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Billie Eilish and Lizzo t-shirts on a pink background
Image: Tina Tiller

OPINIONPop CultureMay 24, 2023

I’m a big fan – sell me merch that fits!

Billie Eilish and Lizzo t-shirts on a pink background
Image: Tina Tiller

No more consolation tote bags or mugs of shame – it’s time for artists to acknowledge and cater to fans of all sizes, writes Samuel Robinson.

One thing about me? I’m a big Caroline Polachek fan, and I mean a big fan—4XL to be specific. So when I went to her online merch store on the weekend, card in hand, and ready to drop a cool $65 on a factory-made T-shirt that wouldn’t arrive at my house for four weeks, there was only one thing stopping me: I didn’t fit anything they were trying to sell me.

Merch has been a long-standing tradition for fans to show support for their favourite artists, whether it be through online marketplaces or hundreds of people camping overnight to get an exclusive Harry Styles tour tee. With album sales drying up in the streaming era and international touring only just starting to get back on its feet post-Covid, merch is one of the main profit drivers for performers, and one of the few inroads for fans to interact with their favourite artists. But it does often feel like this interaction has a size limit, leaving us plus-sized girlies shivering out in the cold (metaphorically and literally).

My first ever concert was Ellie Goulding at TSB Bank Arena in 2014 – impeccable taste, I know – and I wanted to bask in all that the live experience had to offer. But after braving the merch queue only to realise that they didn’t have T-shirts over a size L, I was ashamedly forced to opt for a mug instead. A pity mug, representing the shame that I felt for daring to be bigger.

Anyone bigger than an XL will know the feeling of desperately hoping the merch stand at the show has their size, and these days I’ve mostly given up even checking. This missed experience seems to be bleeding into the online world as well. An artist like Billie Eilish, who became synonymous with her hyper-oversized fits, doesn’t provide more than a XXL on her website. Meanwhile, the queen of putting money where her mouth is, Lizzo, has sizes up to a 4XL! Artists, I promise you, if you stock bigger sizes, we will buy them.

For the sake of profitability, merchandisers often opt for a unisex design in an attempt to cover the broadest possible audience. The problem here comes with the fit – unisex clothing almost always translates to being distractingly long, and tight around the chest and stomach. A fit that seems flattering to maybe less than 1% of the world’s population?

As a self-appointed spokesperson for the “big-boned brigade,” I reckon it’s time for our favourite artists to acknowledge and cater to fans of all sizes, not just the ones they think will shift the most units. I’m over the cycle of disappointment and shame that bigger people face when trying to buy clothes that properly express themselves, so I’d love it if artists – the people who rely on us to keep them cool/promote them – would stand up and be more inclusive in their sizing.

Until then, I vow to no longer settle for “pity merch” – no more tote bags, posters or shame mugs. We demand inclusivity, not just in artists’ lyrics, but in their merch as well!

A shorter version of this piece originally ran in the Shit You Should Care About newsletter.

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