Personal stylists aren’t just for the rich and famous anymore. Gen Zers and young millennials are paying amateur stylists on TikTok and Instagram hundreds of dollars to put together personalized secondhand clothing collections, also known as “style boxes.”
Secondhand fashion is becoming increasingly popular among teenagers and twentysomethings, but thrift store shopping, or “thrifting,” isn’t always easy. Finding clothes that are the right size, style, and quality can be time consuming, and many people don’t have the knack for it. That’s why secondhand fashion stylists are marketing their services on social media to handle the job. In the era of overnight deliveries and immediate gratification, this trend emphasizes young consumers’ desire for more personalized services and highlights a shift away from fast fashion brands and towards sustainable fashion.
The concept of style boxes is going viral on social media, and the demand for the service is increasing with it. The hashtag #stylebox has over 9.1 million views on TikTok, for example.
KG Lillian, a stylist who has over 776,000 TikTok followers, started selling style boxes less than a year ago and has since had to shutter her inbox due to the overwhelming number of inquiries from potential customers.
“I was getting over a thousand inquiries a day, and that’s just on email. I was also getting more in the comments and in DMs on TikTok and Instagram,” Lillian told Fortune. “So thousands daily were reaching out to me. I shut it down to rework with the team how I can move forward better equipped for the volume of interest.”
The process for hiring a stylist varies. A customer buying a box from Lillian starts by filling out a lengthy form describing their style and personality, answering questions about their preferred colors and patterns, favorite music bands and seasons, as well as listing fabrics or styles they prefer not to buy. Customers can also request clothing for specific events like honeymoons or music festivals.
Lillian, 29 and based in Austin, said her entry into the style box world was an “organic, community-driven experience.” Starting in early 2020, she built a small audience among the thrifting aficionados on Instagram before posting videos on TikTok. As those videos grew in popularity, people started asking her to shop for them. The concept of style boxes already existed at that point, but as the demand on TikTok increased, she began experimenting with offering it as a service herself. Before then, Lillian worked as a bank teller by day and as an indie-pop band member by night.
Lillian has completed around 100 boxes. Previously, those style boxes, containing three to 15 items, started at $300 and then rose in price based on specific client add-ons and requests, like a quick turnaround if the box was tailored for a specific event, she said. Building these collections takes up much of Lillian’s time, but the bulk of her income comes from brand deals as a social media influencer. Lillian declined to share her earnings from her style box business.
The opposite of instant gratification
For some, $300 or more may seem pricey for a box of old thrift-store clothes, but filling a style box can take hours of searching in multiple stores over several months. Lillian shops for her clients almost every weekday, but finding the right item can be hit-or-miss depending on the day.
“I’m really clear that this is a slow process, and it’s hard to predict when I’ll complete it because I don’t ever want to force something into a box that doesn’t belong there or doesn’t feel like a right fit for the client,” Lillian said.
She added: “A part of me is working against the culture of immediate, instant gratification because here’s this service that’s completely opposite. Patience is part of it.”
And that’s part of the appeal.
Lillian grew up thrift shopping because of financial necessity, she said, so the idea of having a personal stylist—who charge anywhere from $100 to $300 an hour—seemed so far out of reach that it was almost a “mythical” notion. But the secondhand clothing included in these style boxes is a bit more affordable, and thereby broadens access somewhat to what was previously an exclusive service. Still, it’s an expensive luxury that many people can’t afford.
“I think what people really want is that custom, personalized, just-for-them experience,” Lillian said.
Voting with their wallets
Style boxes are another way young people are “voting with their wallets,” by buying from brands that support social causes they’re passionate about and, in this case, keeping their business away from brands that don’t.
To fight the effects of global warming, some Gen Zers and millennials try to limit the amount of new clothing they buy from big fast fashion brands, like Shein, Forever 21, Uniqlo, H&M, and Zara. Instead, some buy secondhand clothing or clothes made with environmental sustainability in mind. The estimated value of the resale market is between $100 billion and $120 billion worldwide, and it’s nearly tripled since 2020, according to a 2022 report by Boston Consulting Group and Vestiaire Collective.
Buying second clothes reduces carbon emissions and water waste and saves energy. If every consumer bought one article of clothing secondhand rather than new, it would save over 2 billion pounds of carbon emissions, 23 billion gallons of water, and 4 billion kilowatt-hours of energy, according to a 2023 report by ThredUp, an online consignment and thrift store.
For some shoppers, buying thrift store style boxes isn’t just a transaction. It can also be an emotional investment based on what’s going on the lives of customers, according to Lillian.
“I’ve done boxes for reaffirming gender identity journeys. I’ve done boxes for people trying to find love for themselves again, for postpartum bodies, for people coming out of abusive relationships who just want to feel like themselves again, for clients celebrating milestones like honeymoons,” she said. “So there’s a whole range of really personal reasons that people have reached out for boxes, but the coolest part of the service is that it’s bigger than the clothes.”