Let’s talk about plus size vintage clothing in the UK

by Rowena Howie May 23, 2021

 

 

First things first, full disclosure, the person writing this is a size 12. Why am I writing this then?

 

I’m a small business owner. I have a bricks and mortar boutique in central London and for the past ten years I’ve listened to women’s frustrations surrounding buying clothes. I’ve tried my best to solve those problems wherever I can.

 

 

Rowena

 

I’d like to, if I can, create plus size vintage clothing that women will love. We are a business so the venture has to be commercially viable that means it’s in our interest to make great products that you will come back for again and again. To do that we have to understand what the problems are to see how we might solve them.

 

So, you’ll have picked up from the description above that I’m talking about repro vintage not originals. We are particularly in to 1940s clothing, 1950s dresses and a bit of 1920s and 30s too. If you are looking for original vintage then shoutout to fellow shopkeeper Jen at VV in Alverstoke who has quite a collection.

 

Happy customers

 

 

I think there’s three general themes that could sum up the frustrations of women I’ve talked to. Quality. Design. Availability

 

High quality vintage clothing

Does this exist for plus sizes? I’m not sure it does in the UK? There are quite a few companies offering cheap and accessible dresses in fun vintage prints up to size 30ish and these play an important part in offering accessible vintage style.

 

But lower prices are achieved by sacrificing better standards of fabric quality, minimising production costs and doing everything at volume and speed. Sustainably and ethically this is a version of fast fashion and isn’t great for people or planet.

 

Cutting costs also means key things we love about vintage style are sometimes lost (particularly when it comes to 1940s tailoring). Great workmanship and care over the small details really matter and spending time on design and fit costs money.

 

Design / Fit

Is it just me or is a lot of the available plus size clothing poorly designed? Almost every woman size 20+ that I talk to describes the inconsistency in sizing and poor fit of garments in most sizes due to failure to design for shape. It’s commonly understood that taking a size 12 pattern and sizing it up to bigger sizes does not work.

 

Another bug bear where I think plus size women are being ‘cheated’ is the overuse of stretch fabrics. Stretch has it’s place but it shouldn’t be a lazy replacement for good fit. There seems to be very few companies taking the time to develop multiple elements of good fit and couple that with great design.

 

Availability

Yes, there are some companies creating some lovely garments but most companies only offer sizes up to 18/20/22. I would contend this is not genuinely plus size. Wouldn’t offering up to at least size 26/28 be necessary to confidently label yourself as a plus size stockist?

At Revival we are small so everything we do is incremental and has to show proven business success to warrant continuing. Year on year over the last decade we’ve tried to increase the range of sizes we offer. but when we got the stock in it rarely sells and then that inhibits our willingness to try more stock and more sizes next time.

The sad but true state of affairs is that plus size women rarely expect boutiques like ours will stock their size, lack of availability and / or shockingly poor attitudes of staff across the fashion industry have trained women to not even enter a shop let alone ask for their size.

It's a cycle of discontent that needs to be broken.

 

Rowena and Melody Mae

 

Certainly, it's up to retailers to do better. For instance i could have done a much better job of advertising the range of sizes we stock.

So far, I've been conflicted. If I, as a business, say “I offer plus sizes” I believe that I better be willing and able to back up that statement. In our case, stocking only certain styles up to size 22 thus far, I feel I would be lying to say we are a plus size clothing company, doing so would only end in disappointment for the majority of women. Perhaps it's easier to be all in or not at all? 

Whatever you think of the term plus size it is still the mostly widely known and used marketing term for companies to sell and customers to find what they are looking for. And so the cycle continues…

 

Plus Size Vintage Clothing 1940s

 

So, these were my thoughts but I hope this is part of a two way conversation. My name is rowena and my email is @revival-retro.com feel free to get in touch and in reply to this blog

I have two requests for you:

  1. I would like to know if you disagree with any or all of what I’ve said. If I’ve misunderstood the problem, or it’s nuances, then I’m building on crappy foundations – everything will be wrong, any attempt I make to create a plus size range will undoubtedly fail.
  2. Tell me where you agree. Endorse the most important things you believe need to be addressed. If you have suggestions on how I am open to hearing that too. Build on my points and make me better informed. Show us there’s demand if you want me to take this further. Even sign up to get involved / hear more.

 

This was wrote in May 2021 so if your reading this a few months down the line things may have changed . Maybe Revival Retro even has a plus size clothing collection? Tour the site and tell us how we're doing? There's always room for improvement.

 


Rowena Howie

Author

Lover of beautiful things and amazing people. Explorer and Entrepreneur. This is my independent shop, whether you visit our London boutique or browse our online offering it is my vision that our wonderful team is working hard to bring to life.


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