One Woman’s Journey Into the Dark Heart of Fast Fashion

The teens are obsessed with fashion retailer Shein, but how does it look on a real adult woman?

StyleWear & Tear
One Woman’s Journey Into the Dark Heart of Fast Fashion

In the ubiquitous haul videos on TikTok teenaged girls sit cross-legged on the floor of their bedrooms sorting through massive boxes of cheap clothes from Shein. Pronounced She-in, not Shine, the fast-fashion site somehow cheaper than Forever21 follows me around the internet. Finally, between targeted ads and TikTok videos, I was Shein-pilled and decided to give the retailer a try.

Though it’s often more economical, practical and, better for the environment to purchase clothes from companies with sustainable business practices, fast fashion endures. The allure is abundance, new clothes acquired for cut-rate prices that carry more than a sizable whiff of exploitative labor practices. Shein makes clothing with no discernible style except for “trendy” and pumps them out at an alarming rate, adding about 1,000 new styles to the site every day. Shein has been in the game since at least 2012, but as this comprehensive overview at Vox reports, it only became a real powerhouse recently, overtaking other fast-fashion online retailers like Asos, Boohoo, and Misguided, thanks to its technology, which mines customer data and uses the information to make new designs. It’s almost as if the brand is reading the minds of its customer base and replicating their greatest desires for as cheap as possible.

Browsing the website is sort of like rifling through the vision boards of teens and Love Island contestants, a dizzying experience made more so by the choices and the prices, which are very, very low. Truthfully, it’s possible to get an entire wardrobe for $200, but the clothing will reflect the price. Traditionally, I’m trend-curious, easily swayed by the internet to dip my toe into whatever the kids are wearing, but the sheer quantity of Shein’s offerings made me feel like whatever I had thought was cool (checkerboard print, ditsy florals, these sleeves) both was and wasn’t. There’s something for every trend, and I went into my shopping experience with an open mind, attempting to find clothing that was out just a bit outside of my comfort zone.

The price points made the experiment easier, and so I filled a cart with clothing of the sort that I’d wear if I had any place to go during the week other than my desk, the kitchen, the bathroom, repeat. The results were a little unexpected—of the items I bought, two were good, and the rest, absolutely not for me.

Photo:Megan Reynolds

If a dress costs $19, as the one I optimistically purchased did, there’s a great chance that the material will not breathe and will also feel flammable. I was hoping that would not be the case with this number, but it was; material and shoddy construction aside, I loved everything about this little number, which was sturdy enough in the bodice to not reveal my nipples, because wearing a bra with this thing is impossible. These pants, on the other hand, cost $15, are in desperate need of ironing, and are light and breezy enough to wear during the summer. They’re also not see-through, and though they are wrinkled, I imagine that once I iron these suckers, I will actually wear them. The crop top, which closes with bra hooks, also has ideas about where and how my breasts should sit; shockingly, the top accommodated my aging bosom with ease.

Shorts, a particularly troublesome issue for me, were another story. It is impossible to find shorts that aren’t jeans that don’t disappear into the vortex of my vagina. Culottes, athletic shorts, biker shorts, and the soft floppy shorts I sleep in all eventually make their way up in there, making it so that with every few steps I take, I must pull them out. I’m not sure why I thought Shein would be any different, but as part of my self-appointed directive to buy stuff that I would honestly never, here we are.

Photo:Megan Reynolds

The bandana-print shorts were silkier than I expected, and technically, they fit me, but my crotch would like a word with the manager. I can’t say that I won’t wear these to the beach or the pool, but I don’t know if that’s the best idea. The middle outfit, a “set,” is abysmal. I do not know what I was thinking nor do I know where I would wear this outfit or why. Finally, the tropical print set, which consists of shorts that are flowy enough to be culottes and a top that’s both too big and too small, is the outfit of a soon-to-be-booted Love Island contestant: all I need is a mic pack strapped around my waist, four-inch platform sandals, some boob tape, and I’d be good to go. (The cell phone is concealing most of my body, which is exposed in this top.)

All in all, for $80, I’m sort of surprised by what I got and how much of it worked, though to be fair, I assumed that the dress and the pants were a sure bet. I know what I like, and by now, have a relatively good idea of what works on my body. Had I the energy or the desire to spend bigger money on clothing, I could’ve found suitable, higher-market replicas of both items, but Shein’s appeal to me, and I assume, to the teens who routinely shop there, is the price. I don’t know how many seasons of wear either item will last, but I trust with some diligent hand washing and careful wear, I’ll get a few months out of each before they turn to dust.

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