It’s no secret that finding plus-size vintage is a frustrating process.
“Your skinny friend thrifts a floor-length sequined gown owned by a socialite,” comedian Milly Tamarez jokes on-stage to a Brooklyn crowd. “When you’re plus-size, you get a bowling shirt owned by a guy named Rick.”
There is, unfortunately, truth to this hilarious bit. Larger bodies have been abundantly ignored by the fashion industry for decades, the effects of which are glaringly obvious in the world of vintage, particularly in curated shops. “It's not impossible to find good vintage, but Versace isn’t making 3X clothes,” Tamarez tells NYLON.
It’s a seemingly endless list of challenges. Plus-size vintage is harder to find due to a smaller sourcing pool. Therefore, it’s more competitively sought-after. On top of that, sizing is arduous, as it’s changed throughout the decades, presenting difficulty in listing correctly online. Against all of these odds, fashion-focused plus-size people and various vintage outlets are successfully working to find ways to stay sustainable, even with the temptation of the fast-fashion industry creating cheaper options. “I’m getting older, I have a better income, so I’m trying to be more conscious about getting sustainable clothing,” says Tamarez. “I also just wanna wear, like, really cute stuff.”
Thrifting at large outlets like Goodwill or Salvation Army is a natural solution for fashionistas looking for a wider range of sizes, but many don’t want to commit the time and labor to the hustle of searching. Such is the case for Los Angeles-based model Hannah Faust, who was recently featured in a convivial Old Navy ad, alongside SNL’s Aidy Bryant, announcing that all sizes 0-30 would be available both in-store and online — a major, though delayed, step for retail. While inclusivity is slowly expanding, vintage remains a complicated issue of privilege.
“Vintage shopping gets very expensive,” laments Faust. “Shopping ethically in general is, but it’s worth it when it’s possible.” Her closet is filled with slow fashion and vintage pieces that she’s made work for her style. “You have to have tricks… I’ve found pieces that were made to be very drapey that have been perfect and form-fitting on me.”
It’s shoppers like Faust — style-focused without the patience for the hunt — that Casey McCormick, owner of online plus-size vintage shop Kind Stranger, imagines as she’s sourcing pieces. “As I’m searching, I think about the people who are going to wear it. My store’s called Kind Stranger for that reason,” says McCormick. Like many vintage sellers, it’s passion that drives her, as well as discrimination in retail. “People talk all the time about the percentage of women who are plus-size and how many people in this country are overweight and none of our consumer options reflect that,” McCormick notes. “You can walk into a mall and there’s maybe one or two stores that plus-size people can shop in — and they’re specialty stores, they’re not stores that carry all sizes. I think that speaks to the real disdain and hatred people have for larger bodies that’s often taking precedence over making money.”
While there are vintage shops dedicated to larger sizes — Plus BKLYN and Berriez are go-to’s — it’s rare that a store with straight sizes will have a selection of plus-size. New York native actor and avid vintage shopper Karolena Theresa is never hopeful when she enters a shop that’s not exclusively plus-size, but there are always exceptions. “I go to stores like Leisure Centre where it’s more unisex. That way I can get something for my husband that also fits me,” Theresa says of the Lower East Side brick-and-mortar. Her biggest find, though, came on a trip to Palm Springs. “I was with my friends and I was the only plus-size girl there. We walked into this really cute shop and I didn’t expect to find anything. Then I went to the back and they had an entire plus-size section! I was so happy and found one of my favorite vintage dresses ever.”
That store is Palm Springs vintage staple Iconic Atomic owned by LA-based Cat Slater. “When we opened the store, I was adamant that we would have plus-size,” Slater says. Her eclectic merchandising caters to a high-profile art community: drag. As we speak, she’s just returned from Ru Paul’s DragCon, where she brought more than 200 plus-size pieces to sell. Drag queens such as Bianca Del Rio and Trixie Mattel frequent the shop and Slater ensures that they’ll have options. “I have a lot of pastels, sherbert colors, ‘60s, ‘70s polyester dress sets all up to a 48-inch chest.” This inclusivity opens the door for more gender-fluid and trans people to find vintage options, a point of pride at the shop. It’s not easy and Slater works tirelessly to source, even going as far as seam-ripping found garments that have been altered to fit a smaller size.
The inverse of such alterations is crucial for plus-size style icons; both Faust and Theresa have personal relationships with their tailors. “If I find something I love that doesn’t fit, I’ll go and get it tailored. I’ll have him put a panel of fabric in it, that’s my favorite thing,” Theresa shares. “You can manipulate clothes way more than you think.” Another fix? Clothing swaps — a fun way to build community while taking the pressure off of investing in pieces. “I’ve gotten some of my favorite stuff from swaps,” says Tamarez. “It also makes me feel better about buying online when I don’t know if it’s going to work out. Plus-size clothes are so hard to get so if I’m getting rid of something, I really want to make sure that it goes to someone who’s going to wear it.”
Change is slow but demand is high and people are listening, even if half-heartedly. In May, global peer-to-peer marketplace Depop ran a promo waiving selling fees on plus-size clothes (above size 18 or 1XL) to encourage larger sizes on the site. It was only for two weeks…
In spite of it all, genuine inclusivity will shine through and the vintage industry is starting to pay attention.