Essay: Thrift stores are not plus size friendly

To me, nothing beats drifting through a Goodwill with a medium iced coffee in one hand and a bagel in the other. It feels comforting knowing that I’m shopping sustainably, reducing my carbon footprint and curating a collection of unique clothing items. From a green hoodie that’s somehow both nostalgic and trendy, to brown pants that are practically second skin, some of my favorite pieces of clothing have been thrifted.

When GW Thrift put on its second pop up of the year just a few weeks ago, I couldn’t wait to go. As a thrifting enthusiast, I was excited at the prospect of perusing a thrift store right here on campus. But when it came time to go, I couldn’t bring myself to go. I didn’t want to experience the disappointment of not finding any plus-size clothing options. 

I was looking forward to supporting the organization, but I couldn’t come across anything I could buy. Though this was disappointing, I was far from surprised. Most thrift stores I’ve been to do not have sections accessible for people looking for plus-size clothing.

For a long time, almost all trends were catered to small bodies and small bodies only, leaving the rest of us behind. Now, with an increase in sustainable, recycled fashion that does less harm to the planet, the regular-size thrift community is still not inclusive to others trying to participate and be environmentally conscious. Even with sustainable shopping becoming more mainstream, plus-size bodies are not accounted for in the world of fashion. 

The major downside to thrifting as a plus-size person is how few options I actually have. I can usually find a max of 20 pieces in any plus-size section, and some stores don’t even bother to section things off at all. Once I get past the v-necks and cold shoulders, all I can do is cross my fingers that there’s a reasonable top, but 90 percent of the time there isn’t, and I just tell my friends I’ve been trying to save money anyways.

Like many other plus-size people, I turn to fast fashion to stock my closet.

Fast fashion is cheaply made clothing often produced under dubious conditions that serves to fulfill a small trend and then be thrown away. Stores like Shein, Fashion Nova and Forever 21 are just a few examples of companies infamous for their detrimental environmental impacts and employing child labor. Buying clothes from these companies completely goes against my values, but there are times when that’s legitimately the only option for me. 

Practically anything in my size that catches my eye at the thrift store comes home with me and I proceed to wear it constantly. But if I want something more modern, or if I need something specific for an event, it has to be fast fashion. I don’t stand a chance in a thrift store with that mission, which means that I’m participating in fast fashion much more than I’d like to.

I still go thrifting when I can, I just have to be optimistic about it. It’s fun to help smaller friends pull outfits together, and there’s always something nice in the jewelry section. I try to work with what I’m given while still being as sustainable while I can.

Plus-size thrifting isn’t sustainable, neither for the environment nor for myself. If I tried to thrift all of my clothes, I would have nothing to wear. To smaller size thrift-loving GW students, try not to make a face when a plus-size person says they got something from Shein, because it’s often the only place to get clothes. Allow us to help the planet in the ways we are able to and plus-size bodies should be able to partake in looking good just as much as the rest of the population.

Bridget Bushey, a freshman majoring in journalism and mass communications, is an opinions writer.

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