How Instagram Became The Go-To Destination For Plus-Size Vintage

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There are three jean jackets currently sitting in my closet — but only one of them fits. The first, acquired in a Bunz trade years ago, is a moto-style light denim number from the Gap that's too cool to abandon, despite the fact that its non-stretch arms don’t even come close to accommodating mine. The second, which is emblazoned with embroidered leather patches on the shoulders and was once described by a friend as “cruise mom chic,” doesn’t fasten around my waist. The third, a vintage acid-wash beauty, with a zip front and plenty of stretch that I bought online, is my goldilocks of jean jackets: It fits just right.
If you’re plus-size and you love to shop vintage, you might already understand why this is a big deal: Vintage duds for fat folks are virtually nonexistent. As anyone who’s above a size 12 — like myself, I’m a size 16 — who’s purchased vintage clothing online can attest, our sizes have been historically ignored by most major retailers. A vintage size 16 is usually closer to a modern size 10, and a vintage size 20+ is virtually nonexistent. When you’re a plus-size person, shopping online is already fraught; shopping for vintage online can be difficult at best, disheartening at worst.

When you’re a plus-size person, shopping online is already fraught; shopping for vintage online can be difficult at best, disheartening at worst.

I knew the jacket would fit, though, because I bought it on Instagram from Halifax-based Fat Chance Vintage. Fat Chance is part of a growing community of mostly Instagram-based plus-size vintage retailers who have created a retail model that, a few years ago, simply didn’t exist. Tired of wild goose chases for secondhand items, they took matters into their own hands, establishing a social media-centric network of shops. There’s also Generous Clothing in Vancouver, which categorizes all of its clothing into Sizes 1-5 by measurement, not tag size; Me + You Thrift in Halifax; Found for Us Plus and Chubby Fem Thrift, both in Edmonton; and Consign Your Curves in Guelph, ON, which combines resale with new, stylish plus-size clothing — to name a few.
“I had thrifted my whole life, and have been plus-size my whole life, and I have lots of plus-size friends,” says Olivia Weir, who runs Fat Chance, which she launched in 2019 and now sells clothes she curates from thrift stores and secondhand markets to her more than 5,000 followers. “I would often have friends asking to buy thrifted clothing from me. At the same time, I realized that there's just not really a whole lot of options for plus-size clothes in general. So, I started taking pictures of my friends and clothes that I've thrifted and posting them on Instagram… It just happened organically.”
Part of the reason why Weir and her peers were able to find so much success selling on Instagram is that the medium already lends itself to a sense of camaraderie for independent retailers. Many sellers use the “community over competition” model on Instagram, frequently cross-posting items from similar stores that they love and promoting other sellers in their stories and main feeds. What’s more, Instagram is often used as a digital community space for marginalized individuals, such as plus-size folks, which makes the platform a natural setting for the rise of plus-size vintage sellers. Instagram plus-size shops aren’t just stores, they provide a necessary service to members of that community who were previously completely ignored. “There are a lot of barriers to finding clothing that straight-sized people don’t think about, because they haven’t had to think about it,” says Weir. “So we’re on here saying, this is where I find plus-size lingerie. This is where I get this, this is where I get that.”

Instagram plus-size shops aren’t just stores, they provide a necessary service to members of that community who were previously completely ignored.

If the mainstream fashion community has largely overlooked plus-size shoppers in Canada, the vintage fashion community has essentially pretended those shoppers don’t exist. Partly, this is due to product scarcity. Though pioneer plus-size retailer Lane Bryant was established in the early 20th century, it wasn't until the 1980s that the term became ubiquitous; and even then, women above a size 16 were relegated to shapeless, styleless garments designed to hide their shape, rather than celebrate it. If you are able to find a vintage garment in your size, it’s more likely to be a one designed with the idea that fat bodies should be hidden, not styled (which is why some online sellers, such as Cherry Velvet in Vancouver, are making vintage-inspired clothing for plus-sized shoppers).
Rachel Li, who runs Water & Colour Vintage, a size-inclusive vintage store in Calgary that also operates mainly on Instagram, acknowledges that the shame and stigma many plus-size folks feel about their bodies is difficult to overcome, especially when plus-size clothing is so often designed to shroud larger figures. “People want to wear clothing that is stylish and has a story,” Li says. “I see myself as not just a retailer, but a service to people who want to find special, sustainable pieces that let them tell a story with their outfits.”
While Instagram has provided fertile ground for Canadian plus-size vintage sellers, the site also continues to pose challenges and restrictions to plus-size content creators. Plus-size influencers have long alleged that Instagram polices their content disproportionately, when compared to straight-sized influencers, with posts and images that are suggestive or revealing receiving the bulk of this one-sided attention.
In a statement to Refinery29 Canada, a spokesperson for Facebook — which owns Instagram — said: “We want our policies to be inclusive and reflect all identities, and we are constantly iterating to see how we can improve. We remove content that violates our policies, and we train artificial intelligence to proactively find potential violations. This technology is not trained to remove content based on a person’s size, it is trained to look for violating elements – such as visible genitalia or text containing hate speech. The technology is not perfect and sometimes makes mistakes, as it did in this case — we apologize for any harm caused.”
Weir says that she considers her shop “a really good fuck you” to a social-media environment that is often less celebratory of fat bodies. In February, for instance, she styled a boudoir photoshoot, featuring plus-sized models posing in a Valentine’s Day-themed vintage lingerie collection. “It’s going against the [messaging you receive] that’s, like, ‘You can't have fat vanity. You can't be beautiful. Why on earth would you ever want lingerie or a two-piece bathing suit?’"
Another challenge facing these Insta-based retailers is that it’s difficult to satisfy growing consumer demand, especially as traditional retailers, including most recently Ann Taylor, downsize their plus-size offerings. “There are very few [plus-sized] resources, and those resources usually have a lot of barriers: they’re expensive, or they have high shipping fees, or they’re only available online,” Weir says. When Addition Elle shut down stores in Canada last year, that left virtually no plus-size brands, which in turn forced many to shop online.
Fat Chance Vintage recently migrated to its own website, as Weir found it difficult to satisfy the customer demand she was receiving on Instagram. Weir, who also works part-time as a baker, had previously considered shutting down the shop. “It’s not like I’m making a profit from it,” she says. “But I realized that, if I leave this space, there's an even bigger gap in the market for plus-clothing. This community that I’ve become a part of is so vibrant and loving and supportive. How could I walk away now? I feel like it's just getting started.”

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