How Might the Fit of Clothes Impact Women’s Body Satisfaction?
How does it make you feel if you cannot fit into clothes in your usual size?
What about when retailers do not stock clothes in your size?
Clothing fit and body image
“I don't look in the mirror to see how fat I am. And when I put on clothes that are tight around the waist. And the clothes that I've got that are nice but that I can't get into. That's what motivates me to get my weight down. It's clothes” (Betty, age 63 years).
“That's the only thing that I would diet for, if I went out of my clothes size. I would have to diet, because I could never afford to replace all my clothes. If I was growing out of my clothes I would definitely try and cut down” (Sharron, age 46 years).
“I don't long to be under nine stone [126 lb] again, because I think that is an unrealistic weight for me, but I think just so that my clothes fit me nicely (Toni, age 27 years).Recent work conducted by researchers based at Manchester Metropolitan University (Sarah Grogan, Kathryn Brownbridge, Jenny Cole, John Darby, Gillian McChesney, Paula Wren), and University of Manchester (Simeon Gill, Christopher J. Armitage, Celina Jones) has investigated how women feel about their bodies when they find it more difficult to get a good fit in clothes. We have been interested in particular at how the limited availability of well-fitting clothing for women who have larger body sizes may influence women’s body satisfaction.
The plus size clothes “problem”Clothing retailers tend to sell a limited range of sizes; many popular high street stores in the UK focus mainly on women’s sizes 6-18. Where retailers do sell larger sizes, they have limited stock in those sizes and they are often only available online. Luxury fashion garments tend to be restricted to particularly small sizes relative to the actual sizes of women in the UK (Aagarup, 2018), and US (McCall, 2018). Sizes above a UK 18 are often seen as “plus-size” garments, with some retailers stocking “plus-size” or “curve” ranges (e.g. Asos Curve; up to size 30) alongside their regular ranges and others specializing in plus-size clothes (e.g. Evans; sizes 14-32).
Lack of availability of larger sized clothing means that women with larger bodies may struggle to find clothes that fit well. This presents practical problems in terms of restricting women’s choice (Reardon & Grogan, 2011), and is likely to signal to women that their bodies are outside acceptable size norms leaving them dissatisfied. Eva Barlösius and Axel Phillips (2015) argue that the restriction of clothes choices for women whose bodies fall outside the industry-approved “normal-sized” body type is a form of structural weight stigmatization, and other researchers (e.g. Lewis et al., 2011) have suggested that lack of availability of clothes in larger sizes in mainstream retailers may be associated with feelings of stigmatization and body dissatisfaction.
Links between fit and body satisfaction
In a more recent study (Grogan et al. 2020), we predicted that number of retailers stocking women’s exact size would be associated with body satisfaction and might partly explain why women higher in body mass index (BMI) tend to have lower body satisfaction (e.g. Weinberger et al., 2016).
What now for clothing retailers?So, the key message for clothing retailers? Ensure that you cater effectively for the full range of women’s bodies, including women with larger body sizes and those whose proportions do not match the narrow expectations of your shape offerings. As well as assisting your sales, you have the potential to improve the lives of women by ensuring no one feels out of step with acceptable norms on how women’s bodies should look.
Professor Sarah Grogan is Emeritus Professor in the Department of Psychology, Manchester Metropolitan University. She is contactable on firstname.lastname@example.org.