Elaine Shen [6100 Main x APASA]

If you don't know Elaine already, here is your chance. She's hilarious and super fun. She's also passionate about the environment (yes, she's an EEB), style, and Asian-American issues, and if you keep reading, you'll see how she pieces them all together.

Elaine in thrifted bomber jacket and shorts.

You may know Elaine as that girl from McMurtry, Class of 2018, who was part of the Mitsi Dance School and appeared on America's Got Talent. She started dance when she was four years old, and practically grew up with the dance crew, made of other girls her age. Her dance company was an amateur one, so the girls she danced with were diverse in terms of body shapes and sizes. (Because we all know if it was a professional company, all the girls would look exactly the same: long, lean and generally stick thin.) Over the years, Elaine was constantly going back and forth between two mindsets. On one hand, she would stress over properly executing dance moves, instead of fretting over baby fat. On the other hand, every time there was a performance, she was reminded of how different she looked from the other girls in her company. Her senior year, Mitsi did a collaborative show with professional Chinese dance companies, and Elaine realized how different she and her friends looked from professional dancers. Very different. She then tried to be more conscious of herself - of her size, and style as well.

However, after repeatedly failing to find clothing that would fit her properly, "trying hard to fit into size categories", and getting confused by the differences between a Forever21 small and an H&M small, she gave up consuming retail products. (Well, not quite, as she repeatedly reminded me that she just purchased two things from Urban Outfitters yesterday.) She then turned to thrift shopping, and fell in love with, not only the Goodwill on Westheimer, but also the entire concept of thrift stores in general. Besides the fact that she could get a pair of barely used J-Brand jeans for $8 (which retail for $200+), Elaine has a few other reasons why she loves thrifting so much.

In DIY cutoff thrifted shirt, thrifted hat and UO shorts.

First, thrifting is fairly more environmentally friendly than shopping for new clothes. Second, even though the sizes of clothing are generally sorted out by S/M/L/etc by what it says on the labels, these labels become meaningless because everyone understands that size descriptions are never true. After a while, Elaine came to accept that size is flexible ("Clearly!" she told me, as she shows me two pairs of thrifted shorts, one a size zero from the 1990's and one a size eight from another time, both of which fit her the same.)  Third, thrift stores don't depend on ads and professional models to advertise their clothes. Removing these models, who are supposedly the standards for how certain clothes fit and what people should look like, allows shoppers to see clothing for what it is by itself without having any expectations as to how it should and would fit. As Elaine puts it, "the clothes [in thrift stores] speak for themselves."

In thrifted flannel and shorts.

Along with the lifestyle of thrifting came the realization that too much energy can be spent towards trying to look nice and "police your body." Elaine passionately explained how she now takes the effort she used to put into looking tip top every day and puts it toward work that she actually cares about, such as her club Rice Oceans or her role in APASA. Now, instead of consciously trying to better just her appearance, she is conscious about bettering herself as a person. She hopes that she can be remembered as more than just "the girl who is fashionable." Elaine continued to explain: although the outer appearance can be purposefully used to create a desired image and express yourself, it is always the inner self that determines people's judgements of you.

Final words from Elaine:
"Thrift stores are a site for incredible amounts of diversity. Not only are there no ads of photoshopped white models showing you how things are supposed to fit, but you find merchandise that isn't restricted by size, brand, class, trends, or gender. The people you shop and interact with also transcend these boundaries that are often put up in a conventional mall. To score big at a thrift store means you have to patiently go through everything in every section and try on a lot of different silhouettes and sizes. I've found that because sizes and styles fluctuate through time, thrifting has allowed me to shift my focus from beating myself up for not fitting into a certain size and instead taking each item of clothing individually and determining whether it looks good or not. Plus, thrifting is like a more environmentally friendly, cheap treasure hunt."


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