Economy

Why Old Navy Charges Plus Size Women More Than Plus Size Men

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A petition on the site Change.org accuses Old Navy of discriminating against plus size women by charging them more for clothing items while not charging larger men any extra money.

Renee Posey, who started the petition, writes that when she was recently shopping on its website, “I noticed that they were charging $12-$15 more for plus-sized womens jeans — but not upcharging jeans for ‘big’ men.” As an example, she points out that the Rockstar Super Skinny Jeans cost $27 for a size 6 but $40 for a size 26. Men’s Slim-Fit Jeans, meanwhile, cost $25 for all sizes.

Posey also notes that the company “takes it one-step further” by making plus size women shop in a different section of the site while keeping men’s clothes all in the same area. The petition letter states, “This overtly discriminatory pricing policy indicates sexism and sizeism on the part of Old Navy that is unfair to women of size and unacceptable to me as a consumer of Old Navy’s products.”

A company spokesperson told ThinkProgress that the higher price point for women’s plus size clothes “reflects the selection of unique fabrics and design elements,” such as four-way stretch materials and contoured waistbands meant to flatter curves. She said most men’s clothes don’t have these elements.

Plus size shoppers are an important part of the consumer base. Sizes 14 and over are considered to be plus, but the average American woman is a size 14. People who fall into the plus size category make up 67 percent of the population. And plus size sales grew 1 percent in 2012, reaching $15.4 billion, out of an overall $108 billion industry. Some clothing companies are taking advantage of these trends, such as ModCloth, where plus size clothes made up 8 percent of revenue in 2013.

Others have taken an adversarial approach to larger customers. Lululemon founder Chip Wilson famously blamed a controversy over sheer yoga pants on the fact that “some women’s bodies just don’t actually work” for his brand’s clothes because their thighs rub together.

While Old Navy is under fire for charging larger women more, women generally shell out more for many of the exact same products that men buy. Gender-specific markups mean that in California, women were paying about $1,350 more than men a year for the same products before the state banned gender pricing. Women’s deodorant, for example, costs 30 cents more per ounce on average than men’s even when the only difference is the scent. Women also get charged more for haircuts, dry cleaning, and other beauty products like razors. Even for high-priced items like cars, women are given quotes that are $200 higher than those for men.

All of this discrimination is legal given that there is no federal ban on discrimination in sales of goods and services. Some states and cities have passed bans on gender pricing but they often have lots of loopholes.

Women, of course, have to pay these higher prices with less given that the gender wage gap means the average woman working full time will make just 78 percent of what a man will make. That gap is even bigger for overweight women, who are less likely to get higher-paying, white collar jobs than average-sized women and men, while overweight men don’t experience a penalty.