Up until about three weeks ago, I was a staunch TikTok skeptic. I refused to download the app, citing it as a mega-waste of time and something that I didn’t need to associate myself with. I almost felt like I was too good for the app—like I didn’t fall exactly into the target demographic.
It took a threat to the app’s existence to convince me to download it and make an account. I was hesitant, questioning the content I came across on my For You page. Much of it seemed absurd and out of my realm of understanding. I felt like the friend who wasn’t in on the inside joke and was suffering for it. Nevertheless, I tried to immerse myself in the worlds of WitchTok and Frog TikTok and whatever else showed up on my For You page. None of it seemed to click.
Until I met the vintage fashion side of TikTok. I don’t know how I found it, but once I was on it, I couldn’t leave. I was enthralled by the effortless style of the creators, comparing my closet to theirs. I wondered—where were they getting all their clothes, these beautiful bell-bottoms and neon button-ups? I wanted to dress like these apparent time travelers from the past. I’ve always loved the look of incorporating pieces from decades past, and never before had I been presented with such an obvious wealth of knowledge on the subject. So I did my research.
I religiously watched vintage thrift creators, admiring the ‘70s stylings of @70srose and @ellasnore, the iconic Marilyn Monroe looks of @jasminechiswell, and the casual vintage of @jesskeo. Every one of them claimed to buy authentic vintage from a variety of stores, and I believe it. They had their local thrift stores, online marketplaces, and family members—the list goes on. Some modern vintage fashion icons even claimed to have found items at Urban Outfitters or other modern stores inspired by old fashion. All I knew was that these creators were buying items from vintage outlets somewhere, and I wanted to give it a shot.
Given the pandemic, I had nowhere to turn but online for my retro. I made a Depop account, scoured eBay, and browsed a variety of one-off marketplaces to see if shopping vintage was really as easy as all my favorite creators promised. It wasn’t.
In a lot of ways, I’m grateful for TikTok and the life it’s breathing into vintage thrift culture; TikTok has reinvigorated the hunt for authentic period pieces and stylings of fashion eras past to a wider audience. But the unintended consequence of that, of course, is the inaccessibility of vintage thrift. eBay, Depop, Poshmark, and other online marketplaces all have skin in the vintage game, and their sellers know they can charge top dollar for items in high demand.
And so it goes: Guess tops from less than 20 years ago are sold and resold for upwards of $40, living out their second life in the clutches of teens who underestimate their significance. Clothing from the ‘80s is sold for more than it once was, branded as authentic vintage in extremely high demand. I always understood that vintage, by nature of being preserved over decades, isn’t supposed to be cheap—but regular clothes should be affordable, especially when buying secondhand. I can’t blame fashion TikTok for the towering prices everywhere, but I know the influx of viewers and recommenders in the market certainly aren’t helping to water prices down.
My main issue with TikTok and vintage fashion is the carelessness that accompanies being trendy. There are a lot of content creators who are genuinely interested in curating vintage clothing and preserving it while also incorporating retro wear into their daily lives. I think using vintage for good and appreciating it for what it’s worth is the way to go. What I dislike, however, is the number of people who invest in vintage items just for show, disregarding their historical value. Sure, the clothing may be circa 1990, but that doesn’t make it any less vintage. TikTok users who buy vintage for the likes give the community a bad name and raise the prices everywhere.
TikTok has done to vintage thrift what it’s done to many TV shows and fashion trends: exploited the novelty to its core, exposing new people to the art but inevitably ruining it too. I’m glad I and many others have had the chance to dip our toes into modern thrifting, and I’m glad there are so many creators who are thrifting and doing it well.
My hope is that through heightened awareness, thrifted vintage can become more accessible. It isn’t the responsibility of the consumer, but rather, the creator to research how to thrift sustainably and equitably, and that’s a conversation that extends far beyond the reaches of TikTok. Content creators have influence, regardless of where their audience is, and it’s important that the influence and information that they’re spreading is positive and accurate. TikTok is no different. The thrifting community, on and off the app, is one that’s constantly shifting its prices, demographics, and trends. At the end of the day, thrifting is a beautiful art because it belongs to everyone—TikTok or not.
By Sophia Moore
Illustration by Vy Nguyen