How I Shop: Emma Chamberlain - Fashionista

How I Shop: Emma Chamberlain

We sat down with the YouTube star and High Key designer to talk about her love for thrifting, shopping online and why she uses Pinterest for fashion inspiration.
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Emma Chamberlain in High Key. Photo: Andre Nguyen

Emma Chamberlain in High Key. Photo: Andre Nguyen

We all buy clothes, but no two people shop the same. It can be a social experience, and a deeply personal one; at times, it can be impulsive and entertaining, at others, purpose-driven, a chore. Where do you shop? When do you shop? How do you decide what you need, how much to spend and what's "you"? These are some of the questions we're putting to prominent figures in our column "How I Shop."

For those of us who are well beyond their high school years, YouTube celebrity and budding influencer Emma Chamberlain is the type of girl you wanted to be best friends with as a teen. The 17-year-old is funny, sharp and completely unfiltered. You can hang out with her in hoodies and sweats, then decide to do a late-night snack run (Cheez-Its, preferably) and end up driving around in your car singing your hearts out to your favorite album ("Ctrl" by Sza, obviously). Ah, the good ol' pre-collegiate, far-from-adulthood days.

And while we're over here wrapped up in nostalgia — and side aches from laughing so much — over Chamberlain, her followers are generally a Gen Z-heavy audience who are constantly keeping up with her weekly life updates on YouTube, whether it's a vlog on pulling an all-nighter or an explainer about why she left high school. (She recently moved from her hometown San Francisco to Los Angeles, as well as signed with talent agency UTA.)

Chamberlain's star has skyrocketed into internet fame. Some perspective: She only launched her YouTube channel one year ago, which has already acquired more than three million subscribers. In addition to her Instagram following, she's amassed a collective fandom that's close to seven million. 

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And as one's celebrity status grows, fashion inevitably comes into the mix. For Chamberlain, her first foray is a clothing line called High Key by Emma, which is available exclusively on the Gen Z-favored shopping app Dote. "My idea for this was just making all of my favorite closet basics," Chamberlain tells Fashionista. "You can't go wrong with any of these pieces — and they're all things that I wear. I wanted it to be all of my staples in one place."

In July, Dote quietly launched a pre-sale for the capsule collection — comprised of scrunchies ($6.50), tanks ($28), a yellow denim jacket ($56) and a teddy fur jacket ($64) named "Poopy" by Chamberlain's fans — which sold out within two hours. (Some more perspective: Shoppers didn't know exactly what they were buying. Each item was pixelated into one big blur, a signature of Chamberlain's video edits.)

"The creative process has been fun, but sometimes you need to take your creative idea and turn it into something that's doable at times, which is depressing," recalls Chamberlain of her first fashion collaboration. "But at the end of the day, that's something you have to work with and you can't do everything all at once. You have to grow into things. You can't rush into everything so quick. Starting out simple was a good start, for sure."

During an event to preview her debut collection for High Key, we sat down with Chamberlain to talk about her love for thrifting, shopping online and why she uses Pinterest for fashion inspiration.

Emma Chamberlain in High Key. Photo: Andre Nguyen

Emma Chamberlain in High Key. Photo: Andre Nguyen

"My personal style is all over the place in a weirdly organized matter and I will elaborate: Basically, I think my style is mixing modern trends with retro trends and making them fit in a way that isn't what you expect at all times. I will try things that nobody's tried before and see if it works. Sometimes it doesn't, sometimes it does. Sometimes it doesn't work and I wear it anyway. But at the end of the day, I like to mix everything and just see what fits.

Where I look for outfit inspiration is a mixture of Instagram and Pinterest. I use Pinterest a lot, surprisingly, which is something not a lot of people use anymore, but I always loved it because they really have the best fashion inspiration on there. A lot of my style has come from Pinterest and going through it. I search for things and I follow people who re-pin things that are cool.

Funny story about why I use Pinterest a lot: When I was in high school, we were allowed to have our laptops out and a lot of the websites, like Instagram, Facebook, stuff like that, were blocked and the only one that wasn't blocked was Pinterest, so all the girls got super into Pinterest. We all followed each other and we'd re-pin things and we'd message each other on Pinterest. It was so crazy how we got really desperate there. But then my style got better from Pinterest because it's all of the best stuff from Instagram, magazines, vintage photos, all of it in one place. It's great. I'm honestly a big fan.

For the summer, my go-to outfit has been black Doc Martens, Levi's denim shorts and any cute top that I can find, whether it's from Brandy [Melville], Urban [Outfitters], Unif. Oh my God, I love anything from Unif. But now that fall is kind of coming, I've been really into wearing mom jeans with Nike socks and Air Force 1s. Love that look. People have been doing that for months but I'm just now getting into it and loving it. It’s such a cool, edgy kind of '90s feel and I'm so into it.

When I was super young, I was kind of tomboyish. I would like girly stuff, but I was wearing tennis shoes, jeans and T-shirts. I wasn't really a girly girl and I didn't know anything about fashion. Now that I'm older and I have more resources that I've given myself where I can afford to buy clothes and go thrifting and spend time doing it, [my style and interest in fashion] developed a lot really quickly because I realized it's something that's really fun and makes me feel good about myself. It's a good hobby in a weird way, something to put my mind toward. It aids everything else, too. If you are into fashion and clothes, then your Instagram will be better and people will have more to enjoy and take inspiration from. I got really into fashion probably three years ago, genuinely, like I know a little bit about what's up.

Emma Chamberlain in High Key. Photo: Andre Nguyen

Emma Chamberlain in High Key. Photo: Andre Nguyen

I can't remember my very, very first shopping memory, but I know when I was younger, I used to go to Marshalls and T.J. Maxx with my mom because they were super cheap with a lot of options. It's almost like thrifting. You're searching through one-of-a-kind things and just trying to find something that's relatively good. That kind of got me, weirdly, into the whole idea of that type of shopping. Now I love thrifting. Obsessed with it.

There's a lot of thrift junkies in LA. The prices are higher, but the selection is better if you go to the right stores. I like to go to vintage stores on Melrose or Melrose Trading Post — very overpriced, but very fun. It's like every good find at a thrift shop in one place. You like everything, so it's more about choosing what you want to spend your money on, which is kind of annoying, but it takes out the digging. It's always a fun thing to do with friends and, 10 out of 10, would recommend the Trading Post to anyone out there. It's really hot and sweaty, though, so beware. And wear your sunscreen.

Except for vintage, I 100-percent shop online. I actually use Dote a lot, which is kind of coincidental because, literally, they're the ones who helped me with this clothing line. But I really like using Dote because it's on my phone, so when I get bored, it's like another social media app. It's kind of bad how much money I spend on there. It's fun to add stuff to your cart because you scroll through a feed and the websites that you like and then you spend all your money. But also, online stores are just so fun. Sizing is a little bit annoying, but you can always return. I spend so much money online! I'm literally cringing at myself, I can feel it! It's so bad!

Every day, I'm looking and I fill up carts. I definitely don't place an order every day, but it's my relaxation time. Before bed, I go on my computer or my phone and I'm on Dote and just scroll through and see everything I like and then add it to cart. I don't even want things sitting in my cart if it's not a definite yes. I like to choose a few things that are a little bit out of my comfort zone, plus a few things that are comfortable basics that I know will fit or that maybe I already have in a different color. I like to picture myself in at least three outfits in each of the things, so I know it's a versatile piece that I would wear a billion times. Even if I don't actually wear it a billion times. Then at the end of the week I'm like, 'Am I going to place this cart order?' Mmm yes, then I place it. And it's so unhealthy.

Emma Chamberlain in High Key. Photo: Andre Nguyen

Emma Chamberlain in High Key. Photo: Andre Nguyen

I just did a big hoodie spree because all of my hoodies are my size, so small or medium. But lately, I've been really digging wearing either Doc Martens or Air Force 1s with a huge hoodie and shorts under it. It's so comfortable. The best thing ever. So I bought literally five hoodies that are just huge, like from Champion, Stussy, a Golf Le Fleur one, so I have a nice selection of big hoodies for my lazy days.

I don't spend a lot of money on denim and I'm actually working on that because I have a few pairs of jeans but I don't have any really, really nice denim. I always am kind of lazy when it comes to denim because it can be so expensive. Actually Re/Done sent me a pair of jeans once and they were great and now I know my size, so let's go off. I ordered like three pairs and I am broke but excited.

I do get to a point sometimes where I'm like, 'You need to go through your closet.' It probably happens once every few months or even sometimes once a month, depending on how much I'm shopping. I think I'm due, easily. I just moved, so I did some clearing out then, but now I'm already ready to do more clearing out because I don't really feel a need to keep stuff that doesn't need to be there. I'm not mad about getting rid of stuff but, at the same time, I do like to think about it for a hot second before I'm giving it away. Would this be good for a Halloween costume in five years? Probably not. Could you re-buy it? Yes, if you ever really did need it, which you won't. It's a lot of mind games, but I try. I usually give everything to Goodwill or Salvation Army, or sometimes I'll give it away to friends.

But for me, a big part of my business is having cool outfits that are different and unique. Sometimes I'm like, 'I want to buy a bunch of clothes so I know that if I have a photo shoot later this week, I'll already be set.' I don't like to wear things twice in a photo, which is so annoying. I'm really weird about that.

I rarely shop for my videos. I only care about how I look on Instagram for some reason. I don't care about how I look on YouTube because the dominant aspect of my channel is more just me talking, hanging out, whereas on Instagram, you're just looking at me. So let's try a little, Emma, you know? Let's try to not, I don't know, burn people's eyes. Also it's fun for me, too. On my YouTube, I don't get to show my side of myself that's into fashion and clothes. On Instagram, I get to go off. So I have two sides to my personality: Instagram is fashionista girl, YouTube is weird bitch that's actually me."

In the gallery below, see more of Chamberlain's High Key debut collection, which is available to shop now on Dote.

This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.

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