Thick Mall, a market for ‘Size L and up’, fills the gap

CHICAGO — Jovana Savic kept leaving vintage markets empty-handed. In a size 18, she couldn’t find clothes that fit. Extended sizes were easy to find on eBay and Depop, but walking into a store and trying on a pair of jeans felt like an impossible task.

Even major retailers that sold plus sizes online did not have these options in their stores. Mrs. Savic thought: “How special would it be for fat people, tall people, people who are average, who generally feel like they have to go to the back of the rack to see if something might be in your size – how empowering could it be walking into a room where it’s all for you?”

To answer that call, she started Thick Mall, a “size L and up” pop-up market, in October 2021. “The first one really surprised me,” Ms. Savic, a 29-year-old tour manager. “People were hungry for clothes. And you could hear people saying, ‘Oh my god, I finally found this in my size.’

The third iteration of Thick Mall took place this month at Sleeping village, a venue on Chicago’s Northwest Side. Nineteen Chicagoland clothing and accessory vendors set up booths while bartenders mixed cocktails and a DJ pumped tunes. The party atmosphere provided more than a plus-size shopping opportunity; it offered a safe place to mingle, exchange compliments, and exist in a space with similar bodies.

Although Thick Mall is Ms. Savic’s creation, started this round without her physical presence. When she was touring Europe managing merch for pop-folk artist Julia Jacklin, organizers at Sleeping Village set out to see if they could plan a holiday market in her absence. Kyle LaValley, Sleeping Village’s head of programming, thought Thick Mall was too important to miss a season. “We like that there’s an event that can make all bodies feel welcome,” she said.

Across the venue, shoppers dug through tables of single-stitch T-shirts, racks of vintage dresses and nightgowns, and bins of used shoes. Bathroom stalls became makeshift dressing rooms where people gathered around the mirrors to cheer each other on. Shoppers could try on their new outfits, get their makeup done and pose for professional glam photos in front of a sky blue backdrop dotted with cotton clouds.

Jessica Siadek, Co-Owner of Loop Vintage, drove in from Brookfield, Ill., to set up shop. She doesn’t exclusively wear plus-size clothes, but she pulled out her larger sizes for the day.

Trying on items is especially important when shopping for vintage clothing, which is often less than modern. In person, shoppers can measure the stretch and flow of a fabric. In addition, they can get in touch with the supplier who bought the clothes. “When you’re looking for a certain size — especially vintage sizes — things can run smaller, or you’re flipping through how many racks of clothes to maybe find something that works,” Ms. Siadek. “When it’s big and up, it becomes easier to filter through and find the pieces that work for you.”

“Everyone has been super cool, trying things and hyping each other up,” Ms. Siadek. “I love shopping at markets because you can find things online, but how did I know it existed before I saw it?”

When it came to choosing the market’s name, Ms. Savic’s adjective choices. Although she uses the word “fat” herself, she knew it still had negative connotations for many people. Words like “curvy” or “bootylicious” felt too sexual, she said. “Thick” felt like a happy medium — snappy, memorable and “literally descriptive of our bodies.”

Courtney Coppa – who shares plus size styling tips on TikTok to more than 109,000 followers – visited Thick Mall for the first time and was excited for the chance to try things out. A market dedicated to serving these customers is not only rare. For many participants, finding clothes in the right size in person is completely new.

“Fat has always been thought of as this ugly, negative term, and they don’t want these types of people who shop in their stores to hinder their appearance or their aesthetic,” said Coppa, 28. “Stores think that if they just carry our sizes online then they do the job. It’s just the bare minimum.”

In recent years, some brick-and-mortar stores like Chicago’s Luvsick Plus and Brooklyn’s Plus BKLYN began focusing specifically on extended sizes.

Morgan Copas, 25, a manager at Plus BKLYN, said the shopping landscape was slowly improving, but she still gets frustrated when thrift stores refuse to carry extended sizes. “These vintage stores have the choice to buy plus-size vintage clothing, and they choose not to,” she said.

Accustomed to being left out of the mainstream fashion world, Ms. Copas that plus-size shoppers are learning to be resilient. “I think it makes plus-sized people have a better and more unique way of dressing than straight-sized people,” she said. “We have to make do with the small opportunities we have, and that leaves room for more creativity.”

As it grows, Thick Mall continues to evolve. Sellers offered menswear for the first time this round. And by inviting new sellers, Ms. Savic to keep expanding the event’s options—including offering wider sizes, more gender-neutral options, and even things like art and homewares.

But more than that, she wants to build a space where fat people feel seen and accepted. “It’s important to create an atmosphere, even if it’s just for one day, where you don’t feel like the odd one out,” she said. “Sometimes it feels nice not even to feel special.”

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