• Retail Dive

'Big and tall' could be bigger — and better

When it comes to advancements in apparel sizing, women have paved the way. Men's brands seem destined to follow suit, but retailers have a lot to learn.

Our civilization encourages a dude to be a bigger man, but doesn't deign to dress him very well.

The situation in apparel for what the industry calls "big and tall" men stands in stark contrast to women's plus. A surge in feminist empowerment (spurred most recently by the #metoo movement) and the democratic nature of social media have given voice to stylish influencers who display confident images of themselves, call out brands refusing to cater to them and hail those that successfully do.

For plus-size female consumers, a dearth of fashion options in a neglected niche has morphed into a plethora of new and legacy retailers not only getting into the segment, but also offering an inclusive size range available to all, or at least many more, women. It's become easier for those who don't fit into what is known as "straight" sizes to not only find apparel, but also see themselves in marketing and on the runway.

It's been a long road, and men, by and large, are still not on it.

"Big men are ignored," says Kat Eves, a Los Angeles-based stylist at Style Ethic, who calls herself "an ethical and inclusive wardrobe stylist, fashion designer, writer, and blogger." A shopping trip for a friend helped spark her career, and she hasn't seen much progress in the industry segment since, she told Retail Dive in an interview. "I had a big and tall friend in college who wanted to impress a girl and had one t-shirt and one pair of pants to his name. I love fashion for myself and I'm also plus size and have always been, and I think that was part of it for him, I think he trusted me — so I took him shopping. But there really weren't many options."

"They blame the customer. The excuse I’ve seen brands make over the decades is that they tried to do plus size and the sales just weren’t there — but I know that the marketing wasn’t there either."

Kat Eves

Stylist, Style Ethic

This part of the retail landscape only has a handful of well-known players. J.C. Penney recently ended its Big & Tall subscription box. There's DXL, formerly known as Destination XL. The Winston Box and Maximus Box (both offer sizes up to 6XL) have been in business for a couple of years, Bonobos​ offers extended sizes, and Stitch Fix recently expanded sizes for men — but they're strictly e-commerce. Brands like Gap, Old Navy, Ralph Lauren, Asos and Lacoste have options, but mostly, if not only, online. Others, including higher-end brands, sell through specialists like DXL and not mainstream retailers like department stores.

Furthermore, brands that do sell a greater range of sizes for men don't market that much, according to Tara Drury, retail analyst at fashion analytics firm Edited. "Despite a larger selection of retailers investing in plus-size clothing, promotion of this is minimal," she told Retail Dive in an email.

Eves calls that a missed opportunity. "They blame the customer," she said. "The excuse I've seen brands make over the decades is that they tried to do plus size and the sales just weren't there — but I know that the marketing wasn't there either. Bonobos stepped up and actually invested ad money — that's a huge game changer from where we were. Most people don't know that Lucky jeans makes clothes for big and tall sizes. It's almost like they don't want it to work — they're even quiet about where they carry their big and tall products."

Few shoppers have a stylist like Eves to help them find the goods, and, in all, the number of possibilities pales compared to those for women, according to experts. Still, Ray Hartjen, marketing director of store analytics firm RetailNext, calls it an interesting market with "a huge upside potential in North America and Europe for retailers willing to 'get it right.'"

"[T]here's not a lot of options out there, and the opportunity exists to carve out a real competitive advantage. It's tempting to compare men's plus apparel to that of women's, and companies that clearly do it right, like ModCloth. I think it's a bit more complicated than that though," Hartjen said in an email to Retail Dive.

The size of the market