madewell plus
photo: Madewell

J.Crew and sister brand Madewell have announced a company-wide "size expansion" to offer jeans up to a size 20.

On first blush, this is great news! As a denim fanatic, I’ve worn and recommended Madewell's jeans for years. I was always disappointed that I couldn't suggest my favorite jeans to my plus-size friends, especially since we live in a world where the average woman wears a size 16.

The "expanded sizing" is scheduled to roll out slowly, and denim-focused brand Madewell is the first to update its size charts and list the "more inclusive" jeans on its site.

The initial Madewell email, which I received on Monday, promised more jeans in more sizes. They even cast curve model Stella Duval in the campaign, and she’s one of the first not-quite-straight-size people I have ever seen in J.Crew or Madewell’s marketing.

The size expansion got a LOT of hype, especially since Madewell jeans will now be offered up to a US size 20.

madewell plus sizes
photo: Madewell

That is FAR from full-on size inclusivity, but for a brand that has never made clothes larger than a size 14, it’s a start.

BUT. It turns out that Madewell's — and likely J.Crew's — celebrated “size inclusivity” may not be that inclusive at all.

Let’s take a ride.

First: Not ALL the Madewell jeans will be available up to a 20. The expanded sizes seem to only be offered in the "curvy" line.

madewell curvy jeans
photo: Madewell

Per the brand, “We took our classic skinnies with holds-you-in Magic Pockets in front and reengineered them for those with an hourglass shape (translation: booty). Simply put, you're gonna look amazing in these jeans.”

The "curvy" cut denim includes jeans sizes 23 (size 000) through 35 (size 20). There’s no information on the site about how the new line of jeans have been “reengineered” — there are no "curvy" product hip or waist measurements to help shoppers figure out if this cut is right for them.

An exclusive statement given to Yahoo Style claims that the “curvy” jeans will have “a higher rise, a wider thigh area, and a contoured waistband,” but that information is NOT on the Madewell site.

It turns out there's no way to know what a “higher rise, wider thigh area, and contoured waistband” actually translates to in measurements — because Madewell hasn't provided any.

Madewell's "more sizes!" campaign centered around the idea that its curvy jeans fit up to a US size 20. Unfortunately, Madewell's own denim sizing chart doesn't give any information on how the size 35 / size 20 equivalency was reached.

madewell size chart
photo: Madewell

At Madewell, your jeans size is based on your waist measurement — wrap a tape measurer around your waist, read the number, and that's supposedly your denim size. According to multiple conversations I had with Madewell AND J.Crew customer service members, a person with a 32" waist measurement — what's called a "body" measurement — would likely wear denim in a size 32. According to the above size chart, a person with a 35" waist would wear a Madewell denim size 35 — supposedly equivalent to a US size 20.

But it's not. At least, it's not according to every other brand that sells inclusive and plus-size denim.

According to size charts provided by most brands that make jeans larger than a size 12, a natural waist measurement of 35" is roughly equivalent to a US size 14, and maybe a 16. If you wore a US size 20, you'd likely have a waist measurement between 42 and 44 inches.

Madewell's size 35, which it equates to a size 20, seems to be much, much smaller than a size 20 anywhere else in the industry.

Additionally, getting information on how Madewell’s extended sizes will fit is exponentially more difficult.

madewell denim
photo: Madewell

I spent TWO DAYS trying to get accurate information about the alleged plus sizes at Madewell. It was very confusing, and I did not have a good time.

Finally, a Madewell customer service rep provided some sizing clarity. I was told via live chat that "size 35" refers to your natural waist measurement — which again, means the largest size Madewell is making is more like a US size 14 at other brands.

Then things got a little confusing, even for me.

Remember how we talked about the imaginary tape measurer wrapped around your waist? If you used the same tape measurer to figure out the circumference of your jeans, you'd see that they're a few inches bigger than your actual waist is. This is the "garment measurement," and it lets you sit down and move comfortably.

In this case, the Madewell customer service rep told me that the size 35 jeans have a garment waist measurement of 38". That means they'd comfortably fit a person with a 35 to 36 inch waist, but likely nobody bigger.

This information is not listed, nor is it explained, anywhere on the Madewell website — like I said, it took me two days of constant following up to get here. If plus and curvy shoppers at Madewell are expected to do this much extra homework just to find their size, just how inclusive is this size expansion, really?

A Madewell concierge representative emailed me the garment measurements for the "extended" size line. This is not currently available anywhere online.

madewell plus size guide
photo: Madewell Customer Service

Again: These are the measurements for the pants themselves, not the bodies that fit in them. According to every person at Madewell I've talked to, a human with a 35" waist will fit into the size 35 jeans that have a 38" garment measurement.

Once again, compared to other brands making the same sorts of clothes, this size 35 is certainly a VERY small 20. Depending on which brand you look at, these measurements may be more consistent with a US size 14/16.

On what planet is this "extended sizing"? It feels like expecting a cookie for doing the absolute least.

photo: Giphy

In the US, the statistically “average” woman wears a size 16, and has a waist measurement of 37.5 inches. This average-sized person would not be able to buy jeans at Madewell or J.Crew.

And that's a damn shame.

Honestly, I find all of this incredibly disappointing. It kills me to see one of my favorite brands screw up on issues of inclusion and diversity like this.

Inclusion doesn't mean hiring a curvier model, slapping a slightly updated generic size guide on your site, and being done. If you want to serve more people with more body types, brands like Madewell and J.Crew need to do the work to make EVERYONE feel included.

I have reached out to Madewell for comment on its sizing issues. I have also asked when, if ever, the brand plans to extend its offerings to include actual plus sizes. Press reps have told me they’ll be in touch with answers soon, and I will update this post when I hear back.