Those sizes didn’t match the women she was meeting as they entered her shop, Inwood said. Close to 65 percent were looking for plus-size gowns. So after what Inwood called a “real quick flip,” the shop reopened Jan. 1, 2010, to cater exclusively to those women.
It’s a growing market, she added. Fashion writers widely report that the average American woman wears a size 14, which in bridal and evening wear is a size 18. That’s where the traditional plus-size category begins. And market researchers at NPD Group Inc. reported in 2012 that two-thirds of plus-size women said shopping for plus-size clothing was more stressful than shopping for regular clothing.
More than half of those women said it was hard to find plus-size clothing with the same level of quality as other clothes, the NPD Group reported.
“In order to be successful in this category, retailers and brands need to create a comfortable shopping environment tailored to a variety of shapes and sizes,” NPD Group’s chief industry analyst, Marshal Cohen, said in a release accompanying the report. “There are so many consumers who wear at least one item that is plus size, and yet the market is dramatically under-served.”
Inwood said some 40 percent of her customers, maybe more, come from outside Indiana, many of them from the Chicago area or from Cleveland and Detroit. Most are seeking a bridal gown, but a fair number — 132 out of the 496 who’d visited since January — want a bridesmaid’s dress or something for their appearance as mother of the bride.
“They come in with a deer-in-the-headlights look,” Inwood said. “They’re afraid of how they’re going to be treated.”
On average, her customers wear a size 24 in wedding dresses. They’re so used to people looking down on them, she explained, that “they see judgment everywhere they go.” Some of the women she works with have broken down crying in the dressing room as they got ready to try on dresses.