should clearly be recognized as a FEMINIST issue.

I do a lot of fundraising and donating to organizations that provide professional attire for marginalized women, with a particular interest in meeting the needs of fat women, who are often under-served in this area of non profit work.

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I'm not sure why the extra

I'm not sure why the extra fabric is being glazed over here. As a size 16 and an amateur seamstress I can attest to the fact that that extra yard (or two or three or...) of fabric adds up---significantly so if you're purchasing high quality fabrics. Tasha still makes plenty of good points regarding the less than fashionable choices available for larger sized women (why I started sewing in the first place), but the difference in cost of material between a size 2 and a size 20 shouldn't be entirely dismissed, especially when considering major manufacturers have to eat the cost of the extra fabric for every garment that doesn't sell (which is true of smaller size too, but as they require less fabric to make the risk is lower). Pricing of all clothing takes that risk into account to ensure the company still makes a profit despite the unsold and marked down merchandise. The larger the size, the higher the production cost, the bigger the risk, the higher the price tag.

Certainly there are many issues regarding fat fashion that warrant discussing... but I think the economics need to (at the very least) be acknowledged, and not rushed right past. Especially when the discussion involves costs...

Yes, but are you purchasing

Yes, but are you purchasing the fabric wholesale and in the quanities of these stores? They get bulk discounts, which does tend to make the whole fabric cost argument moot. Now, I could accept higher prices if the clothing offered reflected any comprehension of the way fat bodies are constructed, which they don't. Sizing up a pattern is not the way to ensure that clothing for larger folks are constructed to ensure proper fit.
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Why would "bulk discounts"

Why would "bulk discounts" make the fabric cost argument moot? (And I don't think they're buying bulk fabric, I think most of the major manufacturers own their own textile plants and produce the fabric themselves. We aren't talking about 50 yards versus 100 yards. We're talking tens of thousands of yards, at least.) And by that rationale, wouldn't clothing stores that specialize in smaller sizes buy in even BIGGER bulk since these are the sizes that flood the marketplace, and so are produced in higher quantities? Even if they were buying at bulk discounts, the more raw material that is necessary to produce ANY single product, the more that product will cost to make (as opposed to a similar product that requires less raw material), thus the higher the price to the consumer.

I do, however, totally agree with you that the clothing leaves something to be desired (to put it politely). Most garments do not reflect variations or constructions of large bodied woman, you're so right. There are a lot of material goods that are poorly designed and constructed in this society, goods that I don't think live up to their price tag. But that doesn't change the cost of production.

I hate to be the screen door in your submarine but...

There are several flaws in your theory.
First, there is not enough plus sized clothing. If the fabric it takes to make 100 dresses in a size 7 will only make 75 dresses in a size 22 then it would cost more to make 100 size 22 dresses. But manufacturers are producing far less plus sized clothing than regular so why are they charging more for less product?

Second, what you pay for fabric is many may times what a factory pays for fabric. Clothing manufacturers get massive discounts for bulk sales and the ones that are creating their own save more money the less they have to change production.

Finally, none of this explains why petites also cost more. I have spent as much on a petite suit off the rack as the combined price of a regular suit and the necessary tailoring.

These clothes cost more because they are considered specialty clothes and are marked up accordingly. Changing production from one product to the next loses money and there is a chance that that loss is made up in the price of the garment. Personally I think there is a big dose of ageism in it as well. Outside of specialty boutique-like stores like Lane Bryant, Torrid, or the now defunct Petite Sophisticate, plus sized and petite clothing both seem translate to "older woman." The prints, cuts, and options seemed geared to an older aesthetic and easier handling. The implication being that only a woman past her prime would ever let herself go so much or would only be that height after years of osteoporosis.

There's often a gender tax

There's often a gender tax as well as a fat tax.

I can go to my local Target or K-mart and find a size S men's sweater for, say $20, and a men's size 5XL in the same style also for $20. Yet over in the women's section, a similar sweater in size 6-16 is $29, and 16W-26W is $35. And the women's 26W is roughly the same size as the men's 3XL. So the "more fabric costs more!" argument is not a good one.

Fat tax or just discrimination?

It is accepted that extra fabric means extra basic production cost, however it is also know that the Average American Woman is a size 14... So it follows reasonably that the largest section of the available market is a double digit size, and that more clothing will be sold in those sizes... So how can it be called a 'specialty market'

Most of my wardrobe comes from the thrift stores through choice, (my personal little anti-consumerism rant) and I have noticed that even at a thrift store level, the DONATED plus size clothing is marked at a higher price point than the sizes 0 to 12..
What is the rationale behind this? As the 'retailer' in this instance has not had to pay a higher wholesale price for reasons of 'speciality' or 'higher production cost' as these items were donated, and require the same overhead cost to stock, I can only assume that the plus size clothing is priced more expensively because the thrift store, like everyone else in the 'retail' business is aware that plus size women are so accustomed to being discriminated against and having no other option, that they will accept the pricing discrimination and pay more.

agreed . . . but . . .

As a size 20+ professional woman I totally sympathize with you - it seems like affordable options are getting fewer and farther in-between.

It is unfortunate, however, that BitchMart is completely devoid of plus sizes. What's the point of all of this fat-acceptance writing, if Bitch is a part of the problem?

let me add a clarification

let me add a clarification to my previous comment - BitchMart offers plus sizes - but in the MEN'S styles - so if I'm fat I have to dress like a man? That's awfully feminist (not).

A bit more clarification...

Hi Heidi,

Just to clarify a bit, we only sell unisex clothing at BitchMart (t-shirts, hoodies, hats, aprons)—the shirt that runs the largest is just being modeled by a man on our website because we wanted to show our male-identified readers that the clothes are for all Bitch fans, but the t-shirts themselves are unisex.

You're correct that our size offerings aren't ideal, (our shirts only go up to a 3/4XL) but we looked for an environmentally ethical clothing company that paid fair wages and offered a diversity of sizes. Since we don't manufacture the clothing ourselves and therefore had to go through a vendor, we chose the option we felt was best (though if anyone has any alternative suggestions, please let us know!).

I hope that helps!
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Environmentalist Classism/Exclusion

That is another thing about fat fashion--the environmental classism that exists. It is all great for skinny people to be environmental and pro-labor and all that, but those ethical companies almost never carry a larger range of sizes. What does an environmentally ethical FAT woman do who wants to make sure people get fair wages, but also wants to be able to clothe herself??? Being pro-environment and pro-labor is, unfortunately, in many ways limited to a small group of people who can afford it and who can fit within the scope. I feel that it is one very large problem with the environmental/pro-labor movement. And really, what option do fat women have? We can't very well walk around naked!!! We also cannot support the organizations that we want to support with buying merchandise. Nothing like feeling marginalized by the organizations that you wish you could be a part of! And, when you say "our size offerings aren't ideal" well, that seems like a cop out. They are NEVER ideal for the fat woman either, but do you think we have a choice???!!! Yes, we realize there are costs and ethics to consider, so we fat women say "yes, we understand. We are of course too fat to be a part of the club. We will show our support by buying a mug or a hat instead, because we are not really worthy afterall."

It seems like a silly thing to make a deal about for most people. Oh, why do I need to buy a bitch t-shirt anyway?!? I don't anymore than anyone else needs to I guess. It is just another "NO FATTIES WANTED" sign in the world, and the signs are EVERYWHERE!!!

So, how can I care about the environment and fair trade, etc.? The truth is, I can't. My priority has to be finding clothes that actually COVER my body, even if they are ugly, expensive, sweatshop, horrible fabric nightmares...unless of course I figure out how to sew my own clothes!!!

Whatever. We all know that organizations can only care so much about size issues. They care up to size whatever is comfortable and easy for their organization. I mean, we can't blame the companies who only carry certain sizes, because as we all know, larger plus sizes are harder to find. So, if it is soooooo impossible to carry larger sizes at all, then why do larger size clothes even exist?!? It isn't like we CAN'T find the clothes somewhere. People who actually NEED the clothes find them, however horrible they are, but why are the clothes always ONLY horrible??? Why no fair trade environmental fat clothes? I have to say, that for whatever reason, at least the manufacturers of these fat, ugly, expensive clothes care enough to MAKE them!!! Thank God I DON'T have to walk around naked!!! I AM GRATEFUL for companies that make clothes for fatter people!

I *almost* feel like I shouldn't even BITCH, because at least I have clothes to wear. So, am I being a classist bitch for wanting to be able to buy a damn t-shirt that would actually fit and that would support a company that I think I like, but that can't actually have shirts that like me?

I KNOW! It is MY FAULT. I am FAT therefore it is MY issue, MY problem. If I wasn't so damn fat and if I'd just do x, y and z to not be fat then I could have what I want and no one would even know. Blah blah blah.

Color me the bad fat person yet again. FATTIES = BAD of course. How do I even allow myself to exist in the world?!? The nerve of my fat self!!!

I know, I shouldn't have wanted a t-shirt at all. What was I thinking? I don't deserve one--I'm fat!

About a year ago,

I went to the Target near my house. Found some cute clothes that looked like they would fit, then, abashed, realized I was in the maternity section. So, I took 5 or 6 steps into the "plus-size" section, where I was met with a steep price increase, decrease in quality of material, and styles that were like, whoah, cabbage roses and sparkles. WTF? If I'm fat because I'm pregnant, I deserve cute, affordable clothes in breathable materials, but for any other reason (like being lazy, greedy or otherwise unloveable...eyeroll sprain) I have to dress like a sofa from the 80's? I'm not buying any clothes from them until they remedy that situation (but I know that's coming from a place of privilege, in that I can shop elsewhere or order stuff online or make the clothes that I have work for a while longer. )

Target's maternity line is

Target's maternity line is exceptionally good. Trust me, if you're pregnant, no where else thinks you deserve good quality, comfortable, breathable, cute clothing.

Aside from that, when I was shopping plus, I loved Target. Merona offers pretty much the same stuff (albiet a slightly reduced selection of said garments) in their plus line as in their regular line, and often when a style wasn't going to be flattering to the average fat body they'd retool it a bit for the 14W/1X+ sizes. This new Energie line or whatever is pretty crap though, I have to say. Otherwise, you might try a different Target -- the two in my town had *very* different plus sections.

When I found out I was about to be unemployed

I searched one of the largest, nicest, most upscale malls in California for hours looking for an adequate suit for interviews. I just wanted something in black or navy that looked professional and polished yet age appropriate because I'm in my twenties. I tried on every single suit in my size (22/24) in that mall and was able to walk out with a pair of trousers and a custom ordered jacket that would arrive in a week via rush delivery.

I was relieved because that suit meant that I wouldn't have to go to another interview in my ill-fitting white oxford and black LB trousers. After reading this article, I realize just how fortunate I was to be able to get to a place that had multiple options that fit my body in multiple (yet all expensive) price points.

I can't imagine trying to interview for corporate positions without professional attire and after reading this article, I can certainly see how much of a hardship finding professional attire is for women without the privileges I was lucky enough to have when looking for my own suit. It's a shame that being fat creates another level of discrimination against people and women in particular.

also no fun if you're tiny

also no fun if you're tiny but have a D cup :( I have to pay $30 to $40 for a bra that'll hold up the girls.

This idea extends to

This idea extends to something I've seen my mother encounter a lot: band/concert/event t-shirts. While I'm on the fat size (at least for my height and age and humongous breast size), I can usually comfortably fit a large of any sort of basic event t. My mother, who is a size 22 I think, can rarely ever fit in a shirt. Whether it's band merch or some sort of event advertising, they never work. She even was on the committee for a local food cooperative, and when she suggested they make shirts in a size big enough for her the chairman was "insulted" because it didn't promote "good eating habits." I know it's embarassing for her, and I really feel for anyone else in this situation.
If we're going to attempt to spread decent sizing, I say start with the basics.

&& thanks for your posts, they're lovely and giving a homesick college freshman something to do at night besides drinking and becoming numbly idiotic.

One of the things that

One of the things that disturbs me a little bit when I see ads for plus-size clothing lines is the way the clothing is marketed: the copy usually includes the words "slim," "shape," and "firm," all used as verbs, as well as things like "flatter" and "sculpt." Isn't this just a euphemistic way of saying, "Here are some clothes that will make you look less like a fatty than you really are"? It feels to me, often, that a plus-size line is created by a clothing company somewhat begrudgingly, like they're only doing it to be PC.

That said, I have an issue with clothing sizes overall, but, as Tasha pointed out so eloquently, I am unable, at this point in my life, do dedicate large amounts of time to learning to sew--as evidenced by the oddly-shaped pieces of cloth I've been meaning to put together in the shape of a dress for about seven months.

Supply and Demand

"So if fat folks, and specifically fat women, are more likely to be working class...Why are more fashionable clothes in larger sizes so damn expensive?"

a) Poor people tend to be fat and rich people tend to be thin
b) Fashionable clothes tend to cost more than unfashionable clothes
c) People tend to shop at clothing stores that offer what they can afford
d) Stores that cater to niches outside the norm cost more, because they can (inelastic demand), and because they aren't as streamlined as stores in the mainstream

e) Inexpensive clothing stores, unfashionable clothes, large sizes, and fat people will tend to form one market community. Expensive clothing stores, fashionable clothes, small sizes, and thin people will tend to form another market community.
f) Expensive, fashionable large sizes are a niche outside the norm, so when they are available they cost even more than expensive, fashionable small sizes. (The counterpart is not necessarily true because there is a large demographic of poor thin people: high schoolers.)

That is why rich fat people may have a hard time finding upscale clothing stores with clothes that fit them, and why those that exist seem unreasonably expensive.

As a poor thin person, I used to not be able to find clothes that fit me at WalMart - they did not carry size 0/2. Conveniently, I have gained weight and now can find clothes anywhere that kind of fit. I haven't gained money, though, so it's thrift stores for me.

I've recently done a wardrobe

I've recently done a wardrobe declutter and it was great - I gave a couple of bags the the op-shop and am trying to sell some of my better quality and vintage items. It's good to now be able to just reach in to the cupboard and be able to wear anything I see - not to hang on to things that I didn't really want or don't fit or have even never fit properly. As a reward, I'm allowed to buy some new clothes. The trouble is finding something that fits properly!

I haven't really fit into mass produced clothes for a few years, but hadn't wanted to make the switch to plus-sized shops out of fear. Over the last year, I subscribed to Bitch and have been reading a bunch of books and feminist blogs (including Fat is a Feminist Issue). I'm having a much better time accepting myself. Aside from the fear of accepting myself how I am, I was also put off from the plus-size shops because my impression of the clothes was that they are largely awful - just because I'm over a size 14 doesn't mean I have to wear a shapeless sack! But in my internet exploration I'm finding that there are options, and also a couple of shops in Melbourne that will have clothes that fit. I'm also more motivated to get back into making my own clothes, which I did a bit when I was younger.

I went op-shopping with my sister yesterday. I eventually managed to find a couple of dresses that fit and I like. They felt funny at first - too big? No, it's just that I've been squeezing myself into clothes that were too small for so long that I forgot what it feels like to be comfortable.

I'm wearing one of my new dresses today :)

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