The word’ plus size’ has gained currency in the last decade in fashion—a moniker most designers and brands are quick to make their own to authenticate their offerings with an ‘inclusive’ tag. After all, the global plus-size market is estimated to have a global annual worth of $194 billion. But dig a little deeper, and you will find most stakeholders in the industry play fast and loose with the term, often colluding to deny women with larger bodies the opportunity to dress in looks they actually like instead of shrouding them in ill-fitting clothes that do nothing for them.
The selection becomes more limited when it comes to vintage clothing. The options verge on non-existent. Like everyone else, Shreya, a magazine editor who requested to be quoted anonymously, has been trying to shop for vintage clothing, too — for several reasons, including high quality, fair price point, or the sustainable nature of the clothing. However, finding vintage pieces in her size has been nearly impossible. “Many plus-size women will tell you that shopping at a vintage store in India comes with a lot of embarrassment. I remember picking an item once and being told to put it back. When I walked away, I heard the store attendants talking, and one of them literally said, ‘I’m pretty sure she would have ripped it.'”
The pandemic has spiked conscientious shopping, transforming the vintage clothing industry into a burgeoning industry rooted in nostalgia and exclusivity to an extent. With the segment continuing to be popular globally among new shoppers, the second-hand clothing market is expected to double in the next five years, reaching $77 billion. But does this segment have a plus-size problem? Shreya believes so. “I don’t blame vintage clothing platforms because most of the archival pieces they store were once the brainchild of deeply fatphobic designers who believed a thin body should be the gold standard of how women’s bodies globally should be celebrated. Take the late Karl Lagerfeld, for instance, who didn’t think fat girls deserved pretty things. Closer home, you will find one token plus-size model walking each show.”
While vintage clothing stores have existed for decades, many new small businesses have entered the vintage market via popular social media stores. Take, for example, Gon Vintage. Helmed by Pune-based Shreya Jain, who has curated a wide selection of vintage finds over the last decade, tracing back to her time in Milan, where she studied. After selling some of her finds on Depop, one of the more renowned reselling platforms, she turned her attention to India after moving back home in the thick of the pandemic. Jain believes vintage clothing works better for plus-sized women. “Anthropologically speaking, what is a ‘medium’ today was a ‘small’ a few decades ago, primarily in the 60s and 70s. People back then were more open to the idea that we come in different shapes and sizes. The shift to size zero and embracing ‘thinness’ has only occurred in the last 20 years,” she says, adding that the sizing debate is an emotional one, especially at this time when so many women are turning away from labels of all kinds—sexual orientation to gender, most importantly, size.