In June, TikTok user Mariel Guzma took a pair of scissors to transform a pair of shorts into men’s jeans size 44. She presented some instructions, specifying how she transformed the shorts to fit him, a TikTok that has been liked 500,000 times and commented 3,000 times, some comments less favourable than others.
While Generation Z is increasingly concerned about sustainable ways of consuming fashion, vintage is obviously favoured, as is the transformation of vintage clothing, known as “thrift flipping”. On TikTok, the hashtag #thriftflip has 704 million views at the moment. When the fashion industry contributes to 10% of carbon emissions and nearly 85% of textiles end up in landfills in the US, it seems obvious that vintage is an ecologically healthier, more creative and more accessible solution.
But whether this alternative to fast fashion is completely ethical is still open to debate. While clothing alterations are still fashionable, critics are raising questions about how this can also encourage grossophobia. The videos very often depict slender young women buying clothes in thrift shops to transform them so much that they are no longer recognised. This is possible because the clothes are far too large for them from the start, which is a problem when large sizes are already in short supply in second-hand shops.
The before/after photos in these videos echo a sad truth about the way society thinks about plus sizes and the bodies that wear them. In these videos, the designers talk about the transformation of “ugly” clothes. Once the garment has been “repaired”, it becomes an object of desire. It is often also much smaller.
So-called fat bodies and aesthetics have never been associated,” says Amanda M. Czerniawski, an associate professor of sociology at Temple University and author of the book Fashioning Fat: Inside Plus-Size Modeling. “These videos reinforce our social expectations and beliefs about the body, especially about the so-called fat bodies, as less healthy, less disciplined, lazy and undesirable.
In these clothing transformations, Amanda explains the process at work: “I’m going to take this extra-large garment, and I’m going to change its shape. I’m going to work on it, in the same way that a so-called fat body needs to work and discipline itself to be in shape.
The defence argument of those who do thrift flipping is often to say that if they don’t take these clothes, no one will, and they will soon be in the dump. But beyond the saviour complex, this argument is simply false. For Vaughn Stafford Gray, lifestyle specialist and former business professor at Humber College: “Those clothes that have been in the thrift stores for over a year usually go to donation, and what’s left over after that is recycled, the landfill is really the last option. He goes on to explain that “the majority of the stock is sold simply because many families buy their clothes that way”.