Why Alexa Chung's thrifting endeavor is problematic

Alexa Chung, It-Girl, is launching a reality show where she goes to different thrift stores. This has left me far more conflicted than anything concerning a reality TV show should.

I'm trying to figure out what exactly being an "it-girl" means. I think the meaning depends on the tone - whether you crow "she's an IT girl" like someone out of an angst-filled yet vaguely quirky teenage flick, or whether the person in question has a resume containing any one of the following abilities: Modeling, working as an MTV VJ, serving as a muse to a big-time snotty designer like Karl Lagerfeld, dating an emo alternative singer, being big in a foreign country, and dressing well. It appears that Alexa Chung fulfills every one of these qualities. She's from England, enjoyed a brief career as a model, is close friends with Uncle Karl, and worked for MTV in 2009. She also serves as a guest designer for Madewell, looks coltishly adorable, and dates a dude from the Arctic Monkeys. And even though — or perhaps because — she kind of dresses like a lot of tomboyish hipsterish girls her age, she's also something of a style icon.

None of which really explains her bona-fides as a thrift-shopper. Her thrifting getup — described in a Sunday profile in the NY Times as "a dark skirt from J. W. Anderson, an Isabel Marant cardigan and Russell & Bromley flats" — invites raised eyebrows from those of us thrift store hoarders who would see proof of this alleged conterfeit. Although for all I know she's one of those wunderkins who can identify vintage Missoni at 20 paces, her show has the same air as the recent glamorization of eBay: an attempt to elevate second-hand shopping in order to convert the sort of person who'd normally find used clothes icky. Here's how the Times describes the program, which will run on PBS next summer.

On the show, she and Maya Singer, the series creator and the editor of special projects for Style.com, will comb the country's consignment shops, garage sales and flea markets for old clothing, furniture, music equipment and other potential treasures to use in various creative endeavors. A few of the places they plan to visit include Orlando, Detroit, Nashville, Alabama and Brooklyn and, on a less populist note, fashion capitals like Paris and London as well. In the first episode, Ms. Chung helps Pamela Love, a gothic jewelry designer, create a pop-up shop in London during Fashion Week.

I briefly justified my self-righteous indignation with the thought that such spot-blowing-up would be detrimental to struggling eBay sellers competing with each other for a decent profit. Or those families who really need used clothes at good prices. But let's be real: a show like Alexa Chung's isn't going to focus on utilizing Goodwill's racks of moth-chewed mismatched suits or men's pleated Dockers. She's not shopping for essentials. She's going to focus on excavating high-end designer and uniquely vintage pieces. The only ones who'd possibly be negatively effected by some hypothetical rush on America's Goodwills are those of us who love to thrift.

Although I don't need to thrift out of necessity, I still relish the opportunity to do so. I thrift earnestly and for self-expression. I've thrifted since I discovered secondhand stores for my clothes while a high school student and am a vintage addict. Shopping vintage and used and learning how to alter it if you needed to was an awesome skill set as a student, especially one enrolled in a performing arts school where individuality was prized and could elevate one into the "cool" set. Once I found my first designer piece of clothing in a Goodwill it was love at first sight.

Thrifting will never be for everyone. It takes patience and perseverance and a good eye and a willingness to sift through an amazing amount of crap. I do worry that Ms. Chung will popularize this activity, and make thrift-store shopping way more popular resulting in my going to a thrift store and not be able to find anything because it had been all picked over.  That would suck.

That said, I'll watch Alexa Chung's show with interest. I want to know if she'll talk about how to remove thrift store stench, or the reality that preworn shoes are not supportive nor comfortable, or the fact that trying on used wigs is a really, really bad idea. Because that could be highly educational. And would really justify the title of It Girl.


  1. hey! i stumbled across your blog from IFB. it's refreshing to see a style blog accompanied by actual good prose; i love your writing style! i am a 20 something (although not really a hipster) and i'll be following your blog with interest!


  2. "consignment shops, garage sales and flea markets"

    That's not "thrifting". That's my main issue. There is a difference between a consignment shop and a thrift store, and a flea market and a thrift store. And I bet the garage sales are more Estate sales. And that's my main issue. It's being sold to me as an adventure in thrifting. It's not. It's second hand. And there is just a HUGE difference.


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