Dear Prudence

Help! I Got Accused of “Stealing” Clothes I Don’t Need at the Thrift Store.

Read what Prudie had to say in Part 1 of this week’s live chat.

Someone holding up a shirt hung on a hanger.
Photo illustration by Slate. Photo by LightFieldStudios/iStock/Getty Images Plus.

Dear Prudence is online weekly to chat live with readers. Here’s an edited transcript of this week’s chat.

Jenée Desmond-Harris: Welcome back. Isn’t it good to know that if Twitter dies, we’ll always have this chat as a place to talk to each other?

Q. Muumuu Murderer: I’m an artist and thus don’t make a lot of money, but I always manage to look fabulous thanks to thrift stores and my trusty sewing machine. My favorite thing to do is alter and embellish old garments since it takes a fraction of the time compared to sewing something from scratch. Larger garments are better for this since it gives you plenty of extra fabric to work with. Last week in my favorite store, I was just taking this enormous chiffon muumuu with the most over-the-top pink and green 80s print, priced at $5, up to the register when this woman I’d never seen before got up in my face and started angrily reaming me out for “stealing” plus sized clothes that I don’t need and “destroying” them. I was genuinely physically intimidated since she was at least three times my size, but I kept my cool and offered to let her buy the muumuu. But she declined, cussed me out one last time, and stomped out. I haven’t been able to stop flashing back to and obsessing over the incident. With such a glut of clothes ending up in the landfills and oceans of the world, is there really anything wrong with buying plus size thrift-store clothes and altering them to fit? I’m probably not going to stop—the ex-muumuu is now an adorable wrap dress with a matching shawl—but I at least want to know how bad I should feel.

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A: First of all, you know as well as I do that this woman being “three times” your size—and it’s safe to say we’re not talking about height here—did not make you physically intimidated. Fat does not make people aggressive or good at fighting and it’s not a weapon. So calm down about that. Also, “I’m going to do it anyway because my cute outfits are more important than any point this woman may have made but I want to know how bad I should feel” is not a genuine request for advice. You apparently don’t have a dilemma here. Still, I’ll share a quote from the blog Dances With Fat that explains where the woman who screamed at you (Which no, she should not have done! That was bad!) was coming from:

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“The fact is that fat people—including and especially poor and/or superfat people—don’t simply have the freedom to only choose clothes that we like or that are “on trend.” Sadly, often we have to choose the clothing that vaguely covers our body, even if it’s not quite professional enough for the job interview, or dressy enough for the wedding, or a color we like, or exactly the right size. The fact that all of that is phenomenally messed up is the subject for (many!) other posts. For today I’ll point out that the solution is to change the clothing industry, not our bodies.

The bottom line when it comes to “repurposing” plus size clothes is that they already have a valid purpose, and that purpose is to clothe plus size people. If there were more than enough plus size clothes in thrift shops I would have no problem with thin people (who, by the way, already have a metric ass-ton more options in thrift stores in their size than fat people do that they could ‘re-purpose’) re-designing these clothes. But the truth is that buying the few clothes that exist to fit fat people, and turning them into even more clothing that fits thin people is an act of privilege that adds to oppression, so while I can’t stop people from doing it, I really wish they wouldn’t.”

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Is buying up these larger clothes the worst act in the entire world? I don’t think so, particularly if you’re also short on cash and grabbing one carefully selected item here and there rather than greedily scooping up the entire plus size section. But your “This big, horrible fat woman scared me and I’m not even going to consider doing anything that might make life easier for plus size people” attitude sucks, and that’s what you should feel very bad about, especially if it shows up in your life outside of thrift stores.

Q. Resigned to Rashes: My boyfriend recently adopted a cat, and I’m allergic to it. I’m not a big cat person, and this particular cat wants to be on me all the time, which isn’t good for my allergies or my sensory needs (I like my personal space). I’m a little hurt that he got a cat even though he knew about my allergies, but I think he didn’t realize how serious they are; the first time I had a bad asthma attack after he got her, he panicked and asked if we should break up. I don’t really know how to navigate this. I love him and I’ll accept the cat and what it does to me as the price of admission, but I don’t know how to deal with feeling bad about it, and I don’t really know how to navigate negotiating about the cat and ways to make being around her easier when my boyfriend’s panic response is, “Maybe we should break up.”

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A: I want to say this gently: That was not a panic response. Your boyfriend wants to break up with you—or at best, he doesn’t care whether he breaks up with you. Getting the cat despite your allergies was the first sign. Immediately proposing a breakup instead of throwing around ideas like getting an antihistamine for you, vacuuming more often, or (more drastically) rehoming the cat was the second. He wants out. I’m sorry.

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Q. I Feel So Guilty: When my partner and I started dating (about one year ago), she warned me that her job takes her overseas for up to several months a year and her career was very important to her. I was a little worried, but really into her so we went for it. Fast forward to now, she’s on a two-month professional trip, and honestly? It’s fine. I miss her, but we talk and text regularly, and I know when she’ll be home. I love my alone time, I have hobbies and friends and family, and a 65-hour-a-week job. Staying busy has always helped me cope with challenges. She is having a much tougher time.

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She is frequently lonely and says that she misses me a lot, and seems to be crying often. Her family is local, her childhood friends are there, and she even lived in that area as an adult for a few years, but she often complains of being really lonely and sad. I don’t know how to respond to this: She chose this career and has been doing this for several years (including during 2020), and has a lot of practice with it. She is a huge priority to me, but I also can’t be on video chat for three-plus hours a day. She’s definitely in a lot of pain only three weeks in, but I don’t know how to help her. I can’t tell if it’s being separated or just general loneliness, and I don’t know how to ask in a gentle way, or how to fix it.

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A: I wonder if your partner is dealing with a bout of depression. Or if she thinks being separated and longing for each other is somehow romantic or bringing you closer. Either way, you can’t fix or change her loneliness or the way she responds to it, beyond maybe suggesting one of the new and very convenient therapy apps. Instead, I think you should take stock of how it feels to be in a relationship with her, both when you’re together and when you’re apart. On average, is it really enjoyable and fulfilling? Or is it just OK IRL and draining for a good portion of the year when she’s traveling? If you’re on the fence, it might be time to end this. If you are super into her and see a future but just struggle with the way she’s handling these trips, tell her as kindly as possible that as much as you love her, you don’t need her to be miserable without you, and an hour-long Zoom is about as much as you can handle after working all day.

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Q. Can’t Stand My Wife’s Sister: My wife and I have been married for 10 years and have a preschooler son. We live in Boston. I run my own business. My wife’s younger sister lives in Vancouver. They are both incredibly close and overall, my sister-in-law is a nice person on the surface. However, she is quite spoiled and almost automatically assumes she knows everything best. She will often make decisions for us including where to live, how to raise our kids, and how to handle (my) parents. My wife immediately falls in line. So, limited visits with my parents, no chocolates on Halloween, and very often, changed holiday or restaurant plans based on her opinions on a place.

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My wife and her entire family abet this behavior and really look up to her since she is a highly successful realtor and is incredibly well respected in her community. My wife has repeatedly told me I just need to spend more time with her to appreciate her. I put up with this for so many years but now it is grating on me. My wife’s sister wants help with taking care of HER parents and so wants us to move to Vancouver. Her parents have made no such request and gladly fly to spend time with us.

But my wife sides with her sister and that will mean I give up my business and start afresh in a new country. To make matters worse, she “made some calls” and got my toddler into a school that is way too expensive for us. I would rather live life on our terms. My sister-in-law claims she is reaching out to me by putting me in touch with some of her clients with who I can end up working for. I find this deeply patronizing and have gotten angry with her.  I feel worse when my wife plays the victim saying if we weren’t so disorganized, she wouldn’t have to rely on her advice. And that her sister’s advice has never been wrong. I don’t feel we are disorganized at all. We are just living our own lives without interference.

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A: Forget your sister-in-law. I know she’s behind a lot of your wife’s stances, but just forget about her. Because if you take her out of this equation, you’ll be able to see this for what it is: a lot of disagreements between you and your wife. Your wife wants to handle your parents a certain way. You don’t. Your wife wants to make a move. You don’t. Your wife wants to put your kid into an expensive preschool. You don’t. A couple’s therapist could be a huge help in sorting through these issues but even if you just hash it out between the two of you, the fight should be about the substance of the ideas, not about the bossy realtor who’s coming up with them.

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Classic Prudie

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