"Ankles Don't Get Fat at the Same Rate as Butts."

On the problems with plus sizing and building a space for fat fashion on Instagram, with Corinne Fay, founder of @SellTradePlus

  
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Hello, and welcome to another audio version of Burnt Toast!

Today, I'm delighted to be chatting with Corinne Fay, who is my awesome newsletter assistant and the founder of @SellTradePlus, an amazing Instagram account where you can buy and sell plus size clothing.

Virginia

Welcome! Thanks for being here.

Corinne

Thanks so much for having me. I'm really excited to be a tiny crumb of Burnt Toast.

Virginia

If we're going to use this metaphor, you would be the butter or some other very important component. The crust? You are a really crucial part of Burnt Toast, behind the scenes. For folks who don't know, Corinne edits the newsletters every week. She catches my many typos and word repetitions and things like that. She also, even more crucially, edits the transcripts (that you may well be reading right now) and makes them legible. She takes out all the times I say “you know,” and “um,” which is really a gift.

You also do many other amazing things. So, tell us a little bit about yourself—where you live, what else you do professionally, and anything else you want to share.

Corinne

I live in Albuquerque, New Mexico. My main full-time gig is doing social media—mostly Instagram, actually—for a local design and manufacturing studio. Our main product is very high-end commercial wall covering. It's the kind of thing that you would see in the Bank of America corporate offices or a tech company office. It's made out of merino wool felt and has very geometric designs. It’s sound absorbing. It’s a very nice product!

I have no children, but I do have a very rambunctious dog named Bunny. Hopefully we will not hear her barking in the background. If you follow me on Instagram, I post many photos of her.

Virginia

She's so freaking cute. She's gray and adorable. And you're in New Mexico, home to the most amazing burritos, which we're going to talk about later. I am regularly jealous of your burrito content.

More importantly, you do @SellTradePlus! Tell us about that. Tell us the origin story of what inspired you to to launch this because it is a very crucial service in the plus size community.

Corinne

I started @SellTradePlus in 2018. At the time, I was following two other sell/trade accounts on Instagram. I was following them because they were reselling clothes that I was interested in buying, but also could not afford. I had post notifications on, so I'd get a little ding on my phone every time something posted. But every time something posted, I'd get incredibly sad and frustrated because it was never my size. Maybe like one piece out of hundreds might fit me.

So, I started thinking about how if I were shopping in real life—at a thrift or secondhand store—I would just go to the section that was my size. That made so much more sense to me, as a way to shop. I decided that I would start an account that focused on size, first and foremost.

When I started @SellTradePlus in 2018, it felt like there were no slow fashion brands or independent designers doing plus sizes. I was also interested in meeting other people who were interested in the same kind of clothes and who wanted to chat about which brands we could squeeze into or make work.

The way @SellTradePlus works is, if you have something you want to sell, you send in an email. In the body of the email is the text of the post—we have a format we use with the item, size, condition price, etc—and then you attach photos of the garment. Then it goes into a queue and eventually, I post it on Instagram. People who are interested will leave their zip codes in the comments. Twenty-four hours after the post goes up, the seller randomly selects a person to sell the piece to. This is a little different than some other sell/trade accounts. We do it that way just so people have more of a window to think, “Do I want this? Is this something I need?”

Virginia

That's nice. It takes away the pressure of first come first serve, and maybe you don't actually need the thing but you’re afraid you'll miss your chance.

Corinne

Exactly. So it's not always just the first person commenting who wins. And then, if and when the garment sells, I take a small fee. That’s how I keep things running.

Virginia

As well, you should, because this is a lot of work you’re doing. It's such a smart model.

I really hear you about that experience of just wanting to be able to go to my size range and cut out all that other noise. It is so difficult to do, both because in person shopping has become increasingly not a thing for many of us for reasons, and then even when you're shopping online, it's exhausting. Then if you add in that you are wanting more ethically produced fashion, there are so few brands doing that in the plus size space. There have been some improvements, but not enough. So buying buying secondhand is a nice workaround for that. It's very genius. I think you're doing a real service.

In addition to solving all these practical problems for people, you've been building this really lovely Instagram community. You have these great, awesome open thread posts that you do on Fridays where people talk about all kinds of different things. I got advice recently on plus size underwear brands, which was useful to me. All different topics come up.

I'm curious, was that also part of your original goal? Was it something you cultivated? Or did it just kind of happen that way?

Corinne

It was definitely part of my original goal. I was really looking for a place where I could connect with other people who were a similar size, who were interested in similar types of clothes, so that we could share info about what brands fit us or what things we could make work.

The community aspect has definitely become a huge part of it for me. Even sharing stuff like fast fashion pieces that are better than you think they would be. If there's a really good Target jumpsuit that fits plus size bodies and is made out of a nice material, it's just a good place to share info like that. [Corinne Edit: The jumpsuit linked there is good, but it isn’t as good as last year’s version!]

And I actually have a few people that I've met through @SellTradePlus who live in Albuquerque that I've met in real life. Someone just did an in-person plus size clothing swap in Philadelphia. The community is definitely a big part of it for me and when I think about what might be next for @SellTradePlus, I don't want to lose that element.

Virginia

I agree. I think it's really special. It's interesting, too, because I'm noticing a lot of tension over which brands do we want to support, which brands do we not want to support. We don't have to get into specifics, especially because by the time this airs the whole conversation will change. That tension comes from a very real place, right? This is a marginalized group who hasn't had enough options and emotions, understandably, run very high.

But I appreciate that you have created a space that's positive and supportive. There is space for people to have those feelings, of course, but is more focused on solutions and helping each other, rather than some of the tear-each-other-down stuff I’m seeing in other spaces.

Corinne

We definitely have drama sometimes—but who doesn’t? We're realizing now that is the very nature of social media: Drama makes it work.

Virginia

Once you start to get a little bit bigger, it's inevitable because you're not talking to only 300 people anymore—it’s thousands of people. Overall, I feel like you keep a very positive tone and I appreciate it.

Corinne

Thank you. I feel lucky that—maybe because it's clothes—we're not on the troll radar. I fear that as we get bigger, that might change.

Virginia

It's good that you don't talk about parenting or health, because I can say from experience those are troll-heavy subjects, especially where they intersect with weight. A lot of my life choices I have to question.

Corinne

Oh God, I'm so sorry!

Virginia

It's fine. It's all part of the gig. It's a fraction of what I deal with, honestly. I mostly have really positive interactions with people, but it is a part of the job. I'm just glad you can protect yourself from that to some extent.

Let's talk a little bit more about fat fashion. I've seen really beautiful pieces go up on @SellTradePlus. There are great clothes, but you're also seeing things that haven't worked for people, right? That's why they're passing them on. I'm curious if you've identified any themes. Are there certain brands where the sizing is really inconsistent so they don't work out for people? Are there certain types of garments? Other things that are real problem areas in fat fashion?

Corinne

This is something I could talk about for hours. The number one biggest thing that comes up over and over again is sizing. When brands decide they're going to start making plus sizes, a lot of times it seems like they just go for it without doing any research. Sometimes there's a whole different sizing scale where you think you're ordering a 3X but it's actually the equivalent of like a standard plus size 18.

Often there are huge issues with pattern grading. Pattern grading is really complicated, but basically when an item of clothing is designed, they design one base size, and then grade that up and grade it down from there. The problem is that when you grade up or down, eventually the pattern becomes distorted. If a brand offers sizes 0-12 and wants to expand to a size 26, they have to create a whole new base pattern. If they don't do that, the typical problems you see are things like the sleeve on the upper arm is too tight or the ankle is like weirdly big and not in line with the original look of the pants. It turns out ankles don't get fat at the same rate as butts!

It's a problem of trying to linearly make a piece of clothing bigger and that's not how fatness and bodies work. That's probably the number one problem. There are some brands where it's just so obvious that they haven't done the grading right.

There are also certain fabrics that are just really hard to get right, like linen pants where you're going to wear out the thighs really fast if your thighs rub together or wear out the seams if they're a little bit tight. Also non-stretch stuff, like 100% cotton denim or canvas. It can just be uncomfortable sometimes. There's so much variance in like how large bodies carry weight so it's just so hard to get the fit right sometimes.

Virginia

When I was doing my jeans research people kept saying—because I kept complaining that the jeans were stretching out so fast—that I need non-stretch denim. Maybe? But, in plus sizes, that is very hard to find. And if it doesn't work that's going to feel miserable on my body, like wearing a suit of armor.

Corinne

Exactly. With the 100% cotton denim, you either have to stretch it out—so you're wearing it while it’s incredibly uncomfortable, which can be really triggering for some people—or they don’t stretch at all. I also had a non-stretch pair that I just ripped bending over because… they don't stretch.

Virginia

They don’t move with your body. That's a good point about it being triggering for folks.When clothes don’t fit, it’s a really emotional thing.

Corinne

For people that already struggle with feeling comfortable in their bodies, it just doesn't feel good.

Another thing is that now that we live in this post-/ongoing pandemic, there are a lot of styles that just are not selling right now. Like business casual stuff. Like Ann Taylor, LOFT, blazers, blouse-y stuff. This may change when people go back to the office, but who knows? Maybe the world has changed forever.

And the other thing that is consistently a hard sell is shoes. I think they're just really hard to buy online, especially if you can't return them.

Virginia

That's fair. If the shoe doesn’t fit, there’s no faking it.

Corinne

No. No one's going to tell you to stretch out the shoe. Or maybe they are, I don't know.

Virginia

It's not going to work.

The business casual stuff totally makes sense, that you would be seeing more of that right now.

The sizing thing is so, so tricky. That's why I think this is such a smart resource. I had an experience recently where I ordered two jumpsuits from Big Bud Press. And I’ll call them out: The sizing was atrocious! I measured myself, I used the chart, and I couldn't get them up over my hips. And then to return them, I had to send an email within 14 days of purchase and get blessed to return them, which is a lot of hassle. I did manage to get them in under the wire and get my money back, but the whole time I was thinking, well maybe I could post them on @SellTradePlus because this is so stressful.

Corinne

Their sizing is just whack.

Virginia

It makes no sense and it's very frustrating. So I like having this alternative option if you get screwed on returns, which unfortunately happens a lot.

You're seeing what trends people are really responding to and getting excited about. What kinds of items are gold on @SellTradePlus? Things you know will go fast.

Corinne

The most popular posts, the ones that have just dozens and dozens of people interested in them, are often the most colorful stuff: a pair of like Lucy & Yak overalls with a bright floral pattern, or the NorBlack NorWhite dress with the rainbow-y plaid, or even a sweater from Target that's just like a really good shade. Those items are just the most consistently popular, across brands and across sizes.

Fat people have been told, “Wear a black sweater.” And either because everyone already has twenty-five black sweaters and they are not as hard to find, or maybe because a black sweater doesn't stand out in the grid as much, sometimes that more generic stuff is a little bit harder to sell, even when it's a popular brand. The colorful stuff really gets people, I think.

Virginia

That makes sense. I think it is speaking to a craving a lot of people have. You're working within the Instagram model, too, like what stands out when people are scrolling.

Corinne

I'm always really excited to see larger sizes just because they are less common—like size 24 and up. We just don't get as much of that and also that's my size range. I'm way less picky with the larger size stuff and way more picky with the smaller sizes.

Virginia

That totally makes sense. The smaller sizes have more options, period.

Well, I have a couple of things I think I have to send you soon. I have a very sad story about a Tanya Taylor dress I bought it for my sister's wedding. I ended up with a different dress for the wedding, but I missed the return window and Tanya Taylor dresses are an investment. It's a really cool dress. I think it will be fabulous for somebody. So I will get some pictures.

Corinne

Great, I will keep an eye out. If you need Big Bud Press sizing advice, I may be able to help you.

Virginia

I was left with such a bad taste in my mouth. I have to have some distance before I'm ready to try again.

Corinne

I understand that. That's definitely one brand that shows up a lot.

Virginia

It's frustrating because there's a lot to love about what they're doing. If you want to support a small brand, they check all those boxes. But I don't feel like they're doing the best job with their size chart. So maybe they'll improve.

Corinne

Yeah, they have been improving. I don't know when you ordered or which item, but they're improving sizing garment by garment. It’s hard to keep track of whether you're in the new sizing or the old sizing.

Virginia

Okay, that's encouraging. I'll try them again down the road, I guess. It’s too cold for jumpsuits right now, so that's another reason to put it on hold.

So this is where we each recommend something we're loving lately. Corinne, what do you have for us?

Corinne

This is very niche, but I'm hoping it's something everyone can appreciate in some way. I live in New Mexico and breakfast burritos are a huge thing here. I'm from the East Coast originally, and breakfast burritos have a real culture here. There are tons of places in Albuquerque where you can go and get a drive-thru breakfast burrito. Probably most listeners won't be able to do that. If you can't get a drive-thru breakfast burrito, you could make one. Just make sure it has green or red chile on it.

Virginia

I want to plan a trip to New Mexico solely based around the breakfast burritos. Whenever you post one, I'm filled with sadness that I live in the Hudson Valley, where we have really good Mexican food, but we do not have breakfast burritos like that.

Corinne

It’s such a specific thing! I didn't understand until I lived here. So, have a breakfast burrito. If you need some inspiration, you can look at my personal Instagram where I do post a lot of breakfast burrito pictures.

Virginia

Very impressive and inspiring. I should make them, you’re right. One of my kids would really go for them and one of my kids would just eat the tortilla. You're inspiring me. I feel like they're also not just for breakfast, like I can make this for dinner.

Corinne

They’re good for every meal.

Virginia

They just have eggs in them. That's what makes them breakfast, right? An egg burrito? That sounds sort of gross, I can see why they branded it differently. Well that is a very good recommendation.

I'm actually going to recommend two things. The first is a novel called Detransition, Baby by Torrey Peters. It is out in paperback, so a lot of people may have already read it, but I just got to it. It's a hard read, at times, but it's a really beautiful book about the trans community in New York City. It’s about what happens in this relationship—it's two trans women—when one of them detransitions and goes back to living as a man even though he/she (pronouns change frequently throughout the book) doesn't identify as a cisgender man either. That whole journey is so fraught for both of them. The book really takes you into that community in New York City and the history and how folks in the trans community have had to be each other's parents and look out for each other across generations.

Corinne

I read this and I also endorse. It's so good. Actually, I listened to it and the audiobook is also really good.

Virginia

This is a double recommendation! I could see it being good listen. It was great. I'm dying for it to be a movie. It would be a really amazing movie. It’s one you keep thinking about afterwards.

My second recommendation isn’t really related, except that they both take place in New York City. Last week, we watched the movie Can You Ever Forgive Me? starring Melissa McCarthy. It came out in 2018 and I had a baby in 2017, so I have cultural black spots related to the years my children were little. But I'm a longtime Melissa McCarthy fan. It's a serious film—but you know, it's Melissa McCarthy, so there's humor too. She plays Lee Israel, who was a queer writer in the 90’s, who couldn't make a living as an artist. She ended up becoming a literary forger and forging letters by Dorothy Parker and Noel Coward and selling them. The movie follows her whole journey of doing that and getting caught—I'm not spoiling anything because it's a real thing, she got caught. The movie takes you into this little community in New York, her friendships, her life, and I love it. I love it because it's the type of story that we would not remember necessarily. Her narrative is not one that gets told often. It was another one that I just keep thinking about. So if you haven't seen that, I recommend.

Corinne, thank you so much. This was a really great conversation. I'm so glad to be able to share @SellTradePlus with Burnt Toast folks who haven't already discovered it. Tell us where we can find more of you and more of your work.

Corinne

Thank you so much for having me! You can find @SellTradePlus on Instagram and you can find my personal account (where I'm posting breakfast burritos) at @SelfieFay.

Virginia

Thank you to everyone listening to Burnt Toast today. If you liked this episode, and you aren't yet subscribed, please do that.

If you are a subscriber, thank you for being here and please consider sharing burnt toast on social media or forwarding this to a friend (maybe a friend who is shopping for clothes!)

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Burnt Toast transcripts and essays are edited and formatted by the fantastic Corinne Fay, who runs @SellTradePlus, an Instagram account where you can buy and sell plus size clothing.

The Burnt Toast logo is by Deanna Lowe.

I’m Virginia Sole-Smith. You can find more of my work at virginiasolesmith.com or come say hi on Instagram or Twitter. Thanks for listening. Talk to you soon!