Labels. I don’t love them (and you probably don’t either) but as human beings, we have to have them, and assigning labels to things is pretty much burned into our DNA.
But when it comes to labels like “plus size” labels suddenly don’t seem so useful as the definition seems so unclear. There are plenty of models that get the plus size label but don’t have anything more than normal hips that you’d expect to see on most women. Then, you have big, beautiful plus size models like Tess Holiday that are closer to 300 pounds.
Both of these types seem to fall into the same plus size category…but is that right? What is really considered plus size?
The definition can vary slightly between brands, industries, or even individual stores but plus size is generally considered to start at size 14 or size 16. That equates to a waist size between 34.5 inches and 38 inches. However, as people of all sizes continue to be more accepted the definition continues to change.
Of course, it’s not always quite that cut and dry, and labels like plus size always fail to deliver when you consider that everyone has their own unique shape and size.
That’s why we’re going to take a closer look at everything you need to know about what people, fashion designers, clothing brands, and everyone else really means why they describe something or someone as plus size!
Let’s get started!
Should I Worry About Being Plus Size?
If you’re worried about whether or not a random clothing company has called your size plus size and what it means for you as a person…then take a breath. There’s nothing wrong with being plus size and there are a long of experts, studies, and professionals who all agree that you can be fat, fit, and healthy.
Your clothing size or weight doesn’t decide your self worth so don’t stress if you fall into the plus size clothing category. If you think it might, then it’s definitely time to stop worrying about whether or not you’re plus size.
On the other hand, if you’re wondering what’s considered plus size so you can figure out if those black dress pants are available in your size or you want to know if that cute elbow sleeve top is going to fit then it makes perfect sense to think, but not worry, about plus sizes!
Clothing sizes are already confusing and understanding if you fall in the plus size category for any particular brand can help you find the right fit faster. For example, there’s a big difference between simple sizes like 1XL and XL (even though they look like the same thing) and it all hinges on the plus size question. That’s just the start of it and understanding how brands set the plus size definition can make your life a lot easier.
The rest of this article will primarily talk about the clothing side of things so you can be a smarter and more efficient plus size shopper!
Plus Size Is The New Average (Seriously)
If you spend any time on social media (not something I can recommend) or even just engrossing yourself in popular culture, you might assume that plus size women are a rare breed. Or even something to be hidden away from the world.
But that couldn’t be further from the truth, at least in America.
A recent study found that the average American woman’s clothing size was between 16 and 18 which is firmly in plus size territory by just about any standard. That means plus size is truly (without hyperbole) the average and not a special category at all.
That also really muddies the waters of what is considered plus size when, at least in America, it’s just average!
What Weight Is Considered Plus Size?
One of the most common questions around plus sizes is whether or not there’s a weight that makes you “plus size” or not.
As you might expect, things just aren’t that simple.
There’s no specific weight when a person is considered plus size. There may be rough guidelines based on weight and height but it’s not possible to make any real sizing assumptions just based on those two numbers as every person carries their weight in different ways. Instead, plus size is based on specific measurements.
For a great example of this, check out the awesome video below with more than a dozen beautiful women all wearing the same dress. Notice how they all carry their weight differently and regardless of their dress size, they don’t all look the same!
Of course, there are some height and weight measurements that will clearly put someone into a plus size category but weight isn’t what clothing brands and manufacturers use to set their size standards. So to get the best fit, you’ll want to stick with your actual measurements instead of worrying about your weight.
What Does The Fashion Industry Consider Plus Size?
The plus size clothing market is huge and according to a recent study it’s expected to grow to almost 700 billion across the globe.
That’s a hug market and the fashion industry is eager to be a part of it.
This also means that the real definition for what plus size is according to the fashion industry can get pretty confusing as they try to pander to people of size with “plus size” models that are really something like a mid-size.
Or in more extreme cases, even a size zero.
According to model Elianah Sukoenig, she was featured in the curve or plus size division of her catalog while she was a size zero.
At best, this makes it almost impossible for people to speak the same language when it comes to sizing clothing and if Elianah Sukoenig is plus size then I’m lost! But even more concerning is that this can cause some serious body image issues for women (especially younger women) who see a size 0 listed as plus size.
Beyond the more extreme examples, it’s typical for the fashion industry to define plus size as starting between size 12 and in some cases even size 10. You can see this in some high fashion brands that commonly don’t offer dresses in sizes past a 10 or 12.
Overall, the fashion industry isn’t a good measure of what’s considered plus size. The combination of outrageous standards and a willingness to pander for dollars make it difficult to determine the signal from noise.
What Size Are Plus Size Models?
The world of plus size modeling has the same problem as the fashion industry overall and brands are quick to introduce models that they call plus size just to try and attract those plus size dollars.
So what size are plus size models really?
By most definitions plus size models are size 14 and in some cases a size 12. After collecting the dress size of several dozen popular plus size models, the most common size is 16 but there are many models that are larger or smaller.
It seems that the fashion industry finds size 16 to perfect size for the average consumer. At size 16, these models are considered to clearly be voluptuous but still not so different from what we’d be used to seeing in fashion magazines and there’s still a long way to go before we can routinely see plus size models that represent the average woman.
Still, there are models that are pushing the boundaries like the size 22 Tess Holliday but unfortunately, her career is more often notable for its controversy rather than what she’s doing for the plus size community.
Aren’t Plus Size Models Just Models?
While I’m a big fan of plus size models for what they do for awareness, I really look forward to the day when plus size models are just called models!
After all, that’s what they are.
Yes, they are plus size by society’s standards, but at the end of the day, they’re really just models.
So just like we’ve stopped using comedienne in favor of just calling comics (regardless of gender) comedians I hope we can do the same for plus size models and just refer to them as models!
Plus Size Means Different Things To Different Brands
But it’s not just the world of modeling and fashion that has confusing standards for what plus size means- different brands can have completely different definitions of plus size.
There are too many to go through but let’s look at some of the big ones and how they think about plus size. Overall, most brands seem to start plus sizes at 16 but there are (of course) plenty of exceptions.
Forever 21 starts their plus size line (which they call Plus + Curve) at a size 12 and it runs up to a size 24. While this represents some solid inclusivity for dresses, their jeans are a little lacking and they only offer sizes up to 18. We’ve already established that the average American woman is now between size 16 and 18 which makes this line of jeans more than a little lacking.
The standard American Eagle line seems to run up to size 18 but doesn’t specify any of these as plus size. They do however have a curvy-friendly line that runs up to 24 so it’s reasonable to assume that AE considers plus size to start somewhere around size 18 or beyond.
Old Navy considers plus size to start size 16 and as one of the more inclusive brands they offer up to size 30.
The Gap uses the same sizing metrics as Old Navys so they also start their plus size line at size 16 and have plenty of inclusive sizes.
Shein starts their plus size line at a size 12 (or a 0XL for them). However, they do make things easier with a more expansive approach to finding the right size based on your measurements and not just your size.
Urban Outfitters isn’t a great spot for plus size ladies (at least as far as I can tell) and doesn’t seem to carry dresses above a size 16. It’s fair to say then that Urban Outfitters consider plus size to be anything beyond a size 16.
What About Mid Size?
As if things weren’t already confusing, there’s a popular trend to introduce the idea of mid size.
So what is mid size?
Most industry experts define mid size as falling between sizes 10 and 16 but the definition depends in part on how you define plus size. This can be a helpful definition for women that find off the rack sizes aren’t quite right but are also having trouble finding their size in size-inclusive brands too.
It might seem like we don’t need any more definitions but a mid size range can truly be useful for women who don’t fit in the binary plus size or not plus size categories.
At this time, I’m not aware of any stores that are especially catering to the mid size woman but I hope to see more of this in the future!
What Is Super Plus Size?
On the other side of things, you may see some brands offering what is called super plus size.
So what is super plus size?
The definition can vary between brands, but super plus size clothing is usually considered to start at size 26 or size 28. You may also see these sizes referred to as super size, extended sizes or outsized clothing by some brands.
Brands like Torrid regularly carry these sizes and overall these larger options are becoming more commonly available.
What’s Considered Plus Size In Jeans?
For the most part, the same definition of plus size that is used with dresses applies to jeans. That means plus size jeans usually start around a size 14 or 16 but it’s not uncommon to see plus size sizing start at size 12.
However, the big difference here is that my jean size is usually larger than my dress size and I’m not the only woman that that’s true for. When you consider how jeans have to fit compared to the loose-fitting dress, this shouldn’t be surprising but it can be confusing for some women.
While you shouldn’t worry about your size at all, you definitely don’t need to worry if you notice that your jeans size is larger than your dress size. It doesn’t mean that you’ve gained weight or are now considered plus size (not that that’s a problem) it’s just a different fit for a different garment.
Frequently Asked Questions
You may have ended up here after searching for a super-specific question about your particular size. In that case, Google will hopefully take you straight to this section where we’ll talk about the most commonly questioned sizes!
Is Size 10 Plus Size?
Whether you’re looking at it from the perspective of the fashion industry or just about any clothing brand, size 10 isn’t considered plus size. You’ll be hard-pressed to find any brand that considers a size 10 to be plus size and most department stores will carry size 10 in their regular sections.
Is Size 12 Plus Size?
Size 12 is considered plus size by many brands such as Forever 21 and Shein but it’s not consistent across all brands. You’ll find size 12 clothing included in both regular sizes as you’d find in a department store and within many plus size lines.
Is Size 14 Plus Size?
Many brands don’t consider size 14 to be plus size but some do. Popular brands like Shien and Forever 21 start plus size at size 12 while others like Old Navy and The Gap don’t start until size 16 which puts size 14 right in the middle of regular and plus size.
Is Size 16 Plus Size?
By most standards, size 16 is considered plus size. However, it’s often the starting point for plus size clothing and so it can still be considered an in-between size if you look across different brands and manufacturers.
Is Size 18 Considered Plus Size?
While the majority of clothing brands will consider size 18 to be plus size there are still some brands, such as American Eagle, that include size 18 in than standard line of clothing. Still, it’s safe to assume that size 18 will be considered plus size by most clothing brands and manufacturers.
Is Size 20 Plus Size?
Yes, size 20 is considered plus size by almost any clothing brand. Most brands start plus sizes around size 16 so size 20 is included in that.
What might seem like a simple question has anything but a simple answer and figuring out what’s considered plus size is by no means a straightforward question!
Not only do you have to consider the skew of the fashion industry on the definition of plus size but different brands will also take it upon themselves to come up with their own standards and criteria.
That makes it hard to shop but it can also cause a lot of stress for folks that are worried about whether or not they’re considered plus size or not.
At the end of the day, we’re all built differently and there’s no problem with being plus size or not! But hopefully, this has helped you figure out where plus size usually falls and help you find the perfect fit!