On most days I feel like I’m at my absolute limit. Actually, that’s not quite true. Every day, I am at my absolute limit. There’s no point trying to illustrate to you just how terrible I feel each day — you, dear reader, probably feel the exact same way, if not more acutely. Living in the Philippines and witnessing how the rest of the world has managed to exist through a pandemic is such a sad and frustrating experience. Seeing friends on Instagram having a semblance of a “normal life” pretty much anywhere else abroad — going to bars (!), concerts (!), having a life (!!!) — is such a disconcerting experience. And like the bridesmaid who says, “I’m really happy for you guys,” commenting with a heart emoji on these friends’ Stories always boomerangs to you with a “We’re all vaccinated, we wear masks indoors, and promise, we’re being super super safe.” Like I said, I’m really happy for you guys.
At this point, all I can do is cope. I’ve never been much of a social person, but if there’s anything about life pre-March 2020 that I long for, it’s the ability to dress up everyday that I miss the most. For the past two years, my uniform has consisted of some hybrid form of activewear and sleepwear: ready to rise, ready to rest (in peace). I often daydream of scenarios where I can wear all the clothes and shoes that have been languishing in my closet sans purpose, with the hope that it encourages me to stay creative. In my head, I am a K-pop idol being pursued by rabid fans after I perform my new comeback on Inkigayo. Maybe I’m in light wash jeans, a white ribbed tank top, and a pink tweed jacket. Maybe my secret idol lover will pick me up in their Maserati in the evening. The paparazzi will pursue us, and the full story will be published on Koreaboo the next morning. But know this, I look fabulous.
I write all of this as I sit on the couch in a floral daster and period-friendly underwear. This is the best it will get in a long time.
I wish clothes could be decorative again, not just scraps of cloth to cover my modesty when I have to run out to an ATM. Where does one seek out silly comforts while facing the harsh realities of every day? We all cope differently, but these days I find them by spending my free and not-so free time online thrifting.
I’ve been thrift shopping for many years now, when going to the ukay ukay was the best way to stretch your budget and avoid being a *cough* outfit repeater in school. Back then, sustainable fashion wasn’t even a concept yet; we just wanted cheap, nice clothes . Now that people have been unable to venture to their old thrifting haunts to seek out gems, social media platform Instagram has fully transformed into an informal marketplace for secondhand goods. Vintage furniture, homewear, collectible toys, and clothes — if it exists, there’s probably someone on Instagram selling it. Online marketplace Carousell is also another option for anyone looking to shop secondhand; I find that it’s the ideal option if you already have a specific item in mind, because you can easily search for your keywords. (Unlike on Instagram, where your best bet is to follow accounts that will likely stock the item you’re looking for.)
Buying thrifted or vintage clothing online isn’t quite the same experience as shopping at your favorite ukay ukay. On Carousell, buying secondhand is usually a personal transaction between you and the seller. If they’re willing to let it go at the price you offer, then you get it. More often than not, these are personal items that people are letting go of, though there are several microbusinesses on the platform too. Instagram stores invest more in marketing: they have better quality photos, they post teasers of their next collections, and write enticing captions — think “most favorite vintage heather gray pullover, personal fave!” to describe a Fruit of the Loom sweater from the ‘90s.
I admit that this isn’t the healthiest way to cope — what is the point of buying all these clothes except to feed into the delusion that one day, I’ll be able to wear them again? Do I save up for the apocalyptic future, or do I lean into the moments of joy I can find in the present?
Instagram thrifting also involves a level of mania, because when a store drops a collection, the fastest fingers will win. You are at the chokehold of three words: mine, steal, or grab. Each word has a corresponding price, so you can take a chance at bidding for an item at “mine” (a.k.a. regular) price (and claim it if no one outbids you within a certain time period), but another buyer can nab it from you if they’re willing to pay more. I’ve sat through hours-long drops on my favorite Instagram stores, constantly pulling down to refresh while I wait for a specific dress or skirt that I feel I absolutely, definitely do not need to buy. These drops usually last so long because Instagram limits the number of posts you can upload in an hour, so they space out their posts to avoid getting banned on the app. Far too many times have I held my breath as I typed “GRAB!!!” maniacally just to make sure I secured the bag. Or the dress. Or the shoes. Then I wait for my silly little package to arrive in a few days, and pretend that all the world’s problems have been solved by buying myself this most favorite vintage heather gray pullover.
I admit that this isn’t the healthiest way to cope — what is the point of buying all these clothes except to feed into the delusion that one day, I’ll be able to wear them again? Do I save up for the apocalyptic future, or do I lean into the moments of joy I can find in the present? I think right now, I’d rather offset some of what I’ve saved up for rainy days to find comfort in this tempest. When hope is hard to come by lately, I think I’ll take what I can get.
And while I can claim the moral high ground by shopping “sustainable,” the truth is that mindless consumption has become part of the human psyche. Secondhand or not, it’s hard to remove the compulsion to find fulfillment in consuming. In wanting. In a perfect world, we would be able to collectively stop acquiring things just to throw them out again. I think that habit is going to stay with us for a while — to me, the closest thing that I can do to break that cycle is to at least discourage more stuff from being made into crap we don’t need. Textile waste is a huge polluter in landfills all over the world, especially in developing nations like the Philippines, where wealthy countries send unsold secondhand clothing for us to resell or dispose of. Even with thrifting become a more viable option for buyers, we’ve been outrun by the waste we’ve accumulated. In less than a decade, the world is expected to have discarded more than 134 million tons of textiles per year. Each item of clothing we buy secondhand can be another piece of textile waste we save from a landfill.
Online thrifting is not only sustainable, but to me, feels a lot like the real community that bigger brands are attempting to espouse. On Instagram, thrift stores are not just sellers, they’re also frequent buyers of their other secondhand businesses. They use their Instagram Stories to post about other shops’ new collections, to help amplify other voices. When one store needs more engagement to push themselves up the algorithm, you’ll notice other stores commenting to show their support. Many of them are generous with freebies; they remember your size and what kinds of clothing you like. I’ve never witnessed a virtual marketplace commune this way, and I’m more than happy to help keep it alive even if I have to mine, steal, or grab. Though I’m still at my limit each cursed day, the moments of secondhand joy that thrifing makes me feel is enough to help me hold on — even for the meantime.
For anyone looking to start on their online thrifting journey, here are a few Instagram thrift stores I frequent:
I find myself buying something from Thriftedbygray in her weekly collection. The owner has a great eye for vintage pieces, funky prints, and coordinates. I find myself holding my breath every time she drops new pieces.
A masterclass in captions — Sweetrepeatt posts a lot of pieces with great textures, from puffy jackets to Issey Miyake-esque micropleats. Clothes go for a little higher than most thrift stores, but I find the quality worth the price.
For basics that don’t feel basic, Morena.thrifts can be a great place to start if you want to create a sustainable capsule wardrobe. Hot tip: she gives you 10% off on your next purchase if you post an outfit and tag the store.
They say it all in the bio: this Instagram store is a study on caption comedy. It’s a store that isn’t afraid to celebrate the good, bad, and humorous about fashion. With no scheduled drops, you can expect this store to upload new finds from the owner’s favorite ukay haunts in Olongapo every day.
Part vintage store and part fashion archive, Glorious Dias is a treasure trove for clothes and history lovers. Their Instagram feed provides a great education on Pinoy pop culture and the clothes that feature heavily throughout our history. They also have regular drops of upcycled pieces like their often-sold out pinafore tops.