Retailers to plus-size women: fuck you – a disgusting insight from Big Data

Plus-size fashion? Sure, as long as you don’t care about color.

plus-sizeI had kind of a WTF? moment at work today, that turned into a moment that made me think, and finally into a full-blown depressing moment.

We’re working on a project for a retailer that sells a wide range of clothing to women. We were examining the strategic keyword analysis workbook looking for patterns and insights in the search data for an upcoming presentation, when we tripped across this disheartening realization.

In every category – Dresses, Blouses, Skirts, Prom, Formal, Homecoming, etc. – there’s a huge volume of search for color: [blue prom dress], [red skirt], [green top], etc. Every category except one, that is: Plus Size. When you look at the search data for plus size queries, there’s almost no volume for color. The only term that shows any life at all is [white].

My first reaction was that can’t be right. My second reaction was a few moments of quiet reflection. Okay, I get it. The options out there for larger girls and women is minimal enough that they’re less likely to search on color because they know there’s no point in being picky. Why waste your time – you’ll be lucky to find something that fits and looks decent in any color.

Still, I couldn’t quite fathom the magnitude of what I was seeing in the data. I get that these women know enough about the reality they face that they’re not going to search on color as often, so if you’d told me that color query volume was half what it is for “normal”-sized shoppers I’d have said yeah, I get that.

But the volume wasn’t half. It was damned near nonexistent.

This is where the depressing moment landed hard. Millions of girls and women have given up. They don’t even try anymore. The fashion industry is running the largest learned helplessness experiment in the world.

What started out as a data analysis and marketing question had quickly morphed into a Sociology problem.

I don’t know what it is to be a woman, let alone a “big girl,” but I know enough about American media culture and the way it warps our view of womanly perfection to know that this has to be maddening for anyone with the gall to be bigger than a size 2.

American retailers should be ashamed.

And yeah, I’m loving the coincidence that I tripped across this on the same day that Jezebel uncovered Walmart’s Fat Girl Halloween Costumes line….



  • how can you be sure that plus sized women don’t like colors? unlikely I know, but i’m trying to follow your logic here. suspect you’re right, just unsure how you got there from the data

    • Not saying they don’t like color. On the contrary. I’m saying they have given up trying to find it. The offerings available to them are so limited that they’re happy to find something that looks decent in ANY color.

  • michele salmon

    And god forbid, you should want something stylish that is not made out of some polyester crap fabric. You want color? Garish prints in multiple colors abound on the Plus size racks. You have hit the nail on the head on interpreting the Big Data.

  • Is it possible that plus-sized women have such poor body images that they avoid color for fear it will make them stand out instead of blend in? Of course, if that were the case, I suppose you might find a number of searches for plus size and black, together. Or maybe not. Just not sure.

    Anyway, my basic question is whether the data indicate that they have given up, or just are trying to be inconspicuous.

    • Hound: no, they shop online. The volume for plus size queries is massive.

      JS: this is a really good question, and I’m not sure I can rule out your alt theory based solely on huge data I’m looking at here. I’m drawing on a lot of anecdotal evidence in seeking to explain what it means, and while there are almost certainly women who fit the don’t want to stand out bill, the number of women I have heard railing about this problem has me fairly well convinced this is the right answer. I could be wrong, but it’s the answer I’d bet on if I had to wager my own money.

      If the client were a manufacturer instead of a retailer one of my next steps might well be to recommend a survey followed by some focus groups to address this question specifically. No way that’s going to fly in this particular case, though.

      • thats where i was struggling. couldnt follow your inference. jso phrased it better.

    • Which came first – poor self image or no stylish/colorful clothes for their body type? The marketing and modeling aimed at size-1-only women might be a reason that plus-sized (an exclusionary term itself) women would chose black clothing; not because they want to ‘blend-in’ but because as far as fashion is concerned they don’t exist.

  • Perhaps larger women don’t shop online? That sounds stupid, even to me. It’s seems ridiculous to not optimize sales in all departments, especially something as easy as adding some keywords.

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