"And this is our glitter section," says Carlee Smith, gesturing animatedly toward rack upon rack of bespangled and sequined tops—all in far larger sizes than those found in any other shop in town. The 33-year-old, a former advocate for victims of domestic violence, has reason to be excited: She and biz partner Annie Maribona, 27, just opened Fat Fancy, Portland's first plus-sized vintage and modern clothing store. Fat Fancy has been gaining acolytes since late 2007, when Maribona, a waitress and experimental filmmaker, cleared the furniture out of her studio apartment and invited women from as far away as Seattle to come get fashionable without being made to feel like crap about how fat they are.
The underground boutique was an immediate hit, garnering fans from Portland's fat activist community and even Gossip's Beth Ditto. Nearly two years and 24 basement sales later, Maribona and Smith nabbed grants from Intuit and Mercy Corps Northwest and last Saturday opened their plus-sized storefront downtown—packed with inexpensive, brightly colored muumuus, giant-sized western shirts for men and even plus-sized neon spandex jumpsuits from Leslie Hall. The duo celebrated with a John Waters Hairspray-themed dance party—a perfect fit for Fat Fancy's ebullient, in-your-face attitude and style. Just don't look for tags that tout numerical dress sizes; at Fat Fancy there are only four size designations: Plush (approximately 16-18), Hot (20-22), Divine (22-24) and Fun (26+).
WW: "Plus-sized," "women of size"…what do you ladies prefer to be called?
Annie Maribona: We like the word "fat." We want people to get used to the word fat, and with being fat in general.
I love the way Fat Fancy does sizing. What are you?
Carlee Smith: I'm a Hot-Divine.
Annie: I'm Divine. We occasionally get [garments] that are less than size 12, and we put them in our "Ally" section. We don't believe in discriminating...but we don't encourage skinny people to come to Fat Fancy looking for an oversized shirt, because we'd like to save that for somebody who needs it.
You often describe the shop as riot grrrl or political. What are you two fighting for?
Carlee: We're trying to challenge [people] and present this new idea that fat can be a good thing. That fat is a beautiful thing…. One stereotype I'd like to fight is that fat equals unhealthy and inactive.
Annie: Some people are just…fat. Not everybody is supposed to be skinny.
What's a fat-girl fashion stereotype you want to destroy?
Annie: Actually I'm all about reclaiming fat girl fashion stereotypes. I will wear horizontal stripes, and I'm all about the muumuu. Just put a belt on it and accessorize and it looks amazing. It feels subversive to wear them out because there's this idea as fat people that you wear a muumuu and just sit in the house.
Carlee: And I love '70s caftans—very dramatic.
Around 61 percent of Oregonians are considered overweight or obese.* That can't be healthy. If you create a shop where people can find gorgeous clothes in very large sizes, doesn't that hurt the chances that we'll ever be motivated to lose weight?
Annie: Wow. Everyone deserves to have cute clothes. Fat people are very demonized by society. And I think that's where that statement comes from—the idea that fat people are monstrous and gross and they don't deserve to have cute clothes and should walk around wearing bags. Fat people deserve to have a shopping experience that's positive and fun.
Carlee: If you want to work to get skinnier, we're not gonna marginalize you for wanting that. But we're about being proud of who we are.
I'm assuming you didn't always feel so great about yourselves. What was the turning point?
Annie: For my senior [college] project I did an installation for a year about my feelings about being fat. I did research, I made art and I worked [my feelings] out. In the installation I [posted] rude things that people had said to me about being fat when I was younger, just to get them out of me…. Later, [in Portland], I joined the FATASS Cheerleaders [and] went to Fat Girl Speaks…that helped me blossom.
Carlee: In 2006, I started dancing with a queer burlesque troupe [in PDX]. That's pretty extreme—taking [my] clothes off in front of people solidified my confidence.
Are there plus-sized vintage garments?
Carlee: Yes! There were absolutely plus-sized women in the 1920s, in the '50s.... [But] even if [other vintage stores] get a wonderful plus-sized garment, they're not going to keep it because that's not what they're selling.
Annie: It's fat-hate.
What's one great thing you've learned from being fat?
Annie: It's a bullshit detector. If someone is an asshole, they're not gonna be nice to you [if they don't like fat people], and you don't end up friends with a jerk. The people who do like you are really awesome.
*According to a 2009 report by the state Task Force for a Comprehensive Obesity Prevention Initiative
The shop gets its garments from wholesaler Apocalypse Vintage in San Francisco.
BUY: Fat Fancy, 1013 SW Morrison St.,
445-4353, fatfancyfashions.com. Open 2-7 pm Monday and Thursday, 11 am-7 pm Tuesday, Friday-Saturday, noon-6 pm Sunday.