Back in July, in one of Francesca’s very earliest postings on this blog, she recommended items from Old Navy. There were murmurings in the comments that many Big Girls no longer buy clothing from Old Navy, because the chain decided no longer to sell plus-size clothing in their stores, only online.
The following comment was typical of the attitude I have seen much on the fat-blog-osphere:
I’m not sure I want to do business with a store that actually doesn’t want me to shop there in person.
I have been thinking about that ever since. Rolling it over in the frankly quite talented mind of the Francesca.
Francesca symapthizes with . . . nay, empathizes with . . . nay, has experienced the frustration of not being able to find clothing in her copious size in regular clothing stores. She is thinking how she would feel if Talbots were to close all their Women’s Petite departments, and, had she not already discovered the joys of online shopping, especially of the Talbots outlet, she would want to cry.
There is the social aspect of not being able to shop in the same stores as one’s friends. There is the logistical factor of no longer being able to try the clothing on before one buys, and of having to make trips to the post office instead of to the mall. And there is the psychological aspect of feeling betrayed and alone, being smacked with the fact that most people wear regular sizes and feeling the stores do not see us, that we are invisible.
However, Francesca keeps coming back to the same idea, which is, first of all, that she doubts very much that Old Navy’s decision is one for us to take personally. Francesca doubts very much that the Old Navy executives sat around the table and said “Fat chicks are ugly and we don’t want them in our stores. We’ll still make clothes for them, but they’ll have to do their purchasing from home, where they can keep the blinds down.”
No! Most likely the decision was a monetary one. Most likely, not enough Big Girls were going shopping in Old Navy stores, and retail space is extremely expensive. Perhaps they had not done a good job of marketing or advertising the big sizes; Francesca, for example, never knew that Old Navy sold plus-size clothing until she took this blogging job. Believe me, had Francesca known, she would have gone shopping there in a second, especially when she was younger. If Francesca did not know and therefore never set foot in Old Navy (literally, I went into the nearby Old Navy once in my life, with a skinny friend who was an Old Navy junkie), she can imagine that many, many other Big Girls also did not know. Probably most of the other Big Girls were in Lane Bryant and Talbots with Francesca. It is not that “Old Navy does not want me to shop there in person” but that this commenter wasn’t shopping there in person, or at least, not enough people like her were shopping there in person.
Francesca believes that the most likely reason for Old Navy selling plus sizes only online now is simply that they wanted to reserve their retail space for the customers who were providing the most money, and the fact is, most people do wear regular sizes. That is why they are called “regular,” and it is why being plus-size makes us different and creates a social situation for us that fills a whole fat-blog-osphere in the analysis.
Francesca posits that the best way to convince Old Navy to bring their plus-size clothes back into the physical stores is for us to buy more of their clothes, not less. You know that famous obesity epidemic? As more women need plus-size fashion, the way we can get retailers to cater to our needs is to show how much purchasing power we have.
Look, Francesca understands that some people do not wish to do business with stores whose main concern is so blatantly the bottom line. Old Navy made a financial decision that screwed us over, and people are pissed.
But frankly, all stores are looking only at the bottom line. Even when they are offering great service and great products and great perks and are really nice, the primary reason for all that, ultimately, is that they want you to keep spending your money on their products.
If the Talbot’s Woman departments in physical stores are not bringing in enough profit to make their existence worthwhile, Talbots will do the same thing as Old Navy. They do not sell plus-size clothes to help us. They are doing it for the money. Francesca knows that and still loves them because the clothes are fantastic and because they are investing in the Woman Petite niche market.
Think of all the online-only sites where you shop for plus-size clothing. How many of them will never turn enough profit to warrant opening a physical store? There are reasons that Sydney’s Closet is an online closet, not a physical storefront with racks and racks of items you can feel and touch before you buy, and full-time salespeople helping you out. Silhouettes, Igigi (clothes in stores, but not their own stores), Kiyonna (in stores, but not their own stores), Woman Within . . . how many of our readers have said “until I discovered online shopping, I never knew there were so many choices for big women”? It is because outside the internet, there aren’t so many choices, not compared to the choices of those who wear sizes 0-14. A chain or two, a few plus-size departments here and there within general-audience retailers, the occasional boutique which caters to plus-size women. We are a niche market and have the same volume of options as any other niche market such as tall women, short women, goth women, Sunday church women, “funky” Orthodox Jews, little people, whatever.
At the moment, catering to us in physical stores is simply not as profitable as catering to our skinny sisters, and that will not change unless many more poeple start wearing size 16 and up, or we Big Girls start waaaaay out-shopping our size 10 friends. Even online, we have fewer choices. So if Old Navy is still making the clothes, and they are available to us, why not take advantage?
Francesca is not saying that one should shop at any store where employees are rude, or whose company culture is unethical. Certainly if you are so upset that Old Navy pulled their plus-sizes from the stores that you never want to look at their stuff again, Francesca understands. There is no law which says you must remain loyal to them.
But Francesca believes that, barring unethical or outright rude behavior, the most important factor in deciding where to shop is your taste in clothing. If you love Old Navy clothes, then get them however and wherever you can. If you don’t love them, the physical stores wouldn’t help you anyway.
Remember: Dressing well is the best revenge.
UPDATE: Hello hello to the first several commenters! Francesca is not ashamed to admit she did not know of Old Navy’s plus-size line! It is not an indication of her expertise. In fact, the very fact that even Francesca never knew of Old Navy’s plus-size line says little about Francesca and very very much indeed about Old Navy’s poor marketing of that line. She never knew any Big Girl who shopped there, which is, Francesca thinks, a possible indication of why they had to move it online. Of course, perhaps this is a regional thing. Francesca surmises that perhaps word-of-mouth reached critical tipping points in some places more than others. It is a mystery!