Becky Green contacted me about The Big Fat Flea a few months back, and mentioned in passing that thrifting had totally transformed her style and done wonders for her body image. Since I know that thrifting for plus-sized clothing can be challenging and frustrating, I was eager to know more! So I cajoled her into sharing her personal style journey here. Thanks to Becky for telling us her unique and fascinating story!
* * * * *
When Sally asked me to write a guest post about finding my style through thrifting, I hesitated. A lot of fat people I know have understandably given up on thrifting because it gets frustrating to visit thrift stores again and again and find nothing in your size and/or style. I was also a little wary because I feel like my experience is unique in a couple of ways that may not hold relevance to others. In the end I decided to write this – to share my experience of thrifting while fat – because thrifting really did revolutionize my wardrobe, my sense of style, and the way I value and accept my fat body.
I can’t talk about the intersection of thrifting and fat clothes without talking for a minute about them separately, first. I want to acknowledge that people can have complicated relationships to thrifting related to class background. I know there are folks who thrift out of necessity. I know there are folks who grew up thrifting out of necessity and who can now afford not to but choose to, or choose not to. I am writing from the privileged perspective of someone who grew up lower-middle class, where thrifting was common but not a necessity, and someone who is currently middle class, where I thrift wholly out of choice these days.
I also want to acknowledge what many plus size shoppers know first hand to be true: The general state of the plus size clothing market is abysmal. Finding plus size clothes is hard, full stop. Finding good quality, affordable, fashionable-to-you plus size clothes can be nearly impossible. We’ve seen an increase in plus size clothing lines in the last few years, which is wonderful, but there are still issues: Overpriced for the quality, poor design/fit, lines that stop at a size that leaves many larger fats sized out of the market. I’m a size 24, which puts me near the top of what many plus size retailers carry in stores. I’m still privileged enough to walk in to a brick-and-mortar plus size clothing store and generally find something that technically fits my body, but I rarely do. Invariably, most of the clothes I find in my size don’t reflect my style. And after years of thrifting, I can’t bring myself to pay $39.99 for a poorly designed, polyester top.
I was introduced to thrifting as a kid, through my dad, who always shopped second hand (and still does), and I thrifted a bit as a college student in upstate New York. Thrifting didn’t feature prominently for me yet; I was still constrained by the limited offerings of my local Lane Bryant, and my internalized fat hate at my body. I dressed mostly in clothes that didn’t reflect my inner sense of style. On special occasions when I wore a dress or skirt, I felt uncomfortable, like an impostor. I didn’t feel so great about how my fat body looked most of the time.
Fast forward to 2008. A few things happened all around the same time, which led to my own personal style revolution:
- I moved back to New York City after 10 years of living in upstate New York. For me, this meant I simultaneously felt more pressure to look good/fashionable, had more options for fat shopping (still limited but more), and had more exposure to fat people who had already figured out how to look amazing.
- I discovered fat acceptance and fat fatshion blogs. I spent hours each day looking a fat bodies, reading about why I deserved to feel good in my body, and have clothes that helped make me feel good.
- I stumbled across a thrift store that – for reasons I still don’t totally understand – had a lot of plus size clothing.
So let me tell you about this thrift store. I was reading a neighborhood newspaper when I saw an ad for the opening of a new Goodwill Outlet. I went the weekend it opened. And pretty much every weekend after that for next 3 years.
This was the thrift store that changed my life. My eyes opened to the truth that I deserved fashionable clothes, I suddenly had this store that provided me access in a way that I never had before. There were masculine and feminine clothes mixed together in big bins, size small next to size 4x, colors and patterns and textures all mashed up against each other.
I have basically written off straight sized stores. Most straight size clothes won’t fit me, and straight size stores kick up feelings of anger and resentment because I still can’t always find what I want in my size. But at this thrift store, I am exposed to clothes in all sizes, that I can play with, experiment with, and I find that sometimes my size 24 body fits an XL stretch jersey skirt, and sometimes it fits a generously cut 1x dress, and sometimes a 26/28 top. The clothes are so cheap, I take a chance on things I never would have bought full price – or even on sale – in a retail store.
So began my style revolution. Quickly, my style changed, and changed again, and again. I experimented, for the first time really taking the time to figure out what looked good and what I liked. People began complimenting me on my clothes. I started wearing dresses and skirts almost daily. I rocked loud colors, and tight skirts and clashing patterns. The way I dressed moved closer to my inner sense of style, of the way I knew I wanted to dress for years but never had access to. I feel so strongly about thrifting and access to fashionable fat clothing, I help to organize The Big Fat Flea, an all-genders rummage sale held yearly in New York City. I feel comfortable in my clothes, in my style, in my body in a way I never thought possible just a few years earlier.
I don’t go thrifting every weekend anymore, and sometimes now buy clothes new online. At the height of my thrifting, I would say 75-90% of my wardrobe was thrifted, I’m probably closer to 50% now. Because I was able to experiment so cheaply, I now have a good sense of what I like and don’t like, and though I’m sure my style will continue to evolve, I generally feel really good about how I look these days. Body acceptance is hard. Finding your personal style is hard. Thrifting helped me do both.
If you are interested in thrifting while fat, and want a NYC partner, email me!