‘Thrift flipping’ garments on Tiktok is rooted
Back in June, TikTok user Mariel Guzma had worn fabric scissors with a size 44 light blue denim shorts. In a TikTok that contained more than 500,000 likes and 3,000 comments – some of which were considerably less favorable than others – she put together a brief guide detailing how she adjusted and tortured them according to her wishes.
As the increasingly environmentally conscious Gen Zers turn to more sustainable ways of consuming fashion, saving has a moment, as does saving on frugality – buying and changing used clothing. The hashtag #thriftflip currently has 704 million views on TikTok. With the fashion industry contributing 10% of global carbon emissions and nearly 85% of textiles in the US going to landfill, this seems like a healthier, more creative solution to the problem than most, and has the key advantage of affordability.
Whether this fast fashion alternative is really as ethical as it seems is up for debate. While the transformations are always on trend, their role in subtly promoting fat phobia has been criticized. Videos of young, skinny women buying clothes from thrift stores and turning them into almost unrecognizable pieces of clothing have quickly become a mainstay of the thrift-flip genre. When secondhand pinball machines are sourcing clothing for their projects, they are usually buying clothing that is way too big for them. This becomes a problem when larger sizes in thrift stores are already in short supply due to the high demand from people who actually need them, plus size wear.
“Before” and “after” footage in thrift flip videos reflect an ugly truth about how society thinks about bigger clothes and the bodies that fit them. In these videos, the normally thin creator slouches in the “ugly” garment. After the garment has been “repaired” it is suddenly seen as attractive. It’s a lot smaller too.
Fat body and aesthetics have always had many negative connotations, explains Amanda M. Czerniawski, associate professor of Sociology at Temple University and author of Fashioning Fat: Inside Plus-Size Modeling. “[These videos] correspond to our societal expectations and beliefs about bodies, especially fat, larger bodies, as unhealthy, undisciplined, lazy and undesirable. “
In these clothing conversions, Amanda describes the thought process at work: “I’m going to take this oversized garment and reshape it. I will work on just how the fat body needs to be manipulated and disciplined to get it into proper shape. ‘“
The most common defense you hear from thrift fins is that if they don’t take those bigger clothes, no one will and they’ll end up in a landfill anyway. But when you look beyond the Redeemer Complex, this argument really isn’t very true. Vaughn Stafford Gray, lifestyle writer and former associate professor of economics at Humber College, explains, “The items that have been on the shelves for almost a year are thrown away for the homeless or soup kitchens, and whatever is left then recycled or taken to the landfill [if recycling isn’t an option]. “He goes on to explain that” most things are actually sold because there are families who rely on thrift stores. “
While the selection of thrift stores will vary, plus size women are disadvantaged across the board. The fat influencer and writer Chaya Milchtein describes her experience with frugality: “When I go to Goodwill, there are no clothes that fit my body. And if so, it’s incredibly grumpy and absolutely nothing I would like to wear as a 25 year old. “
While Chaya mentions she’s been to exclusive second-size thrift stores, she notes that they’re only available in major cities. “I was incredibly lucky to experience second-size second-hand stores that are exclusively dedicated to plus-size fashion. There are two tall blondes in Seattle and Fat Fancy in Portland and the Plus Bus in LA. “
However, most women have standard thrift stores with poor size choices. And with TikTok driving more traffic to thrift stores, it’s even less likely that larger sizes will hit the shelves. Where can environmentally conscious fat people find fashionable clothes? When you think of sustainable brands online, think again. The most popular sustainable brands like Everlane and Reformation only offer standard sizes and usually stop at a size of 16 – not to mention that a size of 16 means different things for each brand. And then of course there is the price problem.
Many TikTokers are unsure how to approach the frugality flip controversy. For Kimberly Lee, an oversized fashion artist, there is a fear of calling out other creators, “I’m so afraid to talk about these types of topics on my platform because I’ve seen my co-creators just being torn to pieces about it.” In fact, TikToks’ comments section dealing with this form of fat phobia is full of layoffs: “It’s just clothes, it’s not that deep,” writes one user. “Do you keep the thrift store open?” asks another.
Sustainability activist and TikToker Megan McSherry went on her platform to educate her thousands of followers about the importance of conscious frugality, especially frugality freaking. In her TikTok, Megan recognizes her size privilege as a straight woman. She can easily find items of her size if she is economical.
In her popular TikTok, she explains that she no longer buys clothes that don’t fit or come close to her size. She ends TikTok by encouraging her audience to: “Use your privilege to make room for the people who are excluded from the sustainable fashion industry.”
As she discusses the problem, she points out the double standards that are being heard around the community: “It’s a shame it has to come from a normal-sized person for people to actually see it as a real problem.”
But of course, the blame doesn’t just lie with the environmentally conscious and fashion-conscious TikTok teenager. The broader fashion industry is largely to blame. As Chaya says, “The TikToker that puts a shirt my size into her crop top or whatever doesn’t really hurt me, but the people who don’t give me enough shirts to wear are sustainable? They are the ones who are actually causing the problem. “
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