More Fabric, More Money?

British Retailer Is Accused of Charging ‘Fat Tax’

Size is a sensitive subject in the clothing business … So when one of Britain’s most popular and affordable clothing giants was found to charge more for plus-size clothing, it was accused of imposing a “fat tax” on women.

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The pricing by the store, New Look, revived a debate over whether the use of more fabric for the same outfit should logically cost more.

The controversy erupted when a New Look customer, Maria Wassell, said she discovered that a pair of green-striped trousers cost 15 percent more in all sizes above 16 (the equivalent of a Size 12 in the United States), which are considered plus sizes in Britain. (Even the phrase “plus size” is problematic to some, who argue that the industry’s labels are unrealistic.)

Ms. Wassell, 43, a retail supervisor from Kent, in southeast England, also discovered that a T-shirt and dress in standard sizes were cheaper than identical versions in the plus-size section, according to the local news media.

“It’s like being discriminated against for being plus size when I’m only slightly bigger than average,” she told The Sun newspaper. “The average size for a British woman is now a Size 16.”

She declared that the retailer was enforcing a “fat tax.”

Outraged social media users tossed in all sorts of comparisons: Should people with bigger feet be charged more for shoes? And, perhaps more to the point: Should petite people be charged less?

Amanda Bowes, a British fashion designer for plus-size online retail outlets, called New Look’s pricing criteria “harsh,” and said that the more-fabric argument did not hold water.

“Obviously it costs more to make plus-size clothing because of the amount of fabric used, but if the pricing metric is going to be based on size, then every size should be priced differently,” she said in a phone interview on Wednesday.

“If smaller-sized people aren’t getting discounts, then plus-sized people shouldn’t have to pay a surplus,” she added. “We rarely see ‘tall’ and ‘maternity’ editions of clothing being priced differently. It’s cruel and unfair to single out one body type.”

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