Vintage Shopping While Body Dysmorphic

Posted by Ali Brownrigg on

I love vintage clothing, obvi. And in my mind’s eye I’m still the same size I was in high school. But the reality is that my gorgeous bod is now curvy and bodacious and a lot of the vintage that I find is sized for smaller gals. But that’s ok! Because there is still plenty of sweet vintage out there that fits me and I can identify it easily by following some simple guidelines, body dysmorphia be damned. 

Know your measurements and get real about them. Accepting my body as it is and knowing my true size in inches has reduced the disappointment and self-chastisement that leads to negative self-thinking. In the spirit of “fake it ‘til you make it,” I repeat this mantra in my mind while shopping: “My gorgeous body is curvy and bodacious and I love me.” Pretty soon I imagine I’ll begin to believe my own hype. What’s your body-positive shopping mantra?

Keep your measurements - and a tape measure - with you. I use my tape measure to measure pit to pit and waist size of a garment because those are the two areas that matter the most to me. For you it might be length or inseam or shoulders. Accepting my body for what it is frees me up to find the clothing that adorns it in the way that is the most attractive and comfortable for me. And that is so worth it. Another tip is to measure items of clothing already in your closet that you love and add those measurements to your list to refer to as you shop. This works well for jeans, which are notoriously difficult to shop for. More on jeans later.



Ignore the size on the label. Vintage sizing is never the same as modern sizing and almost always errs on the smaller size. And actually, modern sizing can be super wonky too - ever seen a large that looks like a small? We all have. On the other hand, sometimes an oversized small fits like a large. Best to ignore the size and stick with measurements.

Don’t limit yourself to the space on the rack allotted to the size you think you are. You’re already ignoring the size on the label, right, so this makes sense. Measure what you love, then try it on. I’m always looking for dresses, so I look through the whole rack up to and including the largest size because I know that a vintage size 16 (which will end up in the XL/XXL section based on the label) probably fits like a modern 10 or so. I am often rewarded with an amazing find.



Buy used denim. The ecological toll denim production takes on the environment is staggering and thrift stores are filled with racks of pre-loved pairs of jeans just waiting for you. Identify what you want in your next pair and scour the racks thoroughly for it. Keep an eye on the rise of the jeans (the measurement from the crotch to the waistband), the length of the inseam and the type of cut.



For example: I like mom jeans because I’m a mom and because wearing jeans below my true waist gives me a flesh belt - so I look for jeans with a higher rise (longer zipper usually); I’m short so I look for a shorter inseam so I don’t have to deal with hemming them; and I’m into a straight-legged or tapered cut - so I have to weed out the 10 million pairs of boot-cut jeans until I find my needle in the denim haystack. 

In general odd numbers are junior sizes and even numbers are women’s sizes. This means that a pair of size 13 pants might be smaller than a size 12 because they’re based off of different scales. This is where knowing your true size and shopping with a tape measure comes in very handy. A side note on sizing: I’m always on the lookout for used designer pieces and those often use European sizing so having a size conversion chart bookmarked on my phone’s browser, like this one from Net-A-Porter, is super helpful for me.

These guidelines don’t just apply to vintage clothing, of course. You can use them while shopping for new stuff, or contemporary clothing that you find at the thrift store. But it really boils down to one thing: Embracing your body as it is gives you the freedom to buy what looks and feel great on it. 


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