Your email is not valid
Recipient's email is not valid
Submit Close

Your email has been sent.

Click here to send another

Fat and Fabulous

Plus-size retail queen Deb Malkin insists that fashion isn’t only for the skinny

Print Email
Deb Malkin in her store, Re/Dress NYC (Len Small/Tablet Magazine)

“Being fat is a key part of my identity,” says Deb Malkin, the owner of Re/Dress NYC, a vintage and resale boutique in Brooklyn for women size 12 and up. “It’s taken me years to be comfortable with my body and live fearlessly in it.” As the catwalks in Bryant Park and around the city fill with stick-thin models for Fall Fashion Week, which begins Thursday, Deb talked to Tablet Magazine about her alternative vision of fashion and style.

“Plus-size women are the fastest-growing segment of the fashion market,” Malkin points out. “But Fashion Week has basically nothing to do with us.” That’s part of why she started her store, selling items ranging from $5 tank tops to $400 evening gowns from the 1940s.

Since it opened last year, Re/Dress NYC has become a community hub. It hosts parties, self-esteem and wellness workshops, readings from fat-positive books, indie-designer trunk shows, yoga classes for plus-size women who aren’t comfortable in traditional classes, and a size-18-and-up model search.

In the Jewish tradition of tikkun olam, Malkin, who also founded the Fat Girl Flea Market, an annual event that has raised more than $30,000 for the fat-bias-fighting non-profit NOLOSE, donates regularly to Coalition for the Homeless and the NYC Clothing Bank. She’s hired quirky salesfolk with backgrounds in activism, performance art, and writing: Burlesque artist Bevin, for example, looks like a super-curvy, super-femme ‘40s pinup girl, while Glenn, winner of the Mr. Coney Island 2009 contest, has a style The New York Times described as “drag-hippie-trucker-on-the-road-to-Burning-Man.”

The daughter of a super-skinny Long Island fashionista, Malkin has embraced a different path. “I love my amazing, fierce, fat community,” she says. “They’re not to be ignored.”

SLIDESHOW PRODUCED BY JULIE SUBRIN AND LEN SMALL.

Print Email

nicola says:

deb looks young and healthy – however being overweight produces serious health problems when one gets older – ask any doctor. so if you want to live a long and aktive life being overweight is not good for you. you don´t have to be thin but being fat cuts down your life expectancy. so lose that extra weight while you are still young – the older you get the more difficult it will become !

if you do not encourage smoking why encourage being fat ? instead of feeling good about schlepping about lots of extra weight and getting heart problems and/or diabiets they should be more invisted in teaching people about healthy foods and thearapy dealing with food addiction.

Nicola,

There’s no lack of materials on “healthy foods” and strategies for losing weight. But your remark: “instead of feeling good …” implies that feeling bad about being fat is somehow helpful. Believe me, it’s not and makes it much harder to do anything positive. Why worry about living longer if I’m miserable?

Stephanie says:

I don’t think we should see these issues in terms of an either/or dichotomy, but as a spectrum. I know a woman who chain smokes because she is convinced it keeps her slim, and therefore “healthy” and “attractive.” I know more than one woman who would be considered “overweight” or “obese” by the usual BMI standards who are actually strong, fit, and healthy: they “eat right,” exercise,and lead zestful, active lives. The assumption that a larger person is automatically unhealthy is in itself unhealthy, in that it can lead people to look at the wrong aspects of wellness. The point is that we need a more nuanced understanding of what it means to be healthy, and a more expansive (pun intented) conception of what bodies “should” look like. Say

Hadd-Jud says:

I fail to understand why someone feels compelled to defend their weight. If being heavy set makes one feel good. More power to them. Weight is subject and not for others to pass judgement.

As a physician, I have read and examined an extensive amount of research on obesity. So many of the studies are flawed in that they do not take into account “yo-yo dieting”, gender differences, height extremes and other important issues. I always emphasize healthy eating and activity. Not everyone is supposed to be thin. What is more important is taking care of ourselves. Genetics, enviroment, disability, povery, and a hostful of other factors all play a part in our habitus. Instead of finding fault and discriminating, imagine a world where we simple accept our differences and try to live in harmony instead of judgement and acrimony. As a woman of substance I lead a healthy life and am happy too! Cudos to Malkin.

great comment, marti! thanks.

the thing that gets me loopy is the argument (recently espoused when Forever 21 announced that it was adding a plus size line, for instance) that cute clothes shouldn’t be available for fat teenagers because this encourages obesity. UHHHH.

Loving ourselves at any size is so important-because if we don’t love ourselves when we are fat, or ill or whatever is a guarantee that we will have trouble loving ourselves when we achieve a transformation. I also am troubled by the celebration of an unhealthy lifestyle. I agree with the previous post.

One of my kids recently looked at my post-baby belly (and when I say “post-baby,” you should realize that the baby is THREE)and wondered if it bothered me that I am fat. I explained how my belly is a constant reminder of the life-giving power that my body has.

Now, in all reality, I would certainly be happy if I had a slightly smaller reminder. But that is more because I really would be healthier with a lower BMI. There is NO WAY I would ever say anything disparaging about my body, weight, etc. in front of my kids.

Producing cute clothing for larger sizes will certainly not be what causes someone to be obese. It can, however, encourage positive body-images.

Great piece on such a great woman! Deb really has created an amazing hub for plus sized women, particularly plus sized women who love awesome clothes. It’s such a joy to go there!

Since I’m the person linked to above who does the wellness workshops at Re/Dress, I will say that health is really possible at any size, and that dieting is often antithetical to health. I’m really thrilled to see the other commenters here who know whereof I speak!

Kudos to Deb and Tablet!

All I can say is when will Deb be opening a store in London ?

Lisa Maxwell says:

Im very proud of you sis!!

Amy K. says:

What a cool story and cool resource for plus-sized women. And a civilized discussion in the comments to boot — nice going, Tablet Magazine!

The article doesn’t say–where are you? Keep up the positive work; nothing to be gained in being negative! (pardon the pun)

Sherry G says:

Being who you are is more important than what you look like. Thin may be in, but fat’s where it at now a days. You go girl!!! Be beautiful in whatever skin you’re in!!

I just wish that I was in New York to apply as a salesperson! Right on! Keep up the good work!

sharon teig says:

fighting fat for over 40 years, i’ve learned that it is all relative to how you see yourself. I’m not sure why so many are so fat, over two hundred is a lot to carry around, on any frame. at 66 I can only say, hurray for the choices in clothing now available, but have to emphasize that excess poundage affects long-term health and the physical ability to be in the world.

“thearapy dealing with food addiction”

nicola — Assume much?

Not all fat people are addicted to food. I’m not even sure I really know what that term means, although “addicted” is a pretty popular lay diagnosis these days that can be attached to anything. Do you mean that I consume a substance that is sometimes pleasurable even though it’s bad for me physically? And that I’d be very uncomfortable (at least) if I went without it for any length of time? Then, yeah, I’m addicted to food. In that case, so are you.

wendyway says:

Just love this piece about Deb, a fierce, fab fat fashionista. I see that Majorie has NOT written a story about health and obesity, but about style and self-esteem – too bad that others missed that. I celebrate Deb’s contribution to making women of all sizes and choices feel confident and cool.

marta says:

To, Marti, the physician: do your homework, read serious medical literature and be careful when you extract conclusions from your observations.
Ms. Malkin, can be fabulous, but she’s on the way to metabolic syndrome.
Diabetes, varicose veins, cardiovascular disease, premature death, higher risk of breast cancer and Alzheimer disease are on her way. Probably her sexual life is limited by her volume.
To Ms. Malkin: love yourself and do exercise one hour every day. Forget about being fabulous, sexy or fashionable. Try to be healthy.
Skinny isn’t good, but your fat is killing you silently.

Cattie says:

Thank you so much for this feature. You’ve given me one more reason to move to New York. I’m 21, 5’7″ and 255 lbs. I’ve been overweight for as long as I can remember, and I’ve spent most if not all of that time hating my body and even half-seriously contemplating suicide because I didn’t want to be *so ugly* anymore. Recently I’ve been browsing pro-ana websites for diet tips, and the other day after a particularly discouraging time in the dressing room while shopping for clothes, I practiced c&s (google it) for the first time. Yeah. Not good.

Then I found this article. This clothing shop needs a website with buy-online capabilities, or a store in every city. As an overweight girl, I want to lose weight, yes, because I want to be healthier and because of my personal aesthetic. But I need clothes to wear in the meantime, on the journey to a smaller me. Clothes that don’t make me feel worse than I already feel about my body. To the people who say things like, “popular companies introducing plus-size lines will encourage overweight girls to stay fat” – would you rather I walk around naked? Because I’m so not comfortable with that.

Thanks, Deb, for being awesome. Now just open a shop in Kansas City so I can hug you in person.

Suburban Sweetheart says:

Kudos to Deb for this amazing, much-needed (& philanthropic!) store – but more importantly, for challenging societal views of size & beauty & value.

Kate says:

Wow! You are so fantastic! You look great, your store is wonderful and I loved the slideshow. You are a beautiful, smart, clever, successful woman, Deb. All the best to you.
love, Kate,

Mezeriah Pyatt says:

I just love the concept but where are you located? We full figured women love being sexy also. Thankyou for giving our wardrobe class.

Erica says:

Thank you for this great article.

Some info for the fat-phobic to chew on:

There are thin men and women who have high blood pressure, diabetes, heart disease and a host of other health problems popularly ascribed as related to being overweight. I know many “overweight” people who are healthier into their 70s, 80s, even 90s than their slimmer friends and family members. I wear a size 16, but in my 50s can hike or bike all day, while some of my size 6 and under friends (my age and younger) find it tiring to walk more than a couple of blocks. The concept of what is overweight is ridiculous anyhow, with many people thinking any women who wears size 8 or larger is obese.

Fat-phobia is simply one of this era’s culturally and even medically sanctioned blind spots, our version of those scenes in Mad Men where physicians smoke while examining patients.

I appreciate the insightful post. Thanks.

There may be noticeably a bundle to know about this. I assume you made certain good factors in features also.

I’ve said that least 4309891 times. The problem this like that is they are just too compilcated for the average bird, if you know what I mean

2000

Your comment may be no longer than 2,000 characters, approximately 400 words. HTML tags are not permitted, nor are more than two URLs per comment. We reserve the right to delete inappropriate comments.

Thank You!

Thank you for subscribing to the Tablet Magazine Daily Digest.
Please tell us about you.

Fat and Fabulous

Plus-size retail queen Deb Malkin insists that fashion isn’t only for the skinny

More on Tablet:

Breathing New Life Into Greece’s Small but Historic Jewish Community

By Suzanne Selengut — Gabriel Negrin, 25, the new head rabbi of Athens, will soon become the country’s chief rabbi—with an eye on renewing traditions