In anticipation of the season 2 premiere of Why Women Kill, a serial dram-edy built around themes of identity, belonging, and the deadly nature of “keeping up appearances,” we sat down with stylist and vintage curator Emma Zack to chat about inclusivity, summer ’21 *looks,* and the dearth of plus-size options in traditional vintage retail.
Emma Zack’s closet is a veritable refrigerator: Picture fruit salads, hot dogs, crudité platters, and shrimp cocktail, all in textile form. “Right now, I’m going through a phase with food-themed attire,” she says. “Really, I’m going through a phase with anything wearable that can make me laugh.”
As the brains (and the brawn) behind the curated, online vintage shop Berriez, Zack has spent countless hours rummaging through flea markets, estate sales, and the mysterious sinews of eBay in pursuit of clothing to sell. But she’s not just looking for any old thing with good resale value. Her stipulations are specific: Everything must be designed for plus-sized women. And everything must be fun. “These aren’t clothes that are designed to be slimming,” Zack explains. “They’re made to fit plus-size women, and they’re all about making fashion feel joyful and light-hearted. We don’t always need to take fashion so seriously.”
The mission behind Berriez is a kind of reclamation for Zack: Shopping for clothes was not always an experience she conflated with joy. “I’ve loved fashion ever since I was a little kid, but going shopping was a nightmare when I was young — and in some ways, it still is,” she says. In her experience, while plus-size options are certainly becoming more commonplace, true size inclusivity still feels like a far-off notion. “I have this one specific shopping memory: I was 13, and looking for a dress to wear to a friend’s bat mitzvah,” she recalls. “I must’ve gone to 10 places and there was not one thing that fit me. I was heartbroken — my mom and I both have such visceral memories of that shopping trip. So, when I got older, I vowed to change that.”
At its conception in 2019, Berriez wasn’t Zack’s full focus — she was working a full-time job in the criminal justice department at the Innocence Project, an organization that works to exonerate the wrongly convicted. As a casual side hustle, she began selling vintage, plus-sized clothes on her Instagram profile — and it didn’t take long for her fan base to build. “It shouldn’t have been an untapped market, but it was,” she says. “I love second-hand clothes — and whenever possible, I’d prefer to avoid fast fashion altogether. But when you’re plus-size, sustainable or thrifted clothing options aren’t always available.”
As her business grew — along with demand for her curatorial eye — Zack decided to take the plunge and lean into the resale market full time. She named the project Berriez with the assertion that berries, like bodies, are precious — even for their lack of uniformity in size, shape, and shade. “At the time, my parents were like ‘Emma, what the hell are you doing?’ being that I’d just spent 10 years working in criminal justice,” Zack laughs. “But I knew this was the right move for me, and eventually they got on board too.”
In spite of Berriez’ initial success, 2020 was not a kind year to small business owners — and Zack was no exception. While her shop was already built around an online model, she’d just opened a retail space-meets-showroom in her Bed-Stuy, Brooklyn basement, and she was earning the bulk of her income through pop-up shops across the country. “Pivoting entirely to e-commerce was certainly not easy,” she says. “Especially at a time when I couldn’t have different folks modeling the clothes.”
The project of sourcing was a whole different beast. Without access to thrift stores or marketplaces, Zack was forced to do all her curation digitally — a task which was impeded by the very problem Berriez aims to solve: She had no way of knowing how things would fit. Fortunately, though, having only just left behind her full time job, she had an impressive back stock of garments she hadn’t yet found time to share. And in her devoted digital pursuit of bright, unique pieces, she forged some new bonds: “I’ve actually built some real relationships with folks I correspond with on eBay,” she says. “I’ve gotten particularly close with this one woman who used to collect vintage phones in the ‘80s. Just last week, she sent me a newspaper clipping with a photo of her and her collection.”
For all the pivots Zack has had to navigate throughout the duration of the pandemic, she’s been steadfast in her commitment to one pre-quar ritual: getting dressed. “A lesson I learned really early on in quarantine was that I had to get dressed every day to feel like myself. Putting clothes on is such a big part of my identity,” she says. “I needed to be wearing an outfit to feel productive and energized.” So, she committed herself to a sartorial stance that favored both comfort and a sense of style — an ethos that’s manifested in the outfit she has on at present: a white cropped top; an open, fruit-print, short-sleeve button down; and a pair of tie-dye sweat shorts. “I love this, it feels like a look, but it doesn’t feel constrictive — that’s key,” she says.
By the same token, Zack knows better than anyone that most of us have altered or reshaped our relationships with our clothes in quarantine. We’ve gained or lost weight, shifted our sartorial priorities, updated our senses of personal style. But as she sees it, this is a rare, blissful opportunity. Right now, we all get to re-emerge. And whether or not it requires setting our prior wardrobes on fire, this is our moment to dress for the occasion. “I can’t fit into plenty of my shit right now. I grew two sizes in quarantine. But I have to be honest, I’m really excited about it,” she says. “I have a new body shape, and I can now experiment with new things and new silhouettes, and I cannot wait to show it off.”
At this time last year, Zack says she went through a phrase with “sack dresses” — long, ballooning garments that were light, airy, and easy to throw on. But this year, she plans to go the opposite route: She wants to show skin, honor her body, don things that accentuate her shape. “It’s taken me a long time in my fashion journey to get where I am right now, but it’s never felt more right,” she says.”I have a bunch of classic, 1940s-inspired corset tops I can’t wait to wear. Actually, I was just wearing one the other day with these same tie-dye shorts and I thought to myself, ‘this is a good look.’ It’s comfortable, but it’s hot.” Simply put, Zack’s outfit recipe is a reliable one: Celebrate your body, dress for comfort, and make the act of putting on clothes a joyful one.
Oh, and she’s calling this the summer of the “going out top” — and she humbly urges you to get on board.
For a closer look at vintage styling, inclusivity, and identity as it pertains to fashion, stream the first two episodes of Why Women Kill season 2 starting June 3 exclusively on Paramount +. Set in 1949, the new serial features an ensemble cast, plenty of ’40s fashion, and deep, dark meditations on the secrets behind the facades we present to the world.
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