How to buy plus-size vintage, according to experts

It’s no secret that finding plus size vintage is a frustrating process.

“Your skinny friend spares a long sequined dress belonging to a socialite,” jokes comedian Milly Tamarez on stage in front of a Brooklyn crowd. “When you’re plus size, you get a bowling shirt that belongs to a guy named Rick.”

There is, unfortunately, some truth in this hilarious piece. Larger bodies have been largely ignored by the fashion industry for decades, the effects of which are evident in the vintage world, especially in curated boutiques. “It’s not impossible to find good vintage, but Versace doesn’t make 3X clothes,” Tamarez told NYLON.

It’s a seemingly endless list of challenges. The plus size vintage is more difficult to find due to a smaller supply pool. Hence, it is more competitively sought after. On top of that, the sizing is tough, as it has changed over the decades, making it difficult to register properly online. Against all of these odds, fashion-oriented plus-size people and various vintage outlets are successfully working to find ways to stay sustainable, even with the fast fashion industry’s temptation to create cheaper options. “I’m getting older, I have a better income, so I’m trying to be more conscious about buying sustainable clothing,” says Tamarez. “I also just want to wear really cute stuff.”

Courtesy of Milly Tamarez
Courtesy of Hannah Faust

Savings at big outlets like Goodwill or Salvation Army are a natural fit for fashionistas looking for a wider range of sizes, but many don’t want to spend their time and labor on the hustle and bustle of the research. Such is the case with Los Angeles-based model Hannah Faust, who recently featured in the friendly Old Navy ad, alongside SNL‘s Aidy Bryant, announcing that all sizes 0-30 would be available in-store and online – a major, albeit delayed, step for retail. While inclusiveness slowly grows, vintage remains a complicated matter of privilege.

“Vintage shopping is getting very expensive,” laments Faust. “Ethical shopping in general is, but it’s worth it when possible.” Her closet is filled with slow fashion and vintage pieces that she has adapted to her style. “You must have some tricks…I found pieces that were made to drape very well that fit perfect and fitted on me.”

It’s shoppers like Faust — focused on style without the patience for the hunt — that Casey McCormick, owner of plus-size online vintage store Kind Stranger, imagines as she sources up the pieces. “While I’m looking, I think of the people who will wear it. My store is called Kind Stranger for that reason,” says McCormick. Like many vintage sellers, it is passion that drives him, as well as discrimination in retail. “People talk all the time about the percentage of plus-size women and the number of overweight people in this country and none of our consumer options reflect that,” notes McCormick. “You can walk into a mall and there might be one or two stores where tall people can shop – and those are specialty stores, they’re not stores that carry all sizes. I think it speaks to the real contempt and hatred people have for bigger bodies that often take precedence over making money.

Courtesy of Karolena Theresa

Although there is a range of vintage shops dedicated to large sizes, Plus BKLYN and Berriez are must-haves, it’s rare that a store with straight sizes has a selection of plus sizes. New York actress and vintage shopping enthusiast Karolena Theresa never has hope when she walks into a boutique that isn’t exclusively plus-size, but there are always exceptions. “I go to stores like Leisure Center where it’s more unisex. That way I can get something for my husband that works for me too,” Theresa says of Lower East Side brick and mortar. His greatest discovery, however, 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 a whole plus size section!I was so happy and found one of my favorite vintage dresses.

That store is Iconic Atomic, a vintage staple in Palm Springs, owned by Los Angeles-based Cat Slater. “When we opened the store, I was adamant that we would have plus sizes,” says Slater. Its eclectic merchandising is aimed at a high-level artistic community: drag. As we speak, she just returned from Ru Paul’s DragCon where she sold over 200 plus size pieces. Drag queens such as Bianca Del Rio and Trixie Mattel frequent the shop, and Slater makes sure they’ll have options. “I have lots of pastels, sherbet colors, 60s and 70s polyester dress sets up to a 48 inch chest.” This inclusiveness opens the door for more fluid and transgender people to find vintage options, a point of pride for the store. It’s not easy, and Slater works tirelessly to source, even going so far as to rip seams to find clothes that have been altered to fit a smaller size.

Photos courtesy of Iconic Atomic

The reverse of these changes is crucial for large style icons; Faust and Theresa have personal relationships with their tailors. “If I find something that I like that doesn’t fit, I’ll have it custom made. I’ll have him put a fabric panel in it, that’s my favorite thing,” Theresa shares. “You can manipulate clothes a lot more than you think.” Another fix? Clothing Swaps – a fun way to build community while relieving the pressure of investing in parts. “I got some of my favorite things from trading,” Tamarez says. “It also reassures me to buy online when I don’t know if it will work. Plus size clothes are so hard to get, so if I get rid of something, I really want to make sure it’s going to someone who will wear it.

Change is slow, but the demand is strong and people are listening, however reluctantly. In May, global peer-to-peer marketplace Depop launched a promotion waiving referral fees on plus size clothing (above size 18 or 1XL) to encourage larger sizes on the site. It was only for two weeks…

Still, true inclusiveness will shine through and the vintage industry is starting to pay attention.

About Adam Motte

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