We recently launched prelovedkilo.com, with thousands of individually listed second hand & vintage pieces available at affordable prices.
The feedback has been overwhelmingly positive, however we did see a lot of comments regarding the range of available sizing.... or lack of.
It's disheartening to realise just how many people are willing to shop with us and other vintage, charity & second hand clothing shops but with a limited size range it means they're instead turning away, time and time again.
And this isn't a problem limited to Preloved Kilo; many second hand retailers fail to offer plus size items and at a time when changing our sustainable shopping habits is more important than ever and affordable clothing is especially in demand, we've decided to delve into what it takes to run an affordable second hand/vintage retail business, and why the range is considerably limited when it comes to sourcing size inclusive vintage & second hand fashion.
(Note: we're generally referring to modern size UK 18+ when we say plus size here, just to avoid any confusion.)
When buying used clothing wholesale, it's all about the volume. The more you buy, the better the rate you can pay, and as such you can offer cheaper, more affordable prices to your customers.
At Preloved Kilo, we handpick the vast majority of stock, meaning we're presented with a huge mountain of unsorted clothing and we can cherry pick through every single item, only buying the stuff that's still in good condition, leaving the rest to be recycled or sold elsewhere. We can state with confidence that we won't turn down anything based on the size, especially when we're trying to buy as much as possible!
Even if we tried to handpick more plus size, we're not guaranteed to actually find any more than what we currently do, what we're given is all that's available.
Some other suppliers may actually charge a premium price for more desirable sizes too as they know how in-demand they are, they'll bump up the price to cover the time spent sorting their stock for sale - for shops selling items individually priced, they can just adjust their prices to ensure they still make profit. For us, our margins are much smaller as we sell by weight, unfortunately we can't pay premium prices without raising our own, and that defeats our goal of being affordable.
We're all familiar with vanity sizing, however this wasn't always a thing! Let's quickly run through the history of clothing clothing sizing:
Early 1800s: Garments were originally made to measure until clothing began to be manufactured for retail purposes.
Late 1920s: Standardised size charts became more common, with the USA trying to enforce sizing standards in the 1950s.
1970s: Trying to enforce standardised sizes was abandoned. That clearly went well.
1980s: The introduction and development of vanity sizing to make people feel good and buy more. Hello consumerism!
1990s: Specialist plus size retailers emerged, typically selling clothing available up to a modern size 32, increasing the range of sizes previously available.
2010s: High Street shops & contemporary brands start to introduce plus size lines, though the definition of 'plus size' can vary, some define size 12 - 18 as plus, for others, it starts anywhere from an 18 to a 22. Fast Fashion retailers also emerge, paving the way for size inclusive affordable fashion, though often with questionable ethics.
Recently, clothing manufacturers have implemented their own rules and sizing charts meaning a system which was one based on fixed measurements is now based on err...whatever they want. And then throw in international variations...
The problem this presents is that there's such vast inconsistencies when sizing clothing, and sourcing plus size vintage clothing is a task in itself given that a vintage size 20 is now more of a modern size 14. Marilyn Monroe famously wore size 12-14 clothing but by modern standards she's far from plus size, we all saw Kim K trying to squeeze into that tiny dress of hers...
Pre-80's clothing may occasionally have a size label say one thing but fits far smaller than what we'd expect, so relying on labels to source plus size pieces can be tricky as not everyone is familiar with how sizing has changed. Plus size clothing of the past was also manufactured on a smaller scale than it is today, so vintage pieces to fit a modern size 18+ are often very difficult to find, especially in wholesale volumes.
If we turned to our suppliers and did try to source more plus size vintage, it may not be as straight forward as it seems.
We've been buying & selling vintage for years now so we've got a pretty good understand of our market and what flies off the rails...and what doesn't.
And what's become apparent is that a lot of plus size stuff we come across is either fast fashion (so poor quality/questionable origin) or a little bland for our customer's tastes. There's nothing wrong with those items, we will still pop them on our rail, they do just take a little longer to find a forever home.
Plus size fashion has come a long way over the past few decades; fashion's previous attempts to dress fuller figures always focused on hiding the body or at best 'flattering' the silhouette based on the loose cuts of fabric, darker colours or strict rules on prints but since the body positive movement erupted, more people are embracing their size and wearing whatever they want, and rightly so. Show skin, wear shorter lengths, choose form fitting, wear the horizontal stripes... if a piece of clothing makes you smile then it deserves be worn.
And with a freedom to be plus size and fashionable we know it can be frustrating to find nothing exciting in your size, we know most of our customers want something a little more wow for their money. Rest assured we do find fun plus size pieces, those one of a kind finds in an XXL+ do exist, but the issue we face is that they're sold too fast!
We get a lot of message saying there isn't any plus size, but that's not quite true. There is some, it just sells incredibly fast. When listing online, some items can sell within minutes of appearing on site, especially the bright colours and bold prints and retro styles. We do recommend checking back often as our team add new items daily. The same applies when shopping at events or in our shops, those desirable plus pieces are often bought within an hour of hitting the rail.
We typically stock a fair amount up to size 18, and this size is incredibly popular; it's the size 20+ pieces which are harder to source but we do get them on regular occasions.
In addition to this, we're faced with another dilemma as this post on womenandhome.com explains:
...the boxy and baggy retro fashion options of my youth are huge and hotly in demand, with oversized fashion being at the forefront of recent trends.
There's even more demand for plus size than normal with the growing trend for oversized fits.
With oversized fashion becoming a thing in recent years, there's been a growing debate about whether standard size people should be buying and wearing plus size as a trend, especially given how there's limited availability of affordable/sustainable fashion in bigger sizes.
It's one thing to size up to ensure an item fits, but some people will buy several sizes up and rework it into a smaller outfit, permanently taking a plus size piece off the market. While the talent can be appreciated, some are really unhappy about this but unfortunately we can't control who is buying what.
As fashion changes this trend will hopefully pass, and in time the second hand market will become size inclusive as more and more items will eventually filter through.
The definition of 'vintage' is generally accepted as an item that's at least 20 years old, so we're entering a time where clothes from the 2000's are now being given the vintage label. Scary! However, this means that the volumes of more inclusive sizes designed and created during these periods will start to enter the second hand markets, becoming more available, catering to the growing demand and hopefully driving down prices to more affordable levels. Not ideal if you're after affordable size inclusive second hand pieces now, but at least we're making progress.
The more brands and designers that create quality plus size clothing, the more that will eventually end up in the second hand trade.
Specialist plus size brands such as Yours and Simply Be were founded in the 90's providing clothing up to size 32, some extending their range to size 40 only in recent years. And it's only in the past decade or so that many High Street brands actually produced their ranges beyond a size 18 too - ASOS introduced it's curve line in 2010, Dorothy Perkins in 2015, River Island in 2016, Nike in 2017, Adidas in 2019 and TopShop finally introduced 18+ sizes in 2022!
A lot of these brands were founded decades ago, we still find old TopShop & Nike on the rails, but while the newer more inclusive collections may not be strictly 'vintage', they still hold second hand value and are worth keeping in circulation.
Many people will choose to sell their quality clothes privately because they know there's a demand for that piece in their size, it's an easy way to earn some pocket money, especially with reselling apps making the process straightforward. Many second hand suppliers, including our own, rely on discarded clothing such as items thrown into recycling, or stock donated to charity shops which is then sold on en masse. While it's great that these plus size items are being kept in circulation, it is a small part of the reason so few end up with second hand wholesalers and retailers (in the meantime, check out those reselling apps if you don't already!)
Rest assured we'll keep buying as much as we possibly can - we want everyone to be able to shop with us and find a hidden gem or two. We hope this gives a little insight into why our rails aren’t as size inclusive as we’d like - sourcing wholesale quantities of quality, affordable vintage is a task in itself (our Steve & Wayne know!) though we hope in time we will become a much more size inclusive retailer.