SINCE I'm a born-and-raised bargain hunter, I've always been fascinated by the deals available at Shein.
Everyone's warned me that the flimsy fashions aren't worth a dime, but I spent $22 to find out how far I could stretch an all-Shein outfit.
Before I started working on this story, I'd never ordered from Shein.
As a lifestyle reporter, though, I've dedicated thousands of words to reporting on other customers' negative experiences with the fast-fashion outlet.
Shein has a lot of the same problems as other fast-fashion companies.
The company's factories have been labeled a hotbed of human rights violations, it's recognized as a massive source of pollution, and the clothing items can even be harmful.
Besides the ethical implications, I simply didn't need to place a massive Shein order, even though unboxing a haul seems pretty fun.
I'm an incredibly savvy shopper, and I can usually find better deals than Shein's website has to offer.
In fact, the only Shein item in my closet before this experiment was a shirt I found at a thrift store on 99-cent day.
With all this in mind, I set out to do some first-person reporting on a topic I've explored secondhand for months.
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My theory: Shein clothes aren't even worth the ultra-low price tag, and they won't hold up to more than a few days of wear.
My method: wearing a full outfit from Shein every day until it crumbled to dust (or until this article was due).
My low expectations were knocked further down the moment I signed on to Shein's website, and had to close four coupon pop-ups before I could navigate to the search bar.
Because I'd be wearing the same thing for several days, I wanted to choose at least one component that included several colors.
And, since this was a wintertime experiment, I wanted layers.
I had an ulterior motive with this. By layering, I'd protect myself from accidental exposure if anything ripped or wound up being see-through.
Searching through the categories of the website was a hassle. I tried sorting by size, color, and style, but it didn't seem like items were categorized correctly, if at all.
Once I had a few contenders in the skirt department, I looked at tops to see what might be a reasonable match.
There was a cute, cropped cardigan in a style I'd wanted to try, and it was the perfect shade of purple to coordinate with a patchwork skirt in my size.
I chose a brown mock-neck top to go underneath. The reviews called it a great alternative to similar shirts from Skims, which interested me.
Finally, I found a pair of footed tights, with an interesting twist.
One side was beige, and one side was black, so I could wear them reversed to inject a little variety into my ensemble.
I spent a total of $22 on my picks: $3.75 for leggings, $5.25 for the skirt, $6 for the mock neck top, and $7 for the sweater.
Frustratingly, my cart total was so low, I didn't qualify for any of the four coupons that had popped up when I logged on.
Still, I hit "complete order," and then I waited.
I placed my order on Halloween, October 31, and the estimates for my items' arrivals averaged to "sometime in November."
Naturally, I was surprised when I had all four items within two weeks.
I wore The Outfit every day for ten days, though not consecutively, for at least six hours each time.
I took breaks on laundry days.
Since I was indoors for much of the experiment and didn't venture into society too much, I only washed the whole ensemble twice throughout my experiment.
When the pieces arrived, I inspected the material.
The leggings and cardigan both felt super soft, and the mock-neck top, while less cozy, seemed to be durable and stretchy.
My new patchwork skirt had a plastic feel to it. It felt like a giant piece of Barbie clothing made from stiff polyester.
The patchwork design was only printed on one side of the fabric, so the "wrong" side looked like a faded, white version of the front.
This wouldn't have been a problem, but the faux-wrap style of the skirt meant that the interior was visible at some angles.
On my first day wearing the full outfit, I learned that the skirt had another quality that reflected its $5.25 price tag.
The faux-wrap look was achieved by a twisted, ruched waistline, which often caused the "wrong" side of the skirt to turn out.
More than once, I stood up from the couch or a chair to discover my skirt had turned almost inside-out on its own.
I'm glad I followed my instinct to layer multiple pieces, too. The skirt was see-through in bright lighting.
So were the leggings. So was the mock neck top. So was the cardigan.
Yep: every single item I bought was see-through, to varying degrees.
I learned this quickly, thanks to a cold snap in New York during my first few days wearing The Outfit.
Before I headed outside, I put another pair of leggings under my footed tights, to keep out the icy wind.
At the grocery store, I bent down to grab something from a low shelf, and as my coat and skirt fell away, I could see my leopard-print underlayer through the tan tights.
I tried capturing the effect on camera, but it didn't show up.
Still, I turned to a fellow shopper, who confirmed what I was seeing under the store's harsh fluorescent lights.
I didn't need any help determining mock-neck top was transparent.
Despite the rave reviews on the product page, I learned the shirt was an NSFW moment waiting to happen when I paired it with a patterned bralette.
The cardigan's fabric was see-through, too, but that was the least of my worries with that particular garment.
A shoelace-thin tie was the only thing holding the sweater together, and I was certain it would snap within days.
But shockingly, the whole outfit held together during my first five days of wear, and everyone who saw it loved it.
My friends who knew about the experiment were eager to meet The Outfit in person, and all of them were impressed by what I threw together for $22.
THE HALFWAY POINT
Halfway through this experiment, I flew home to my parents' house for Thanksgiving.
By that point, The Outfit had an unwelcome aromatic accessory, so I was eager to wash it for free at my parents' place instead of visiting the laundromat.
My dad threw it in with a load of laundry he was doing, and washed it on a gentle cycle with cold water and low heat.
Several people warned me that Shein pieces fall apart at the first wash.
I was prepared to spend my Thanksgiving picking a fully-dissolved wad of synthetic fabrics out of our dryer's lint trap.
But after the first wash, 75 percent of The Outfit was still in great shape.
In fact, the skirt was softer than when I started, the stiff Barbie fabric finally flowy and comfortable.
But the cropped cardigan was even smaller than before.
Where it had once hit at just a couple of inches above the hem of my undershirt, the purple sweater now cut off mid-breast.
It took a lot of adjusting to make the sweater wearable – the first time I wore it post-wash, it flared out across my chest, giving me an unflattering "boob shelf" look.
Plus, that tiny shoelace tie was now working double-time to keep the shrunken sweater sealed.
No matter how many times I tied the cardigan shut, or how tightly I tied the knot, it would slide loose within a few minutes of activity.
Plus, the tie was becoming increasingly weathered. I worried it would snap at any second.
Despite this, I kept wearing The Outfit. And, hey, I thought it was popular in New York…but then I wore it to a craft store in the midwest.
From the moment my mom and I stepped out of the car, I received compliments on The Outfit.
They only continued as we shopped. I received at least three compliments in the first five minutes at one store, ranging from "fabulous" to "adorable."
Before my flight back to New York, I washed The Outfit one more time, and saw no additional degradation.
This was a surprise, given how loose the stitching on the cardigan's tie felt, but I was grateful for the minor miracle.
I suited up one more time, wearing The Outfit for my full travel day back to New York.
After 12 hours of driving, flying, walking, flying, and driving some more, everything was still in one piece.
By the time I got back to my apartment, I could feel the mock-neck top loosing its elasticity and the skirt's zipper started sticking.
Overall, each individual piece fared better than I had anticipated. Only one of my purchases truly wowed me, though.
The reversible tights were surprisingly warm, despite their subpar opacity, and the two-for-one color scheme is well worth $3.75.
But I wouldn't re-purchase any of the other items.
While I was home with my family, I wore the outfit several places, including a few thrift stores.
I came home with a suitcase full of clothes, and almost every single thing cost less than my Shein purchases.
At one thrift store, I found a pair of brand-new Express boots for $6. At other stores, I found vintage two-piece outfits in excellent condition for $8 and $2.
Even at the one department store my mom and I popped into, I found a "splurge" sweater for just $9 that's softer and thicker than my Shein buys.
Plus, none of my in-person purchases were see-through, which gives me hope for their longevity in my wardrobe.
The Shein clothes didn't perform as poorly as I'd expected, but that doesn't mean I was impressed.
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I don't plan on buying from Shein again, though I recognize I'm lucky my purchases held up.
Of course, there's a chance I've jinxed it by saying so. If the moment I hit "publish" my zippers and ties split and burst, I'll be sure to issue a retraction.
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