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Extended Sizes Versus Plus Sizes: A Better Solution or Just More Confusion?


Cosabella Extended Line

Cosabella Extended Line

Cosabella has recently launched a gorgeous new expanded version of their bestselling line --- with the label of "extended sizes" instead of plus sizes. This wording isn't unique to Cosabella. With the campaigns like #droptheplus gaining popularity among consumers, lingerie brands and boutiques are looking for terms that go over better with customers than "plus size." Cosabella uses "extended" in much the same way everyone else does: for bras that go up to a G cup and sizes up to size 22.

While I'd love to find a better term than plus size (although I'm not bothered by it the way other people are), this use of extended is problematic in an industry that already has some serious issues separating customers who are smaller with larger breasts from plus size women who boast a variety of cup sizes. 

But before we get into why this is all terribly confusing for consumers, let's start with the good. Cosabella isn't the first brand to use extended sizes as a term, but they are the largest. Fittingly, they took on the new term after consulting with their plus size model, Emily Nolan, who has been active in the #droptheplus campaign. Cosabella deserves tons of praise for using a size appropriate model and for actually asking her for her opinions on issues that effect plus size women. The campaign shots are also beautiful and make you want to try the lingerie: they're a wonderful example of message and model working together well.

Cosabella Extended

Cosabella Extended

Unfortunately, a major brand promoting this use of extended is going to confuse the whole plus/full bust lingerie landscape even further. I've mentioned this issue before in passing. There's tons of confusion among both brands and consumers when it comes to using full bust, full figured and plus.

"Extended" works as an alternative to plus size, but it's also not clear who the line is for. Even Cosabella's own blog seems confused when it states, "Cosabella launches Cosabella Extendedan assortment of our best-selling silhouettes sized (32-36 D,DD-G & 38 D,DD-F), (1X-2X-3X) & (12/14, 16/18, 20/22)."  While it's great that Cosabella is exploring both larger sizes and larger cup sizes, the new line is clearly grouping them all together. This is a problem for lot of customers, whether you're a 38A or a 28G.

Cosabella Extended

Cosabella Extended

The size grouping issues in this campaign are common with other brands and boutiques as well. Full bust sizing refers to women with a smaller brand size and a larger cup size, while full figure sizing refers to plus size women with a larger cup size. Plus size is usually understood to encompass all women in the 14+ clothing size range, regardless of cup size.

Extended is most often used as a catch all term that may encompass as many as all three of these categories. While it's great that the lingerie world is embracing customers with larger cup sizes and with larger body sizes, they don't necessarily have the same set of needs when it comes to design and construction.

One of my biggest issues with the use of "extended" is that it furthers the assumption that all plus size women have larger breasts, which is simply not true. There are as many 42AA customers out there as 42G customers --- and all are plus size. A 42G customer would be considered full figured as well, but you hardly ever see that term used to define a lingerie size range online.

Cosabella Extended

Cosabella Extended

Part of this is a matter of customer education: the average lingerie customer won't know how to tell these terms apart either at this point. Part of marketing is coming up with ways to help your customers find exactly what they want, so it's up to brands and boutiques to get their terms straight and to pass that knowledge onto their customer base.

There's no shame in gently pointing a full figured customer towards a selection that suits them while pointing a plus size customer with a smaller cup size to a different set of options. Helping customers quickly find what fits them would result in less confusion and fewer returns, which would benefit everyone.

The complicating factor here is pretty obvious: the activist and emotional side of things. Plus size lingerie customers shouldn't have to settle for a term that makes them feel ugly, just as full bust customers shouldn't have to settle for a term that makes them feel bad. However, whatever terms we come up with need to come with definitions, and be used with some kind of regularity to be meaningful when it comes to actually shopping for lingerie.

Part of the reason "plus size" has such a hold on the industry is because it is one of the few terms that has a definition that everyone can agree on, for the most part. The way we describe the section of the lingerie boutique we shop in helps us know where to look, but it's also part of an identity that many people relate to on a personal level. While the use of extended sizing as a term seems like a step forward in terms of empowerment, it's a step backwards in terms of actually finding the things that people want to buy.

What do you think of the term "extended sizing"? Do you prefer it over plus size?


Holly Jackson

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

13 Comments on this post

  1. Babs Vermeulen says:

    It’s not the extended vs. Plus debate that gets under my skin in the Cosabella debate, it’s the continued emphasis on hourglass shapes, photoshopped for clean lines…no bumps or rolls to be seen…not very inclusive, is it?

  2. Patsy says:

    Not a fan of appropriating “Extended” as a euphemism for “Plus” when it has been a sub-category of plus-sized fashion all along. Extended sizes are those things above 3x and above size 22. Customers who’ve relied on this term get fooled by the promise of something for them when it turns out the label actually doesn’t make clothes in their size.
    I’m merely plus-sized, and Cosabella’s bras are not made for me; they’re too small. I don’t fault them for leaving me, in need of a UK 36H or US 36K bra, out of the segment of the market they supply. It’s a design and engineering niche after all, and there are other companies ready to take my dollars in exchange for well fitting and well constructed lingerie. However their campaign and embrace of #droptheplus leaves me feeling misled and further marginalized.
    In an era where “Tall” gets you the small at Starbucks, and their medium is referred to as “Grande” I don’t think “plus” as a discriptor for clothing or the size of women’s bodies is pejorative or in need of replacing. We’re not so fragile.

  3. Courtney says:

    It makes me feel like an afterthought. Here is our core range…ohh yea we want to sell to those larger women so we are going to extend it. Instead of making something specificaly for the needs of plus/full bust.

  4. caro says:

    i don’t like extended. i’m average band, full cup (34f) and it just seems illogical and confusing to me. and it seems off-putting.

    on top of it, as mentioned in the article, it further confuses other non-standard sizes, 26 bands with full cups, etc.

    i’m plus-size in most knickers and i’m FINE with it being called that.

  5. Nikki says:

    I was under the impression that the phrase, “extended sizing” was intended to be a catch-all phrase to describe any sizes out of the core-sizes.

    “Extended sizing” is bands from a 24-30, and 44+. It’s also AAA and AA cups, just the same as it is E-K. It’s a catch-all for the petite, the plus-size, the full-busted, and the small-busted. It is literally no more than what it says, an extended sizing range beyond core sizes. There is no one group that fits into “extended sizes”, and the term is left intentionally open.

  6. Lorraine says:

    I don’t see any difference in “extended” vs “plus” when it comes to empowerment. It still implies that there’s a normal size range and that some sizes are outside of that norm. I prefer plus sizes just because it’s easier to define. In their case extended sizes seems like a way to not commit to a full plus size line, since a 38 band size is on the smaller end of plus size.

    As for #droptheplus, I believe that’s mainly for models who are around size 12-14 and don’t want to identify with being plus size because they aren’t very overweight or obese. And I think that those models do deserve to be seen as just models and allowed to model straight sized clothes. Maybe if that were true, plus size brands would eventually move to use larger women who actually look like their customers.

  7. Thursday says:

    As a plus size consumer, for me, the specific term used to delineate sizing above the core doesn’t really worry me. I’m used to “plus”, and have to admit that “extended” doesn’t have any better connotations to me. I agree with the poster above though that the term “curvy” is completely useless, as with plus or extended there is already confusion as to whether bras will have larger bands, larger cups, or both, and “curvy” makes this even more opaque. I pretty much have to investigate any brand using these terms to determine if they include my large band/small cup combo (they usually don’t) so I don’t really favour add more terms to the already overwrought market.

  8. Jeanna says:

    Thank you, Holly, for an always thought-provoking and articulate discussion of issues we all need to figure out how to navigate. I don’t specialize in selling plus sizes (and am not likely to ever do so, since finding ethically made plus size lingerie is nightmarishly difficult) but will just echo Tiah’s comment that it seems like the average customer is not aware of where already-existing distinctions lie. When Bluestockings launched, I got a lot of flack for not selling plus sizes, though our bras went up to a 42G. Which, for lots of people apparently?, is not “plus.” Maybe it would more readily be accepted as “extended.” Who knows? The only contribution I have is that “plus” is a tremendously charged word (as you’ve often noted) and a primary benefit to introducing Cosabella’s line as “extended” is that they sidestep an absolute field of land mines – though their more astute customers will, obviously, still see the words as being of a kind.

  9. Tiah says:

    I tried to explain to someone the other day that there are sub-categories in lingerie (i.e., the average person who isn’t that interested in it as the rest of us), namely the difference between ‘plus’ sizes and ‘fuller bust’ sizes. The average consumer doesn’t even know that there is a difference between the two or that such definitions exist. They just look for ‘their size’ (or generally yes, mainline brands or plus brands). Throwing another term into the mix I don’t think is going to help with this confusion, also because as you point out, what constitutes ‘extended’ isn’t really made clear to said average consumer. And to be brutally honest, I feel such a massive part of not-wanting-to-referred-to-as-plus, especially with the plus models, is vanity and feeling like a certain level of mainstream success is limited under that label. It’s an in-industry thing started by a few plus models that’s gained notice by being made to be about the average woman and beauty ideals and all the (very real of course) effects that advertising has on the general public. And I totally get that. But fact of the matter is, there cannot be models of 30 different sizes working across the board- production would literally be impossible- as would shooting. A standard size model needs to be able fit a 34b and a plus/extended model needs to be able to fit a 36d. It’s just the job requirement- like if you want to be a jockey, you need to be tiny and if you want to be a basketball player, you need to be tall. And I feel like the whole ‘Drop The Plus’ thing and making it about the average woman and consumer being made to feel bad by an industry who’s production side they don’t understand is misleading when, it seems sort of like a self-serving thing started by models/identities involved to gain media attention for themselves (and I guess, as I mentioned, circumvent the path to the mainstream acknowledgement it is harder to reach for models beyond standard sample). This might sound entirely cynical, but if there’s anything I know about spending my entire life in this industry is how people self-promote. I just can’t help but feel bad when the only people who really seem like they might ‘benefit’ from this campaign are the campaigners themselves, and not the people they say they are representing, because the industry is not going to go into a meeting tomorrow, next year or in 5 years, and decide they are going to start producing everything in 5 different sample sizes every season- it just costs too much.

    • Susan says:

      Tiah you have put into words my exact feeling on the whole drop the plus campaign. I agree that it appears to be all about the models’ feelings on being referred to as plus and how this affects them and their careers.
      I am a plus size and full busted customer (36 GG/H) and all labels are pretty meaningless to me. As with fashion, most lingerie manufacturers/designers seem to use their own definitions and have their own cutoffs. Some have different size ranges for different bras in their own catalogue. For me this means that if I see a bra I like I would have click through and to check if it comes in my size. I do this, even if I’m pretty sure the brand doesn’t carry my size, you never know! If i can get it great, if not I move on. That said I continue to be surprised when a brand describing themselves as full busted does not carry my size, as happened with Adina Raey recently.

  10. TBonz says:

    Extended only goes up to band size 38?
    Not extended at all, at least when it comes to band size. Normal range goes up to 38. So I guess extended only means cup size and if you’re one of the unfortunates 40 or above who doesn’t wear a D or above, you’re still out-of-luck.
    I don’t care what they call it if they have larger band sizes available including for B and C cups. Honestly, I’m plus-sized and that term doesn’t bother me. The “curvy” designation is more of a term that makes me roll my eyes.
    It’s always good to see more selection in lingerie. There’s currently not enough.

  11. wendybien says:

    On the question of terminology I defer to people actually wearing this size range but have to ask, has Cosabella actually succeeded in creating a range that women with larger-volume busts (regardless of the size of the rest of their body) can wear comfortably? I realize these are not marketed as super supportive bras, but the fit in these photos looks iffy–not just lack of uplift (which would be normal, and arguably acceptable if you know you are buying less-structured or unstructured loungewear) but the model looks in distinct danger of spilling out.

  12. avigayil says:

    I far prefer the term ‘extended’ to plus size. Actually, I have never quite figured out what plus size is as different stores have differen size ‘cut offs’. I get full bust – larger chest but not neccessarily larger body to follow – but i always thought it could include larger band sizes – just that it didn’t need to. The word ‘extended’, to me, means beyond the standard range: whether that is a larger band with small cup or smaller band with large cup. Of course, I like the idea that one day they will all just be sizes.

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