The problem with thrift stores and plus-size clothing

As a lifelong thrifter, I use this blog to encourage women of all sizes to shop secondhand.  I try to be inclusive when it comes to style inspiration and like to share my favorite thrift stores that carry a variety of selections. However, I’ll be the first to tell you the majority of thrift stores are seriously lacking fashionable plus-size options.

It’s no surprise that there’s an ongoing issue in the United States with supply and demand of plus-size clothing. If you wear a size 12 or up, you’ve probably experienced the frustration of shopping for fashionable clothing that flatters your body shape. Tim Gunn describes this conundrum perfectly in his article for The Washington Post. This is a fantastic piece that hits the nail on the head better than anything I’ve read. According to the article and research by Washington State University, the average American woman is a size 16-18 and yet the majority of retailers will not cater to these sizes.

This post is long overdue for me, mainly because there’s so much to unpack with this topic. So in this post, I’m going to attempt to outline my thoughts on why I think the majority of thrift stores don’t offer a wide, fashionable selection of plus-size clothing.

Please note: I said majority, not all. There are most certainly thrift stores out there that are intentionally curating beautiful plus-size pieces, however I would argue that it’s generally much more challenging for women who wear anything larger than a size 12 to shop secondhand unless they get creative about their shopping techniques.

Lack of options at the top of the chain
Again, Tim Gunn outlines this beautifully in the above referenced article. Many designers and major retailers either refuse or simply don’t know how to make plus-size clothing. So, thrift stores get caught in that cycle: if there’s a lack of supply at the top of the chain, few pieces are making their way down to thrift stores.

Women are making the most out of their investments in their wardrobe.
Because women have to work a little harder to find the right plus-size pieces and price points, they are holding on to their clothing and making the most out of their wardrobe. If these women are investing in higher priced items because of the lack of affordable retailers and fashionable options, (like this $90 maxi dress at a fast-fashion retailer, or even the sale price at $60 ) you’re not going to see much of a turnover in donations to secondhand stores.

For example, I’ve personally done this many times when it comes to wide calf boots. Finding the right pair of boots to accommodate my calves was not only exhausting but expensive, so you better believe I’m holding on to those boots until they fall apart. This could also contribute to the lack of new or like new plus-size items at thrift stores.

Thrift stores work with what they receive from donors. 
Again, Tim Gunn said it best:

Have you shopped retail for size 14-plus clothing? Based on my experience shopping with plus-size women, it’s a horribly insulting and demoralizing experience. Half the items make the body look larger, with features like ruching, box pleats and shoulder pads. Pastels and large-scale prints and crazy pattern-mixing abound, all guaranteed to make you look infantile or like a float in a parade.

This is one of my biggest pet peeves about thrifting plus-size clothing. When I do find a thrift store that carries a decent-size selection to browse through, the prints and materials are often unflattering and cheaply made. I’m most certainly not blaming the thrift stores – if the styles are unflattering at the top of the chain, and women are holding on to their investment, high-quality pieces, thrift stores are left with the worst of the worst.

Only a handful (and I mean handful) of ethical brands cater to plus-size women

This might have to be a topic for another day. But to keep it brief here: I follow several ethical brands on Instagram and I can honestly count on one hand the number that cater to plus-size women (or use brown or black women in their ads. Again, another topic for another day). And even with that, you’re looking at $150 for a cotton blouse. (I understand the reasons why these brands are expensive, but it’s still not attainable for the average shopper). So conscious shoppers on the hunt for sustainable brands at secondhand stores might find it very challenging to find what they are looking for.

So what’s the solution to thrifting fashionable plus-size clothing? Well first, we need to address the root of the problem. But until then, I have a few tips and tricks that I’ve outlined in a separate post here.

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