The first usage of the term ‘plus sized’ was found in a Lane Bryant ad in the late 1920s.
The Beginning of the Term ‘Plus Size’
Up until the late 1800s, we all made our clothes from home. There were no Forever 21s or malls to buy the latest trends. Everything was tailored to our exact shape, and we weren’t defined by what brands considered to be a size 6 or 8 that year. Thanks to a developing fashion industry and industrial growth, mass manufacturing took over the job of making our clothes.
The first usage of the term ‘plus sized’ was found in a Lane Bryant ad in the late 1920s. The term, however, did not stick and did not become commonly used until the 1940s-50s.
It was in 1939 that the National Bureau of Home Economics conducted the first ever large-scale scientific study of women’s body measurements. The study took 59 different measurements on each of the 15,000 American women who volunteered. It should be noted that because the volunteers for this survey were paid a nominal fee for participating, and that it was during the Great Depression, this may have skewed the data toward underweight body types. The results were published nonetheless.
Soon clothing manufacturers and businesses estimated that not having their fashions marked with some sort of standardized sizes was costing them millions of dollars every year. So the National Bureau of Standards was asked to provide sizing standards for the industry. The NBS utilized the earlier study and added the measurement data of an additional 6,300 women. The sizing designations became a combination of a number that represented the bust size; one of three letters, (T) tall, (R) regular, or (S) short for height; and a symbol to indicate hip girth, slender (-), average (no symbol), or full (+).… we think you get it now.
Over the course of time, women who were classified as above average in size, whether it be height or hip girth, and no matter how skewed the numbers, have been made to “suffer” labels put on their size. In the 20s it was ‘stout’, and later it passed through many other terms, such as ‘gracious,’ ‘regal,’ ‘chubby,’ ‘outsize,’ ‘full-figured.’ Today some of these terms are clearly offensive to us, yet at the time they were considered to be inclusive and appeared prominently in adverts for clothing, patterns, and fashion columns as acceptable terms. ‘Chubby,’ like every single term before it, it was changed after it was deemed to have a negative connotation. Each time a term was replaced with another, and it was a relief from the oppressive and judgmental term before it. The change would bring approval and satisfaction; then a period of neutrality; until years later the shift towards unrest begins again and along with it, feelings of discourse, unworthiness, and even outrage.
This makes you wonder, is it really the term we have an issue with, or the negative connotation of being “outside the average,” regardless of the word? Our issue with and distaste for “plus size” is no different than the distaste for all of the others that came before it. “A rose by any other name […] “ – Shakespeare. Is there a magic word that would function properly in labeling for distribution that would not somehow become offensive?