As a teenager, my friends and I visited Victoria’s Secret quite often, carrying fistfuls of wadded up cash that we’d earned babysitting the Friday night before. We would enter the store together, but once we crossed the threshold we were forced to part ways: They’d make a beeline for the bins of bargain panties, and I would scurry to the back of the store in search of the fragrances and body lotions.
I endlessly tested tubes of Very Sexy and Love Spell until my friends were done trying on bras, and my skin had absorbed so many smells that I was odiferously unrecognizable as a human being, and instead presented as a glitter-dusted bundle of very sexy vanilla. I remember hoping that none of them would notice I rarely joined them in the dressing room. As a teenager at a size 18, I couldn’t fit into any of the clothing at Victoria’s Secret—not those 5-for-$25 panties; not the sweatpants with “Pink” on the butt; not a single, solitary Body by Victoria bra—and as a 33-year-old woman wearing a size 22, I still can’t.
For that reason alone, I’m not surprised that, according to recent reports, Victoria’s Secret is dying. For me and other women like me—who can’t fit into its lingerie that stops at a size XL or DDD cup—it never really lived in the first place.
According to a recent report from Victoria’s Secret parent company L Brands Inc, sales dropped one percent in the five weeks leading up to July 7, a continuation of a steady decline that the brand has seen since 2016, when it announced the decision to stop selling swimwear and apparel to focus on lingerie and beauty. In 2017, WWD reported that Victoria’s Secret’s comparable sales declined every single month. In February 2018, the Wall Street Journal reported that retail sales dropped six percent the previous December, in what is normally a high-volume time of year. In May 2018, Business Insider reported that sales continued to decline for both the Victoria’s Secret and PINK brands.
Even in light of all that, the recent one percent drop was surprising, as it happened in just over a month's time, and immediately followed a newly extended semi-annual sale. Randal Konik, a financial analyst, described the situation to Business of Fashion as “game over,” adding that the brand is suffering from “massive traffic declines, zero pricing power, and market share losses [are] mounting.”
Investigating the brand's worrisome news, I chatted with several straight-size women who once regularly visited Victoria's Secret stores and shopped from its website but no longer do. I’ve had extensive conversations with fellow plus-size women in the past about the brand’s blind spots, but I was curious about what people who actually could shop there thought about why it is flailing. Musings on the decline in sales were varied, and include complaints about quality of product, lack of swimwear, bra design changes over the years, and the disappearance of beloved styles from the sales floor.
All of that may very well be true. Unfortunately, I can’t speak to what was lost, because I could never shop there in the first place. The bras and underwear have never fit me, and like many plus-size woman, I’ve long since stopped hoping they would and taken my money elsewhere. Formerly straight-size only brands, like J.Crew, Forever21, LOFT, and Aerie (while somewhat limited in their plus-size range) are glad to have my money and attention, even going so far as to make their campaigns more inclusive in recent years. Victoria’s Secret has disregarded the demand for plus options—a move that seems ill-advised, since roughly 67 percent of American women would fit into them, and plus-size consumers represent a cool $20 billion worth of purchasing power.
In fact, the plus-size fashion market is growing faster than the women's apparel industry as a whole. Having ignored these numbers doesn’t just explain why Victoria’s Secret is dying—it makes the brand complicit in its own demise. While there’s no way to know with absolute certainty if incorporating plus sizes into its merchandise would have saved Victoria’s Secret from its steady decline, all I can think about is how many times I had to leave the store empty-handed over the years, until I finally just stopped going back—and all of the women out there who were forced to do the same.
Plus-size shoppers have money to burn, and unfortunately, Victoria’s Secret has never given us anything close to a match.