We all have those few influencer Instagram accounts we follow a bit too obsessively. The looks they put together are the perfectly curated version of how we see our own style — just in our heads. We double-tap their vintage band tees, double-tap their limited-edition Converse, we die over a faux-fur coat handed down from a grandmother. We could try to recreate these looks by combing through secondhand racks for hours, sure — but what if we could literally buy the look off our Insta-crush's backs? Well, you can — in just a few DMs and a shipping fee.
Online thrifting sites like Depop, ThredUp and Poshmark have been a side-hustle favorite for years. But savvy influencers discovered they could cut out the middleman, hidden fees and annoying app bugs and sell their secondhand pieces directly through the platform they gained notoriety on: Instagram. The inception of IG Stories made it even easier: no cluttered grids, direct access and the added benefit of your followers feeling even more connected and involved in the lives of the influencers they follow. But does that lack of anonymity tie into some of the negative aspects of social media obsession, as well? What's the best option for both influencer and follower when buying fashion over direct message?
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Marta Freedman, co-founder of Nice Paper and Dieu (an upcoming skin-care brand), has a long history of selling her favorite fashion castoffs via online marketplaces, but found that she preferred the straightforward connection that Instagram gave her. "I'm a veteran of selling my clothes on the internet," she says. "I liked all the [other] platforms, but they were all more time-consuming than they let on. My Instagram felt like enough of a platform to host one-day 'closet purges' around the same time everyone was Marie Kondo-ing their lives. I could just post the pieces to Instagram Stories, negotiate prices, then ship them out the next day in one fell swoop."
Freedman also found that she enjoyed selling directly to people who enjoyed the rest of her content, and sees it as a mutually beneficial exchange of positive energy. "Everything I do is a genuine extension of me as a person," she says. "So it just feels really authentic and easy to share both things tangible and not. To me, it feels more similar to a yard sale, like you're opening up your home or closet for others to peer into, allowing for more storytelling and connection."
What about the people who covet then purchase their fave influencer's clothing? Turns out, it's similarly charged with excitement, as well as a slight shyness that comes from fandom.
"I buy vintage or secondhand a lot, and I like knowing their stories or where the pieces came from," says Lauren Lapenna, a food stylist based in New York City. "I see it as taking on that person's energy, and so buying something from someone I can see is a cool or good person, I know it's a good thing. I like knowing the person I bought from has done good things or I can see she has a good heart."
She also sees it as a natural extension of the influencer career choice: "They're opening up their life even more and giving their followers the opportunity to participate in something."
But that direct content with someone you admire also comes with a self-awareness you don't get over eBay or Poshmark. "There is a level of self-consciousness I feel around buying it directly from someone I think is cool because it's not anonymous," says Lapenna. "They can look at my profile and my pictures and see who I am. I think about what to say, how to word things, what emojis to use."
She also feels as though seeing a piece in context on someone who is doing cool things with their life can bring confidence once the piece is in your hands. "I follow mostly people who inspire me or who I strive to be," she says. "So buying something from someone I admire would give me some confidence that I can pull off what they're wearing, too. It also gives me motivation to keep leaning into the style I want to have."
So what about the psychological pros or cons of having such direct access to someone you don't know in real life? "You can have healthy doses of fandom if it inspires you to create in your own life," says Clarissa Silva, a behavioral scientist and relationship coach. "For many [people], they are only broadcasting the positive aspects of their lives on social media — the highlight reels. If we are mainly broadcasting [that], it can distract from you designing the life for you."
Buying secondhand fashion pieces from someone whose style you greatly admire seems to come with some added psychological ties on both the side of the seller and the buyer — but so does anything when direct human connections are involved. There is a vulnerability that you don't get through anonymous exchanges; it all depends on what you're looking for. Maybe it taps into a humanness that we are all striving for in this world of likes, views and follow-for-follows. We want to feel seen and to support those that bring us something positive. As long as there's balance and respect, both sides can benefit in an emotional way that we tend to miss out on within Instagram.
Buying your favorite influencer's secondhand pieces can bring confidence and inspiration to develop and grow your own style, with a little support from someone who is doing things that maybe you aspire to do. And they're happy to pass on pieces they love to those who appreciate them.
"It just feels good to see [something] go to someone who is genuinely stoked to have [something from me]," says Freedman. "Passing it on that way makes the item hold more meaning, and also makes it feel better to let go of."
After all, sometimes even cool girls need to clean out their closets from time to time.