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I’m an Australian size 18, and op-shopping is a lot harder than you might think

WORDS BY MAEVE KERR-CROWLEY

The bigger you are, the more work you have to put in.

It’s no secret that there’s a size inclusivity problem in fashion, permeating every facet of the industry from huge international retail brands to sustainable local labels.

As an Australian size 18, I’ve scored myself a place in the ‘plus-size’ section, hidden away at the back of a store or in its very own tab on a website. That’s if it’s represented at all, of course, which most of the time it isn’t.

When the majority of brands don’t cater to customers larger than a size 12 or 14 – or an XL, which I’m sorry to say isn’t as inclusive as people would like to think – there are essentially two options for finding clothes to put on your body.

Some people compromise, buying clothes that fit wherever they can get them and not really caring how they look. If you’re just looking to not get arrested for indecent exposure, this is a perfectly viable option.

Unfortunately, I’ve been cursed with caring a lot about clothes. I love finding interesting pieces, putting together outfits and having my personal style recognised. Because I can’t achieve this in mainstream stores and all the cool indie brands on my Instagram feed don’t stock my size, I have to get creative and look elsewhere.

Hence why approximately 85 per cent of my wardrobe can be traced back to an op-shop. I’m actually very happy with this. After all, the most sustainable way to shop is to not buy anything at all, and the second most sustainable option is to shop secondhand.

I’ve been op-shopping for as long as I can remember, trained by my mum who I consider an expert in the craft. While I’ve yet to eradicate the memory of a high school friend making fun of me on free dress day for the groovy sunshine yellow jacket I bought at Vinnies – because “People pee in those clothes, Maeve” – I feel slightly vindicated by the fact that fashionable online types have taken to op-shopping in recent years and made it a cool, acceptable thing to do.

By shopping secondhand, I have the opportunity to find unique pieces that nobody I know owns and make them my own, while also feeling good that they’re hanging beloved on my rack instead of sitting in a landfill.

That’s not to say op-shopping is an easy answer for big bootied fashion lovers. The truth of the industry as a whole is that fat and plus-size shoppers have to work harder than their straight-size counterparts to fill their wardrobes and develop a personal style. The bigger you are, the more work you have to put in. This is just as true of shopping secondhand.

It’s all a trickle-down effect. Take the small number of brands that make clothes above a size 12, then narrow that selection down to the number of clothes that actually get donated. Then remove everything that doesn’t fit your personal style – because let’s face it, a hell of a lot of plus size clothes would fit better in your grandma or unfashionable aunt’s closet than yours – and what’s left is the rack you’re shopping from.

But wait, then you need to account for people smaller than you buying up all the bigger sizes to get that super popular oversized look. XXL T-shirts are worn over bike shorts, jumpers are cropped beyond repair, and jeans are worn belted on people two sizes too small for them.

Personally, I’m a big fan of oversized outfits. But to pull the look off I have to find clothes that are bigger than a size 18, which as we’ve established aren’t exactly abundant. I also have to wrestle with the knowledge that by buying something one or two sizes up, I’m doing exactly the same thing as the thin thrift flippers and taking an option away from someone who actually wears that size.

How hard the process is depends on where you’re shopping. Trendy Brunswick vintage stores are usually a no go, for example. The endless racks of beautiful vintage jeans and Y2K-esque crop tops are a big tease, sporting unvaryingly tiny waists and no room for boobs of any kind. Classic op-shops in the realm of Vinnies, Salvos or Savers are usually safest, particularly when they’re organised by size to save you the inevitable disappointment that comes with flicking through things you can’t have.

With most secondhand stores being closed along with the rest of the world, I’ve turned my attention to online thrifting to try and satiate my op-shopping addiction. Depop is experiencing a boom in Australia right now, so I enthusiastically jumped on board to see what the fuss was about.

Unfortunately, using Depop as a plus-size person feels a lot like going shopping with friends as a teenager and being harshly reminded that I didn’t look how the world wanted me to. They’re all trying things on and spending their allowances while I watch, the alienation spiking as they hold something up they think will fit and I respond that it’s actually two sizes too small.

It might be an Australian thing – after all, anyone who’s ever watched an American thrift haul knows that second-hand clothes are just cooler and more abundant over there – but filtering my sizes on Depop can drop the selection from millions of results to a few thousand in seconds. Then there are all the listings that are sized wrong or marked as “one size fits all”, which is kind of a slap in the face when the item probably wouldn’t wrap around one of my thighs.

I’ve found a few plus-sized sellers on the app with enviable style, but from experience, most of us tend to hang onto clothes more tightly for fear we won’t find anything in our sizes to replace them. So I mostly trawl explore pages looking for thinner sellers handing off things they regret buying because they “drown” in them.

At this point, I’m used to putting in the extra work to find second-hand clothes. I lower my expectations, spend longer looking, tamp down the disappointment when yet another amazing pair of pants doesn’t fit. I drive to regional areas to find racks trendy girls haven’t picked through. I’ve stopped buying things that are too tight or don’t fit right, and I’ve learnt how to alter just about anything to make the clothes I do find a little more flattering.

It’s exhausting and disheartening, and sometimes it makes me straight up mad to have to work so hard. But the alternative is giving up on fashion altogether while we wait for the industry to start paying attention to us, and I’m too vain and addicted to people complimenting my outfits for that to be a realistic possibility.

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