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My Struggles as a Plus-sized Person Shopping Sustainability

by Tanvi Shah

Because second-hand clothing has a distinct backstory from its prior owner and is environmentally friendly, I adore shopping there. 

As I browse the racks of charity shops, I can't help but have a mixture of excitement and annoyance. 

The chance of discovering a hidden gem, something exceptional and one-of-a-kind, is what inspires the excitement. The reality of being a plus-size woman attempting to find attractive and enjoyable clothing is what causes the aggravation. 

Disappointed at only finding items in a UK 8, I make my way to the claustrophobic back area of plus size items. 

I keep looking through dresses and tops, but nothing seems to grab my attention. I'm aware that the selection will be limited, yet not even my modest hopes are fulfilled. 

My size range appears to only have uninteresting, formless clothing. I look back at a rack of drab coloured shirts and can't help but wonder why fashion appears to ignore those of us who wear larger sizes. 

The other day, my coworkers and I were talking about how hard it is to locate plus-size clothing at thrift stores and charity shops. That the clothing is so uninteresting. 

I’m 25! I want to seem attractive and confident in my attire! 

I get the impression that the plain garments in the plus-size area are something donated from a grandparent. I'm not comparing second-hand fashion to the plethora of trendy options available with fast fashion, but I want to feel comfortable in my own skin and dress my age. 

I've always been a plus-size (UK18) woman with a pear-shaped body. Since I can remember, I've been fascinated by the fashion industry. I also studied fashion design at University, but that doesn’t automatically mean I fit in. 

Post-Covid, we've all been attempting to live a more sustainable life in our own small ways. Changes such as advocating for sustainable living by using metal straws and avoiding plastic or simply just remembering to recycle, and so on. We have clothing swaps and moving to second-hand was a priority, but being a larger size makes it difficult.

The typical British woman would be deemed plus-size (UK16/EU44), but clearly that label comes from a lack of knowing what the average woman looks like. 

Yet despite a UK 16 being the average size of a women, where are all the clothes made for us?

Finding anything in my size is challenging enough as it is, let alone finding something stylish. I value the effort charity shops put in to segregate the clothing by size in order to make the shopping experience more inclusive. Sadly, because they are dependent on donations, this doesn’t mean the section is usually anymore than a few patterned shirts.

Although I am aware that many eco-friendly clothing companies sell plus-size apparel, given London's high cost of living, these options don’t tend to be within my budget.

Although, it’s not all doom and gloom. I've discovered clothing in my size in charitable stores run by organisations like Oxfam and Cancer Research UK. 

Ahead of the Curve is a virtual vintage fair for plus-size clothing too.

Depop and Vinted are also fantastic resources for bagging some incredible finds. 

Although it is on the more expensive side of affordability, ByRotation is pretty inclusive and, being rented, allows you to have new occasion outfits without the commitment.

If all else fails, I recommend sewing your own fashionable clothes and re-wearing your wardrobe frequently. After all, what's more fashionable than a style you literally made yourself?

Edited by Emily Duff 

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