The UMass Store needs to be more size inclusive

Plus-size people cannot show their school spirit the same way an average sized person can

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Caroline O’Connor/ Daily Collegian (2014)

By Nathan Legare, Collegian Correspondent

Imagine you’re taking a walk around the University of Massachusetts campus — what’s the first thing you see? For many, it’s the iconic maroon, white and black outfits that line the sidewalks as students show off their school spirit. Whether it’s an Isenberg hoodie, a Humanities & Fine Arts T-shirt or a pair of UMass sweatpants, merchandise is readily available to those who want to represent the University or their individual college. Or at least it’s available to a select group of people.

I’ve always been a big guy. Ever since my freshman year of high school, I’ve worn a 3XL shirt or sweatshirt and a size 44-46 pair of jeans. This has made me a bit of an odd one out my whole life, as most of my friends are significantly smaller than me. While my friends could all share clothing at sleepovers or borrow a swimsuit if they forgot one, I never got this option because of our size difference.

When I came to UMass last year, I was shocked that a school with more than 22,000 undergraduate students would have such little clothing that fits me. While everyone could browse the UMass Store as they pleased, I was exiled to just a single rack of clothing, fittingly labeled “3XL.” It was humiliating that just because of my size, I had to shop in a separate section of the store, with next to no options.

This year, 3XL options have (thankfully) been distributed throughout the racks of the physical store, but this does not mean the options are anywhere close to plentiful. On the UMass Store’s website, clicking on the “clothing” tab allows the user to search the entire store’s catalog, and in addition, filter by size. As of Oct. 20, there are only 22 available products in size 3XL, compared to the 227 products available in an adult size M. Of those 22 products, nine are sports merchandise and 4 are labeled for family members, such as “UMass Dad” or “UMass Grandpa.” This leaves a grand total of nine items left for 3XL-sized UMass students.

Notably, there are no options available for pants, non-sports related T-shirts, or individual college merchandise, beside one 3XL Isenberg hoodie. If I wanted to show that I was a part of the College of Natural Sciences, I would be flat out of luck, as no CNS merchandise comes in plus sizes. The store’s lack of inclusivity goes further than just plus-sized people, too. Searching the website for XS sizes brings up only 26 results.

This lack of inclusion alienates people with different body types and promotes the prevailing culture where plus-size people are seen as social outcasts. If my college doesn’t provide me the option to represent my school spirit, does it even want me to be a part of it?

Some might argue that there is a lack of demand for plus-sized clothing, or that including a wider range of sizes promotes unhealthy lifestyles or obesity, but this is simply untrue. According to the market research group NPD, plus-sized clothing in the United States encompasses 19 percent of the entire women’s clothing market.

While I’m no economics major, this certainly signals a demand for larger sizes in my eyes. As the average American is getting larger every year, the need for plus-sized clothing is only going to rise as time goes on. It’s not promoting obesity; it’s simply asking to be seen and treated as normal human beings.

UMass’ lack of inclusivity is oddly unique for schools in the Five College area. For example, when shopping at Smith College’s official bookstore, users can search the catalog by size, much like at the UMass Store. Searching for 3XL results in 54 articles of unisex-style clothing, as well as 50 women’s items. In my opinion, it is simply embarrassing for UMass to have fewer plus-size clothing options than a school with less than half the number of students.

It’s safe to say that while some colleges in the area offer larger sizes, UMass’ selection mirrors most clothing stores in the United States. If I want to purchase a new shirt, I don’t get the privilege of walking into any old store at the mall and grabbing one off the rack. Instead, I need to go to stores with a specialized big and tall section, like as JCPenney or Burlington. Even then, the options are limited and pricey, leaving Amazon as the only reliable provider of affordable, plus-size clothing.

I’m well-aware that I don’t possess the power to change the culture of billion-dollar clothing companies, and I’m even more aware that I can’t change our society’s skinny-focused culture. However, in bringing light to the discrepancies and alienation of plus-size people at a university level, I hope that some positive change can be made. No matter the body type and no matter the size, everyone deserves to feel seen and included. UMass, it’s time for your store to finally reflect all of your students.

Nathan Legare can be reached at [email protected]