Originally created 12/26/96

America grows into Big & Tall market



From couch potatoes to bodybuilders, Americans are getting bigger. And along with the growth of waistlines and pec muscles comes booming growth in the retail industry of clothing for plus-sized men.

Big men - with waistlines over 44 inches - and tall men - 6'3" and over - together make up 15 percent of the male population, according to data collected by Casual Male Big & Tall, a nationwide chain that specializes in clothes for large men. Big and tall clothing sales make up 10 percent of the entire men's apparel market, making it a $4 billion dollar industry, and growing rapidly.

Retailers are beginning to realize that large men make up a significant segment of the population, and are increasing the selection of clothing in large sizes, says Marie Precurato, district manager for Casual Male Big & Tall.

"People are beginning to realize that there are big men who want to look good," says Theresa Atwood, the manager of Augusta's Casual Male store. "For years all you could find for the large man was plaid shirts and polyester pants; now the selections are much more stylish."

A government survey released this fall indicated that for the first time ever, overweight Americans outnumbered normal-weight people. Possible causes could be small reductions in physical activity, such as the advent of remote controls, or overeating. Athletic men are also getting bigger, increasing their chest size with weight training.

Pat Becton, manager of O'Connell's Menswear in Martinez, has been selling big and tall sizes for 15 years. That niche brings in 60 percent of the store's revenue.

"The selection in the past few years has improved tremendously," she said. "When we first got into this business, all we could order were drab colors and polyester. Now designers are offering so much more variety; the clothes are more fashionable than they've ever been."

Mrs. Becton attributes the increase to a realization in the minds of clothing designers and wholesalers that "just because someone is overweight doesn't mean he wants to look drab."

She has noticed the growth, literally, of the big and tall niche. She says many of her customers used to come shopping with their fathers when they were boys; most of these young men grew up to be taller and bigger than their dads.

"I guess people are just bigger than they used to be," she says.

The glut of fashionable clothing for large men can be seen in the attitudes of the customers, Ms. Precurato said.

"Our customers are some of the happiest, most pleasant people to deal with," she said. "Whenever we open a new store, the general reaction is `finally, you're here!' People have seen our stores in other cities, and are thrilled that we're in their town."