Guest Post: The Case for Thrifting While Fat

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!

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becky_with text

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.

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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.

dresses

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.

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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!

  • http://www.impeccableimagellc.com Kimberly Gomez | Image Consultant

    Hi Becky, you just started my morning off perfectly. This is the first thing I read this morning and it has given me a positive outlook for the day. I luv thrifting and sometimes can’t find fashion, just like you mentioned. I actually gave it up for a while due to frustration, but after this, am starting up again. Thank you for being an inspiration for not only plus size, but girls of all sizes.

  • Marsha

    I’ve been thrifting for about 15 years. When I first started, I was about your size (22/24) and could rarely find anything. Thrifting has greatly improved in my area in the last few years, and I’m now on the cusp of regular/plus (14/16) and have a ton of beautiful, inexpensive clothes available at thrift stores. I’ve also noticed the availability of larger clothes–for both men and women–has increased.

    Thrifting has widened my style choices, since I’ve tried out clothes that I never would have even tried on in a retail store. If I’m paying $50 or more for a garment, I don’t want to take a chance on whether it will work for me, but if it’s $5, why not give it a try?

  • http://notdeadyetstyle.blogspot.com/ Patti @ NotDeadYet Style

    Wonderful post about your style journey. I *love* this: “My eyes opened to the truth that I deserved fashionable clothes.”

  • http://www.jauntydame.com Rebekah Jaunty

    This warmed my heart. Go Becky!

  • Leslie

    I love this post! :-)

    I’m a solid size 20 in most stores, sometimes an 18, sometimes a 22/24… and I thrift the majority of my clothes. I am lucky enough to have 5+ options w/in a 10 minute drive in my area, and one in particular has been GREAT for finding things in my size. My theory? Weight Loss Surgery. I think WLS is so much more prevalent these days and people end up donating their fat clothes as they lose weight, and then you end up with a ton of things at once. :-)

    I have also found that learning minor sewing hacks and alterations has opened up my clothing world. If I see a dress that I love, but it’s just not going to fit– I can usually see if the bottom would make a good skirt. A full skirt on a size 8 can turn into a simple a-line in a size 20 in a snap!

  • http://www.thecitizenrosebud.com Bella Q

    Thank you Sally for cajoling Becky to write this- and thank you Becky for sharing this-
    I know it’s hard to shop plus size especially when you want quality- and secondhand is a great way to play outside the comfort zone on what you think looks good and can help you discover new ways to play with dress all on a budget. Great, great post!

  • Becky Green

    Hi,
    Becky here, just wanted to say thanks to Sally, and all her readers!

  • http://www.partlanpatterndesigns.com/ Susan Partlan

    Becky’s story is inspiring. Thank you Sally for hosting the post. Leslie’s note about “minor sewing hacks and alterations” is a good one. But the main thing is to enjoy your style. I’m glad thrifting helped. You look great!

  • A.B.

    Prevalence of plus sized clothing in thrift stores has a lot to do with where you live. Where I am now, I’m lucky if I can find a pair of pants that fit me in a thrift store but where I used to live my size was much more common to find.

    • Becky Green

      So, so true. When I have thrifted in other places, I’ve had much less luck.

  • gretchen

    Becky, thank you for the article, it/you brought me to tears. Beautiful!

  • http://fashionforgiants.blogspot.com Gracey the Giant

    Wonderful, wonderful post. Thank you so much for sharing, Becky!

  • http://Facebook Tabitha

    Hey Becky I had always loved your style in fact I looked up to that very often but I do have to say you are looking wonderfully amazing :D:D:D

  • http://widecurves.wordpress.com WideCurves

    Beautiful, insightful, informative…most of all, inspirational. Thank you.

  • Shaye

    Thanks for writing this! I’m on the cusp of plus size, and thrifting has changed my style/wardrobe/life as well.

    After a serious illness, I had to start taking prednisone. I needed lots of new clothes because, at first, I’d lost a lot of weight due to being sick. Then, I gained a lot of weight due to my medication. It was a very difficult time, body image-wise, but fortunately in the hospital I’d begun reading all sorts of fashion blogs. They were all about body acceptance and finding your style, and most of them advocated thrifting. I’d tried it before and found it distasteful, but out of desperation I tried again after getting out of the hospital, because not only did I need clothes, I had huge medical bills I had to pay and didn’t exactly have a lot of cash to spend on fashion.

    I quickly realized that diligence paid off when it came to thrifting, and I acquired a lots of new clothes in a very short time. I realized I’d kind of been in a style rut before and decided I wanted to step it up. And why not? Dressing better meant I had things to love about the way I looked even as my body changed in ways I didn’t like. And thrifting those clothes meant trying out looks was very low-risk.

    I’m now back to roughly the same size and shape as before my illness, and my style has been refined a lot. I now take fewer risks because I have a good idea of what I will and will not wear. But I buy so much less at retail, and have more and better clothes for less money. And one thing I love about thrifting is that so many different brands are available. You find things from stores you’d never think of setting foot in if you were paying full price. For example, I wouldn’t be caught dead trying on anything new from Alfred Dunner, a brand I associate with overly dowdy grandmas, but I own no less than three thrifted Alfred Dunner pieces that look great, fresh, and young when paired with my other wardrobe pieces.

    I also appreciate the range of sizes available in a lot of thrift stores. I need straight size knit tops but plus size woven tops. I’m usually a 16 in pants, can do some smaller sizes in full skirts especially if they have an elastic waist, but get my best fit in pencil skirts in a 20 or 22 that I can alter to fit my particular shape. Plus, I’m from one of those hippie-filled parts of the world and kind of dig how much I’ve been able to opt out of the retail economy.

    Today my outfit was 75% thrifted, and I felt great! (And how else would I have been able to pair a Tahari tee with a vintage brooch and a skirt that originally came from QVC?!)

  • http://nofearoffashion.com No fear of fashion

    Great story and well written. I have enjoyed reading it. So nice to see that somebody finds happiness. Would have liked to see more photos of you in your favourite styles. Hats off for you.
    Greetje

  • Gina

    I echo every sentiment about thrifting…from the opposite perspective. A few years ago I lost a lot of weight intentionally, but had absolutely no sense of style. I had been dressing my larger self in clothing that essentially fit and as I lost weight, I realized I needed new clothing but didn’t have a clue what I liked or how to dress my changing proportions. I don’t ever think I gave a thought back then to even considering I could find clothing at that size that I could appreciate or even feel I deserved.

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  • Amy

    Love this post. I am plus size -anywhere from 24 to a 26. I have been thrifting for close to 20 years. I have pretty good luck, considering I live in a smaller town. Style is still “evolving” but I have lots of fun trying new things.

  • Maria Guisado

    Way to go Becky! Amazing work! I am such a huge fan the Thrifting myself. Always have been.