Why is the market for plus-size men’s fashion still largely untapped?

The plus size market is growing, and that doesn’t go unnoticed. Fashion brands are responding and giving plus-size models a place in their campaigns, and more and more diverse models are appearing on the catwalks. What is striking, however, is that it only seems to be women. Only a small group of men dare to be plus-size models. Where are all these plus size men? What’s happening in the plus size men’s fashion market? FashionUnited gets to the bottom of the matter.

When FashionUnited delved into the topic, it quickly became clear that there were very few figures to be found about the plus-size men’s fashion market. This is surprising given that market research firm Future Market Insight (FMI) states that men are the leading gender in the plus size market. The global plus-size market was worth a total of $288 trillion in 2023 and is expected to exceed $500 trillion by 2033, according to FMI. Although men are the leading gender in the plus size market, this is not reflected in how society is portrayed in fashion. Plus-size men are still rare on the catwalk. In fact, their share appears to be declining.

The industry magazine Vogue Business took a close look at the 66 FW24 men’s fashion shows from the fashion weeks in Milan and Paris. What came of it? Of the 2,855 looks in Milan and Paris, 98.3 percent of the models were a “normal” size [unter Größe 48, Anm. d. Red.]. Only 1.5 percent of models wore a medium size [Größe 48-54, Anm. d. Red.] and plus size men [mit Größe 56 oder größer als XL, Anm. d. Red.] only accounted for 0.2 percent. The number of models wearing an average size or plus size at the FW24 shows fell by 7.7 and 0.4 percent respectively. To give you an idea, according to Vogue Business, only two Paris fashion shows – out of 66 shows in Milan and Paris – featured at least one plus-size model on the runway. Compared to the SS24 shows, there were still six out of 72 shows, and a season before there were eight out of 69 shows. Why aren’t plus-sized men in the spotlight (yet)?

Although plus-sized men are not yet normalized in the fashion industry, several fashion companies are making efforts to give them a platform. Jordy Maarseveen, CEO of the modeling agency New Generation Model Management, added plus-sized men to his portfolio in 2022. “I’m noticing an increasing demand for plus-size male models, and I think that’s a very good development. We mainly receive booking requests from big fashion brands.”

New Generation Model Management has four plus-size men in its portfolio, but its plus-size women offering is much more extensive and spans several pages on the site. According to Maarseveen, this is because plus-size male models are still rare. “We can constantly use the men we have in our portfolio. The only problem is that they often have other activities besides modeling.”

The market for plus-size men’s fashion: is additional attention required?

According to fashion psychologist Anke Vermeer, we have to go back to the roots of the problem: the effects of the portrayal of plus-size men on the catwalk, in fashion brands’ campaigns or on social media have hardly been studied. Vermeer believes the studies focus primarily on women and the impact of body positivity on women, but also the impact of social media on their self-image, eating issues and self-confidence. “It’s really not that men don’t struggle with their self-image, it just seems that researchers and [in diesem Fall] Fashion brands pay very little attention to it,” she told FashionUnited.

Her findings may be accurate because when FashionUnited investigated, it turned out that almost all of the studies focused on women. Only a few highlight the male side of the story, such as the study by the Belgian university KU Leuven on the effects of non-idealized models in advertising campaigns on men. This study finds that men view themselves more positively when presented with images showing different body types compared to models with a lean and athletic body. When distinguishing between different body types, a man does not view himself more positively when he encounters a plus-sized man in an advertising campaign. The researchers conclude that more diverse models as well as plus-sized models in advertising can have a positive impact on men’s body image, while non-idealized models appear to be less successful in campaigns aimed at thin men. The representation of diverse models in advertising creates a feeling of recognition and therefore a positive experience.

Although representation of different male body types is still generally lacking, it is being taken up sporadically, whether or not it is directly related to the fashion industry. The German brewery Brlo Beer imitated Calvin Klein’s SS24 campaign, in which Jeremy Allen White advertises underwear. Brlo Beer filmed the campaign in Berlin and showed a hairy, taller man imitating Allen White and promoting a non-alcoholic (full) beer.

Property of BRLO Beer.

“There is no such thing as plus-size men’s fashion”: Experts clear up the truth

Another reason why plus-size men aren’t in the spotlight (yet) could be that men generally pay less attention to judging their bodies than women. In short, men have better things to do, says sociologist Robert Gugutzer, according to Germany’s Zeit magazine. This idea comes from the fact that men used to be accepted because something “more important” mattered: a social status, such as their job, wealth or fame. “That’s why men didn’t have to worry about their bodies. The fuller man did not correspond to the ideal of beauty, but the ideal of beauty was not important,” says Gugutzer. Men were able to concentrate on their careers, while women struggled for centuries to accept their bodies and conform to the ideal of beauty. After all, women were economically dependent on men. If a man worried about his body, it meant that he lost control of his body because he was exposed to the opinions of others. This contradicts the status of male leadership, argued Gugutzer, and is also described in research at KU Leuven University.

According to author Lauren Downing Peters, who wrote the book “Fashion Before Plus-Size; Bodies, Bias and the Birth of an Industry,” fashion for men exists in Plus sizes just don’t work. “Men’s fashion, and men’s tailoring in particular, has always offered bodies of different shapes and sizes,” she told FashionUnited. In British and American fashion magazines from the 18th to the early 20th centuries, bespoke tailors even showcased their innovative design techniques to provide even the tallest men with suits in two hundred different sizes that took into account different proportions. “Physical diversity was not viewed as a problem, but as an opportunity to demonstrate the tailors’ craftsmanship. No categories were created between the normal male body and the larger body.”

“Tailors, especially those who worked at the highest levels, saw something in all bodies that they called ‘disproportion’ and that could be corrected through the power of their tailoring. Whether it was a crooked shoulder, an unbalanced hip or a pot belly, they were all looked at the same way,” said Downing Peters. At the beginning of the 20th century, customers were still encouraged by retailers to experience the perfect fit in store. And that’s still the case in men’s fashion today, explains Downing Peters. “Men are more inclined to be heavier in our society, and height can often be a symbol of power or pride, even aligned with athleticism, just think of an NFL linebacker [ein Verteidiger im American Football, Anm. d. Red]. As with everything, women are subject to strict moral guidelines about what is an acceptable body.”

The psychology of the plus-size men’s fashion market: Is emphasizing diversity a requirement?

Regardless of whether plus-size men’s fashion deserves special attention or not, it should be clear that there is still a long way to go when it comes to body normalization.

According to Vermeer, men can feel just as insecure as women, and we shouldn’t run away from it. Above all, the fashion psychologist hopes that fashion brands will begin to show more diversity in male body types in their advertising and on the catwalk. “We should strive to make fashion a reflection of society. And the man with a size more should also be a part of it”.

Maarseveen believes that the plus size market is only thriving and that it will do something good for the men who move in it. “I hope that this is not something temporary, but that this movement continues. Then it can only become very important. Everyone needs to feel seen and heard. That’s the case with everything, including the fashion industry.”

This translated article previously appeared on FashionUnited.nl