A brief history of the hypocrisy-laden $50 billion plus-size clothing market

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Lane Bryant

Plus-sized fashion has come a long way since Lane Bryant was founded in the early 1900s.

The brand – which once advertised “slenderizing” clothing for “stout” woman – has transformed into one of the leaders in advertising that puts body positivity front and center.

In other words, a business that was once built on making women feel like they needed to be thinner is now ready to make billions of dollars by telling them they’re just fine the way they are.

The plus-sized clothing market is currently estimated to exceed $20 billion. According to a Lane Bryant investor presentation from early 2017, the brand believes that figure could reach $40 billion to $50 billion.

“There is, to put it crudely, an insane amount of money just sitting on the table, and it seems, finally, that there are some savvy entrepreneurs out there ready to shrug off fashion’s inherent snobbery and claim a piece of it,” Ashley C. Ford recently wrote in New York Magazine.

Here’s how Lane Bryant’s transformation shows just how much the definition of plus-sized has changed over the last century.


For a long time, the plus-size advertising was all about “slenderizing,” like this 1936 ad for Lane Bryant signed “Slenderizingly Yours.

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New Vintage Lady

All Lane Bryant scans are from The Vintage Lady, a fantastic blog on vintage sewing, with a focus on plus-sized fashion.


“Proud of having been in business for thirty-five years — and proud of having sold wearing apparel to so many millions of stout women during those thirty-five years,” founder Lane Bryant wrote in a note to shoppers in 1935.

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New Vintage Lady

“Whatever your figure problem, if you’re STOUT, I have the style for you,” reads another Lane Bryant note.

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New Vintage Lady

However, what Lane Bryant classified as “stout” in the 1930s may seem like a stretch to many modern women. These women, modeling coats, look positively slim.

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New Vintage Lady

It’s a trend that would continue for decades, as seen by this catalog from the 1940s.

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New Vintage Lady

Styles change, but the focus on “slenderizing” women stayed the same in the 1950s.

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New Vintage Lady

In the 1960s, Lane Bryant was advertising itself as for the “real woman of today” with this “plus-sized” model.

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Lane Bryant

Compare the emphasis on “slenderizing” models with modern Lane Bryant ads.

“Finding a good pair of jeans is the best moment ever. I feel like I can conquer the world!” @breekish ????

A post shared by Lane Bryant (@lanebryant) on


Lane Bryant has realigned itself as what parent company Ascena Retail calls a “purpose-driven brand.”

You know what we’re talking about.

A post shared by Lane Bryant (@lanebryant) on


“Slenderizing” is no longer front and center. Instead, ad campaigns such as #PlusIsEqual and #ImNoAngel attempt to empower and unite plus-sized women.

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Lane Bryant

However, for some, the campaigns didn’t speak to the realities of most customers’ lives. As recently as 2015, Lane Bryant has received backlash for emphasizing body types that, while plus-sized, are more widely accepted.

Source: Cosmopolitan


Since then, Lane Bryant has doubled down on hiring models who are bigger — and more ethnically diverse — than the catalog models of decades past.

Stretch. Breathe. Slay. All day. (#InternationalYogaDay, that is.) @curveswithmoves @mynameisjessamyn

A post shared by Lane Bryant (@lanebryant) on


Lane Bryant has also started highlighting women who aren’t professional models on social media and in other marketing.

Hey ???? beach ???? babe. #WCW #LaneStyle

A post shared by Lane Bryant (@lanebryant) on


While some of this is based in cultural shifts, it also is rooted in Lane Bryant and other plus-sized brands realizing that they might be missing out on some very profitable opportunities.

Can’t stop, won’t stop. #MondayMotivation cc: @breekish

A post shared by Lane Bryant (@lanebryant) on


While the market for plus-sized clothing is valued at $20.4 billion, according to NPD data, Lane Bryant believes that could grow into a $50 billion business.

Hey #TheNewSkinny, your #FridayFeeling side is showing. ???????? @lizzy.dances

A post shared by Lane Bryant (@lanebryant) on


Lane Bryant and its sister brand Catherine’s estimate that “extended sizes,” or those larger than most plus-sized retailers sell, are a $1 billion opportunity. And, right now, the company says that are few retailers are trying to sell to these customers.


Sales of plus-sized activewear and intimates are also growing quickly — perhaps because for a long time plus-sized clothing was focused on “slenderizing” instead of helping women get fit or look sexy.

Your lingerie drawer called. It wants this set.

A post shared by Lane Bryant (@lanebryant) on


Lane Bryant has come a long way — and right now the plus-size fashion industry is filled with opportunities to go even farther.

???????????????? #Repost @lanebryant ??? “Confidence is the New Skinny.” @denisebidot #TheNewSkinny #WCW #obvi

A post shared by Denise Bidot (@denisebidot) on