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The Men’s Plus Size Apparel Market: Bigger, but Not Better

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The men’s plus size apparel market: Bigger, but not better
Melissa L. Thompson and Ellen McKinney, Iowa State University
Significance of the Male Plus Size Consumer Market and Body Positive Movement
Plus size men constitute approximately 70% of the U.S. population. As of 2018, the male plus
size market had grown to over $1 billion in revenue and according to Sindicich and Black’s (2011) study
on fit and sizing of business apparel, as many as 40% of men have issues with size and fit. (IBIS World,
2019). However, the apparel needs of plus size men have not been fully addressed (Rebolini, 2017;
Schlossberg, 2015). The rapidly evolving social movement known as the Body Positive Movement
(BPM) has been gaining popularity as its advocates campaign to include all types of bodies in advertising
and media, treating all bodies as worthy of representation in mass media and fashion (Dastagir, 2017;
“The body positive,” 2019). The BPM has been successful in its push to include more diverse female
body types in media and advertisements and has successfully influenced the extension of plus size apparel
lines for many brands and retailers including LOFT, Target and Lucky Brand (Howland, 2019; Lubitz,
2017). Yet, the near exclusion of plus size men from the BPM can be reflected in the lack of progress in
the extension and inclusion of plus size men’s apparel at many retailers. Despite progress made for female
bodies and apparel lines, many consumers, fashion models and BPAs wonder why men have not been
included in the BPM’s efforts (Rebolini, 2017).
The BPM and its campaigns have neglected the male consumer and male body types, and have
focused almost exclusively on the inclusion of diverse female body types (Rebolini, 2017; “The body
positive,” 2019). According to the CDC (2019), the average man in the United States is 5’9” tall, weighs
approximately 200 pounds and has a 40 inch waist. This puts the average male in plus size market for
apparel, a category that begins with a size XL or 38 inch waist pant (Rebolini, 2017). Despite the BPMs
influence on manufacturers and retailers and the extension of women’s apparel sizes to be more size
inclusive and aesthetically appealing, the availability and aesthetic appeal of men’s plus size or big and
tall clothing has yet to be influenced or changed by the BPM. Although the average male is considered
plus size by retail industry standards, most apparel is designed to fit men that is not reflective of this
demographic (Sindicich & Black, 2011). Exploring the perceptions of male plus size consumers and their
shopping experiences within the context of the BPM is critical and timely because the insights provided
by participants on fit and sizing issues of men’s plus size or big and tall clothing should aid
manufacturers and retailers in the development of big and tall apparel products that both fit these
consumers and appeal to them aesthetically.
Analysis of Literature and Data
The following section outlines the literature and data regarding the lack of inclusion of men in the
BPM and the BPM’s efforts, and general fit and selection of men’s big and tall clothing. The analysis
identifies a gap in the research addressing men’s perceptions of plus size clothing fit and selection, and
lack of effort on the part of manufacturers and retailers to address the needs of this growing demographic
as the BPAs push for more size inclusivity in media, advertising and fashion.
Lack of Male Inclusion in the BPM
The fashion industry and mass media have been identified as one of the most pervasive and
influential transmitters of appearance norms in the United States (Bordo, 1999; Pope et al., 2000). Men
experience many of the same pressures to conform to certain physical appearance standards, such as a
lean muscular body, and these standards are reflected most notably in mainstream advertising and fashion
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(Pope et al., 2000). The last several decades have seen a drastic increase in the number of men suffering
from mental health issues related to body image and it is estimated that approximately 10 million men
will suffer from an eating disorder related to poor body image in their lifetime (“Eating disorders in men
and boys,” 2019). Even with the substantial increase in male mental health issues due to poor body
image, men have been relatively neglected from social and fashion movements to increase body positivity
and include diverse male body types in media and fashion (Lorenzen et al., 2004). Women have been at
the center of the BPM, and BPAs have campaigned for the inclusion of diverse female body types in
media, as well as the extension of apparel sizes and styles to cater to a greater range of female body types.
Men have been largely left out of the movement to include more sizes and styles for bigger and taller
men’s bodies, leaving the big and tall consumer often frustrated and disappointed with selection and fit of
men’s plus size clothing (Lutz, 2017; Rebolini, 2017)
Improved Fit of Big and Tall clothing Creates Margin Opportunity for Apparel Retailers
Poor clothing fit accounts for the majority of consumer returns to retailers, both to online and
brick and mortar retail outlets (Chattaraman et al., 2013). According to some men’s apparel companies, it
is estimated that sizes small, medium, large and extra large only fit about 15% of target consumers (Lutz,
2013). Pattern grading and sizing systems are also outdated and do not accurately represent the size and
shape of today’s males. Most men’s big and tall apparel is graded up from a size medium, rather than
fitting apparel to a plus size fit model. Some companies are taking steps to rectify the problem, but the
process is time consuming, while, at the same time, many manufacturers have taken no action at all to
adjust their sizing systems to better reflect the bodies of their target consumers (Schofield & LaBat,
2005). Unlike women’s apparel, where the BPM’s influence on manufacturers and retailers of women’s
clothing has effectively led to more fit and grading changes to better accommodate a plus size woman’s
measurements, the men’s big and tall category has not seen similar changes by manufacturers and
retailers to adjust fit and styling to better satisfy the needs of their big and tall consumers (Lubitz, 2017;
Rebolini, 2017). Proposal for Future Action
Research is needed to understand the shopping experiences of plus size men with plus size
clothing, specifically the fit and selection of men’s plus size clothing, in light of the BPM and its
campaign to include more diverse female body types and apparel size options. As this demographic
continues to grow in size and purchasing power, a research study should be carried out to address the
following questions:
1. What is the experience of men who shop plus size clothing lines? What are the fit
concerns and style preferences of male consumers who shop plus size clothing lines?
2. How do plus size men view the body positive movement and how does it influence their
shopping experience?
The proposed study should use a grounded theory approach utilizing semi-structured interviews.
Because the research questions are unexplored, this approach is best to elicit participant responses and
understand the phenomena in question (Creswell & Poth, 2018). The grounded theory approach will also
allow for the building of new theory to explain how this demographic experiences big and tall clothing in
the context of the BPM (Charmaz, 2014). Lastly, one-on-one interviews allows for the free exchange of
dialogue between researcher and participant to facilitate additional questions to be explored by the
researcher when they arise (Creswell & Poth, 2018).
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© 2020 The author(s). Published under a Creative Commons Attribution License
(https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0/), which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction
in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited.
ITAA Proceedings, #77 https://itaaonline.org
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Article
Full-text available
Purpose This paper seeks to investigate issues with the fit and sizing of commercially available men's business clothing in the USA. Design/methodology/approach The functional design process is a conceptual framework used to frame an investigation of fit and sizing of men's business clothing. Data were collected from 322 men aged 20‐55 at two different demographic levels. Sizing and fit of men's shirts, pants, suits and their garment features were reported to investigate fit issues with men's ready‐to‐wear business clothing and their relationships to sizing and overall body composition. Findings Results indicated that many men self‐report fit issues with their business clothing, including issues with the key sizing dimensions of their garments. Consumers frequenting specialty stores with high service levels reported fewer issues with key sizing dimensions, but more issues in other areas of the garments. Many respondents did not know their garment size. Some consumers appear to be choosing their garments based on non key measurements to best accommodate their individual shape, while those choosing by their sized measurements may not achieve satisfactory fit in all areas. Research limitations/implications The sample was generally located in the southeast United States. Sizing systems and clothing manufacturers vary globally. Originality/value Little research into the sizing and fit of men's clothing has been performed. This article investigates self‐reported fit issues to establish a baseline for further studies in the area.
Article
This study examines the influence of specific physical factors (body size), demographic factors (age), and psychosocial factors (body satisfaction, social physique anxiety, and drive for muscularity) on apparel-specific (jeans, khakis, dress shirts, and polo shirts) fit preferences of male consumers. Data were collected through an online survey administered to 141 men in the age group of 19-66 years. Results revealed that increase in body size significantly predicted preferences for apparel (jeans, dress, and polo shirts) with looser fits, and jeans with higher waistlines. Increase in age also predicted preferences for dress and polo shirts with looser fits and jeans with higher waists. With respect to the body-image-related factors, increase in body dissatisfaction predicted increased preferences for dress shirts with looser fits and khakis with higher waistlines. Contrary to expectations, increase in men's drive for muscularity predicted preferences for jeans with lower waistlines. This study offers important implications and creates actionable market information on fit strategy for male consumer segments.
Article
Grading is the process used to create sized patterns. Our research continues from the finding that grading practice is not based on anthropometric data (Schofield & LaBat, 2005). The focus of this research was to establish proportional rules, set increments, and assumptions that form the basis of grading. The grade rules for a basic bodice pattern from 17 sources were examined to identify grading practice. Seven grading assumptions were identified and tested using regression analysis on body measurements of the upper torso from the 1988 Anthropometric Survey of U.S. Army Women. None of the assumptions were supported. Use of these assumptions results in sized garments that do not reflect the measurements and proportions of the human body. A comparison was made between a pattern graded with traditional grade rules and another graded with research generated experimental rules. New criteria for evaluating graded patterns are presented.
Article
The current study was designed to examine the effect of exposure to muscular ideal bodies on body satisfaction in men. College men (N= 104) at a medium-sized mid-south university completed the Body Assessment (BA)scale, which measures body satisfaction, before and after exposure to either muscular or nonmuscular advertisements. BA scores were examined using a repeated measures (pre and post) ANOVA with muscularity of image (view images of muscular men vs. view images ofaverage men) as the between-participants factor. Results indicated that mens self-rated body satisfaction decreased after viewing images of muscular men but did not change after viewing images of average men. Thus, it appears that mens body satisfaction may be influenced by exposure to brief images of muscular models. These results are congruent with results of previous investigations of the effects of viewing images of thin models on womens body satisfaction.
The first fashion models came in all shapes and sizes because they sold more clothes that way
  • S Buck
Buck, S. (2016, September 6). The first fashion models came in all shapes and sizes because they sold more clothes that way. Retrieved from https://timeline.com/fashion-model-body-diversity-a2c24fe57938.
National Center for Health Statistics: Body Measurements
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2019). National Center for Health Statistics: Body Measurements. Retrieved from https://www.cdc.gov/nchs/fastats/body-measurements.htm.
Body positivity is everywhere, but is it for everyone? USA Today
  • A Dastagir
Dastagir, A. (2017, August 2). Body positivity is everywhere, but is it for everyone? USA Today. Retrieved from https://www.usatoday.com/story/news/2017/08/02/body-positivity-everywherebut-everyone/525424001/.
Big and tall could be bigger and better
  • D Howland
Howland, D. (2019, April 15). Big and tall could be bigger and better. Retrieved from https://www.retaildive.com/news/big-and-tall-could-be-bigger-and-better/551059/.