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Should Lingerie Companies Charge the Same Price For Standard and Plus Sizes?

Beach Blanket Bingo Swimsuit in Plus Size

Beach Blanket Bingo Swimsuit in Plus Size

Beach Blanket Bingo Swimsuit

Beach Blanket Bingo Swimsuit

A few weeks ago we talked about the term plus sizes and whether it was useful to the current lingerie climate or not. Today I’m going to talk about a related issue that comes up a lot when plus sizes are discussed: pricing. Specifically, we’re going to tackle the great debate surrounding whether plus size lingerie should be priced the same as standard size lingerie. I’ll start with my honest opinion: I don’t have an issue with plus size lingerie being more expensive than lingerie in smaller size. Honestly, I think if everyone understood the way retail pricing really works, we wouldn’t be having this debate at all.

Today I’m going to break a complicated emotional and retail issue down into three smaller discussions that I hope will help illuminate this issue.

1. When most retail companies price a standard size item and a plus size item at the same value, that value normally is set at what the plus size item costs.
In reality, smaller sizes do come in at a lower wholesale cost. This makes sense: they use less fabric, take less development and sometimes need less tailoring than plus sizes do. When you pay the same price at an online retailer, you’re generally paying the price for the plus size item. Yes, this makes the pricing “equal,” but in this case equal is far from fair.

2. If we start pushing “equal” pricing, retailers will just start skimping on fabric and construction on plus sizes pieces.
If you want to see this at work, look at any Walmart or Target. Cute stuff that is reasonably decent in the standard size clothing departments and a swath of ugly that is hidden away in the plus size departments. Access to great plus size lingerie and clothing is enough of a battle currently --- if customers attempt to force down pricing any lower, our options will be even worse.

Ever noticed how cheaper plus size lingerie is really plain and disposable? The stuff that costs extra is what will go first: soft fabrics, pretty patterns, extra support and underwires that actually fit. I don’t want to live in that world and I suspect you don’t either.

3. Developing larger sizes takes time and serious funding.
Developing lingerie in larger sizes takes more time and effort than it does in smaller sizes. Bodies become less standard in plus sizes and cup size design becomes much more of an effort beyond a G cup or so. This is why so many lingerie lines stick with D through G sizing - it’s cheaper and easier to develop. I’m happy to pay more for bras that are fashion forward and well made.

The reality is pretty simple: a larger piece of lingerie takes more material, time, and frequently more development than a smaller size. Quality fabrics are expensive, as are all of the parts of well made piece of lingerie. Instead of comparing pricing, I'd love to see customers embracing more speciality designers. It's unrealistic to expect one brand to do everything in terms of sizing (especially without changing price points), so to me it makes sense to support brands that are experts in your size and shape.


Holly Jackson

The Full Figured Chest provides creative and elegant copywriting for the high end lingerie industry.

23 Comments on this post

  1. former plus size says:

    I’ve been plus size and I’m now straight-size, and I really, really, can’t understand why any person would defend the idea that straight sizes should pay an inflated price simply so that they match the plus size price. Most large corporations are likely overcharging you anyway, and the only people who benefit here are the companies. If you’re plus size, why are you even looking at the prices of sizes that don’t fit you? It may sound maudlin, but I really do believe that you should only look at your neighbor’s plate to see if they have enough. If you’re longing to fit into those sizes, whether because you’re unhappy with your body or because you’re lusting after the wider selection, will knowing that straight sizes have to pay more so that you feel validated *really* make you feel better?

    The argument that straight-size shoppers have more options is true but doesn’t apply here at all. You’re not arguing in favor of something that will improve your shopping experience in any way, unless you truly derive some kind of slightly vindictive satisfaction from the hollow victory that straight sizes have to pay more.

  2. ArC says:

    By this logic, petites should cost less than standard sizes?

  3. SourceDuMal says:

    As nice as supporting specialty designers is, let’s be honest, most people do not have the funds to do so. Plus size folks are tired of always getting the fat tax on clothes. Especially when most lingerie and such are still hideous. ESPECIALLY for the younger crowd. We want cute clothes and we want them cheaper because that’s what our budget can afford.

    • Malica says:

      But why people who wear misses should pay “fat tax” for pluses? And it’s not exactly tax (something that you pay just because they can make you pay), it’s higher cost of production.
      You consider all not plus sized women to be privileged, but it’s simply not true (many of them have to order online and pay for alterations, too).
      It’s like shipping rates: should they be the same for delivery to the same state and delivery to rural Mongolia? Customer from rural Mongolia is definitely less privileged. Why don’t you pay for the poor girl?

      I remember what USSR was like, believe me, nothing good comes from the idea of total equality.
      If you want somebody else to pay for you it always ends badly, Like not plus sized customers avoiding brands catering for pluses.

  4. Lucy says:

    If I were shopping in a store/ website where the smaller and plus sizes were sold at the same price, I had always presumed that the retail price of the smaller pieces was inflated to subsidize the plus size garments (or an average was taken). I’ve never had a problem with this idea (but can see how others might). In the past year or so, I’ve become an “in-between size” (often too full-busted or long-waisted for petite wear and not full-figured enough for plus size garments) and it wasn’t until then that I realized how some companies skimp on the proper support/ patterning/ materials for a well-made garment catered to their larger (or just differently shaped) clientele. I wholly agree on supporting specialist designers.

  5. Brenna says:

    I don’t get the argument of more fabric = higher cost for the consumer. By that logic, a size 6 takes more fabric than a size 00 so therefore should cost more, even though both are “regular” sizes. Am I missing something?

    (Hope I don’t sound defensive, I’m actually curious)

    • Cora says:

      Because it’s not just fabric that goes into pricing. In fact, it’s not unusual for fabric to be one of the lowest costs for production/manufacturing (though it’s certainly relevant). Most of your costs come from labor, and there is more time involved in designing, patterning, and producing garments in larger sizes (you may even need to seek out specialist factories or sewers). There’s also more fabric wastage (i.e. leftover material that can’t be used to make something else) in larger sized patterns. In addition, when fabrics or materials costs go up, it’s because a substantive change was needed (i.e. higher grade materials) to accommodate certain differences in the body at a larger size. For example, stronger underwires or fabric that doesn’t become sheer past a certain stretch point. One of the common complaints for larger sized garments is that they’re not designed thoughtfully, i.e. they don’t take into account how the body changes between a size 4 and a size 14. When a brand does take that into account (which you really have to do for lingerie), that will likely result in a change in the price of making the garment…which has to be recouped someway. These changes – in patterning, costs of materials, and time to produce – may not be present when you’re making sizes between 2 and 8.

    • Tulip Noire says:

      It also has to do with the way you can lay a pattern onto fabric. Say you have a bolt of fabric that measures at a 32″ width. If you are creating a pattern piece that measures 10″ across in a size small, 15″ in medium, and 20″ in large, you can cut 2 mediums or 1 small and 1 large form a single width of fabric. Once you venture into larger sizes you may not be able to cut as many pattern pieces from a single width of fabric. I’m not sure if this makes sense written out, it helps to see it visually!

  6. Ms. Pris says:

    As a customer who frequently buys plus sizes, I have to object to argument #1. In reality, neither straight size nor plus size bodies are really “standardized”; it is instead the products that are standardized by manufacturers, and that goes for straight sizes as well as plus sizes.

    Most manufacturers choose a fit model that they think is close to average and design to fit that model. They do this for the pluses as well as the straight sizes. Any “extra tailoring” is usually done after market by the customer.

    I also don’t see a problem with the set size being based on the cost of the plus sized item. Arguments that it’s not fair are meaningless to me. Plus sized shoppers deal with “unfairness” in basically every aspect of the shopping experience. Straight sized shoppers are privileged in every aspect of the shopping experience: in terms of selection, ease of finding that selection, and price overall (because they seldom have to pay shipping charges, whereas plus sized shoppers usually do have to pay for shipping, and plus sized shoppers usually have to pay for tailoring in structured clothes.) So I don’t mind if straight sized shoppers might once in their privileged experience be subject to some unfairness.

    This argument also contradicts the idea that manufacturers have to charge higher prices for pluses because they are a bigger risk. If the market will bear the higher price for plus, it will bear it for straight sizes, and mitigate the risk for pluses.

    • Cora says:

      “Most manufacturers choose a fit model that they think is close to average and design to fit that model.”

      So I can’t speak about ready to wear, but I can say the idea that the fit model in lingerie is meant to be close to the average is not quite true. In intimates, there’s one sample size for core sizing (B-D), one size for full bust sizes (DD and up), and one size for plus sizing (38 band and higher). These are 3 separate sample sizes for 3 separate market sectors. These sample sizes are made before anything else (so samples for things I won’t see at market until a year from now are already being looked at by brands), and these samples are usually made by specialist sample designers or factories at a price that’s hundreds of dollars per each. These samples are also what’s used to scale out the rest of the range. I don’t think, at least in lingerie, that brands really think a 34B is the “average” size, but it is the sample size for core bra ranges. So I just wanted to separate out this notion that a “sample” (or what’s used on a fit model) is the same as “average” when it comes to production. Perhaps they were related at one point, but they aren’t anymore.

    • Quinne says:

      You’re definitely right that straight sized women have a LOT more to choose from when shopping, but I’m genuinely curious about the idea that straight sizes “seldom have to pay shipping charges, whereas plus sized shoppers usually do have to pay for shipping” –Is this because the companies that make plus sized clothes are smaller & don’t have the capacity to offer free shipping, or are you implying something else? Do you have any examples? As someone who’s been both plus size and straight size, I typically expect to pay shipping regardless.

      • SourceDuMal says:

        What she means is that majority of plus size retailers are exclusively ONLINE while most standard sized clothing stores are plentiful in the brick and mortar arena. Standard sized women have a plethora of stores that cater to their size that they can simply walk into the store and get 4 or 5 whole outfits for a reasonable price

        So plus size women have to doubly do the guess work of the sizing chart, order, hope to god that the chart was accurate, then have to pay shipping and handling AGAIN when they have to send back the item because the chart was ridiculously off what was supposed to be fitting. ON TOP of the fact that we are paying 15 bucks more due to ‘material’

  7. Manoela says:

    There is one thing I son’t understand. When we are talking about smaller brands, or independent designers, I fully agree on having plus sized items priced above the core sizes, but if we are talking about bigger brands, why can’t they keep the price at a medium? For example, if the smaller size would be priced as 10 and the plus size would be priced at 20, I would think of putting both of them at 15, allowing me to not lose money on any parts, but keep the customers happy – since as Jeanna said in her comment, most of them do not understand the pricing and work involved.

    This is a great post and a great discussion, btw! Really love to see different opinions and understand a bit more! :)

    • Cora says:

      One reason that comes to mind straightaway? Because the sell through rate for the entire size range may not be equal. Every brand has certain sizes which sell more (oftentimes, far more) than other sizes…but you can’t have a production of only 6 sizes that are distributed all over the sizing chart. No factory is going to do that for you. So…while just “splitting” the difference may make sense on the surface level, using this method, you could still wind up losing money on those sizes which cost more to produce because you didn’t sell as many.

  8. Estelle says:

    Great post! :)

    If we were back in the days when everyone sewed their own clothes plus sized people would be spending more, because they’d need to buy more fabric to make the same dress or corset or whatever. Now that we pay for brands to make our clothes for us, people seem to have forgotten this. Especially with luxury lingerie where laces can cost £50 or £100 per metre, going up just a handful of dress sizes can massively impact the manufacturing cost.

    Sass A Frass Designs makes nipple pasties with Swarovski crystals in various sizes and charges more for each size up, which kind of seems unfair to people with bigger areolas but that’s just how it is – they use way more of the expensive crystals than the smaller sizes.

    All that said though, personally I won’t ever charge more for plus sizes because I get that it can come across as unfair and off-putting. Remember the fiasco when M&S charged £2 more for E+ cups? They defended it as paying for specialist design work to support larger sizes but the general public only saw discrimination. Equal prices = less chance of bad press! I’ve never seen a news story about the public complaining that smaller sizes aren’t cheaper than the rest.

    • Holly says:

      I totally agree. Scale is important. Expensive silk doesn’t grow on trees and needs to be accounted for in the cost of an item. I just don’t think that the average consumer understands that the price is rounded up rather than down.

  9. It’s true that a conversation about margins changes drastically when you’re a small indie boutique like Bluestockings vs. a much larger online store like HerRoom vs. a behemoth Amazon or Target. At that point, it’s basically comparing apples and oranges, because the reasons people are shopping with us are so different – which gets back to Holly’s point about the absolute necessity of supporting specialty designers, indies, and makers who make this their life’s work.
    That’s a really interesting note about ModCloth. On the one hand, I absolutely agree that consumer education about what goes into pricing is an issue (and the lack of consumer knowledge significantly benefits retailers, which you know). I’ve mostly tackled the pricing issue from the standpoint of ethical fashion – rallying against fast fashion, being transparent about where all the underthings stocked at Bluestockings are made, writing about the labor costs of lingerie. But that is just a drop in the bucket – it’s such a small piece of this conversation.

  10. As a retailer, I strongly prefer when plus size and “core” sizes are priced the same, because though industry folks might understand the reason for the difference, customers take one look at the price differential and every red flag goes up. It’s a fast way to lose plus size customers – and, incidentally, it pisses off socially conscious core size customers as well. So, I would much rather the cost difference was built into retail price and even wholesale, if it came down to it. I’m more interested in furthering equal access than in making a fast(er) buck on core sizing.
    Also, could not agree more with your final note about customers embracing specialty designers.

    • Cora says:

      Perhaps related to this, I thought it was interesting Holly used photos from Modcloth here as they’re an example of a brand that received tons of praise from many plus size people regarding pricing their plus size and misses size swimsuits the same. However, it turns out the price was raised by between $10-$15 above “regular” price on both styles. I don’t know if charging everyone more is really socially conscious or furthers equal access. It’s the sort of thing that looks good on the surface, but winds up being a bit problematic if you dig a little further.

      One of the things I’m constantly noticing is that people have no idea what goes into producing clothing, especially swim and intimate apparel. Is “flat pricing” (i.e. no difference between a misses size garment and a plus size garment) truly socially conscious or does it contribute to consumer unawareness regarding manufacturing and production…and therefore misguided consumer expectations?

      As an aside, while you, as a very small boutique may be willing to absorb the cost, the typical retailer likely is not, especially since an extra $2 multiplied over, say, a 150,000 piece order quickly becomes ridiculous. The margins on swim and intimates are very narrow compared to ready to wear (as I’m sure you already know). If a retailer is faced with something that’s going to further narrow those margins, they may choose to go with a brand that’s charging them less for core sizing…which only results in fewer in-stock options for plus sizes.

      • Holly says:

        Ha, I used those photos for just that reason, actually. It doesn’t help that quality (which equals more expensive) plus size pieces are seen as a bigger risk anyway. Look at a brand like Tia Lyn: great plus size pieces, well thought out construction, nice fabrics. I feel like they should be everywhere, but they’re not – part of that is because any plus size piece that is more than $50 can seem like a risk to smaller retailers.

    • Holly says:

      I get this! Consumer and industry perspective is different. I think both you and Estelle are right that higher plus size pricing just comes off as discriminatory, even if it’s really a reflection of what the manufacturer is doing. It puts retailers in a bad spot (and consumers in many ways).

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