The Art of the Find: Future Doc Shares Thrifting Treasures via YouTube

Sylvie M. Baggett


September 22, 2021

Ariel McKenna is a 20-year-old medical student from Long Island, New York. When she's not studying, she's making YouTube videos on thrift store scores and how to curate style on a budget for more than 30,000 subscribers. In her free time, she enjoys babysitting her sister's pet bunny and finding the best Korean corn dog in New York City. Check out her Instagram here.

Tell us a little about yourself. Where are you from and how is school going?

I'm from Long Island, New York, and I'm currently enrolled in a 7-year program that combines undergrad with medical school. I just finished my third year. In 2022, I'll be starting medical school — finally!

Figure 1. "This top is one of my absolute favorites. It's hand-knit by indie designer Violette Hay. I lucked out and already had this pair of patchwork pants that match perfectly with the top," she says. "This outfit definitely makes me feel like I'm the main character in a '90s film, which I love!"

Where did your interest in medicine come from? Did you always want to study medicine?

Growing up, I was constantly in and out of the doctor's office. I had a lot of problems with my skin so I was a regular at the dermatologist. I was terrified of getting sick when I was younger and saw doctors as heroes. I admired all that they did and I began to envision myself in their place. When I met with my guidance counselor in ninth grade going into high school, I said, "I want to be a doctor." I had my heart set on it and here I am. I never doubted that this is what I wanted to do.

What about fashion? What sparked your interest there?

When I went to my first school that didn't require a uniform, I was finally able to truly express myself. I wanted to take advantage of it and go all out. Getting to choose what to wear provided me with a sense of security. I was able to portray myself how I wanted to be perceived, rather than being entirely subjected to how other people might perceive me due to things I couldn't control.

Figure 2. "For this outfit, I'm wearing a Stüssy two-piece set, Telfar bag, and Golf Wang Giannos. This is a super casual-but-put-together outfit that I've been loving during the summer heat," McKenna says. "I really appreciate when clothes are comfy and low-effort but still look intentional."

How did you find yourself in the world of secondhand and thrifted clothes?

Initially, it was because they're what I could afford. After shopping that way for a while, I realized that I could find unique, one-of-a-kind pieces that just didn't exist at the mall. It also helped me to stay on budget while building a collection of really special and beautiful pieces. Once I got a good collection going and realized that the possibilities are endless at the thrift store, I couldn't go back to shopping firsthand.

What's one of your favorite recent thrift finds?

I have a good online find — a Jean Paul Gaultier sweater for only $70. Still expensive but definitely worth it. At the thrift store, I found a pair of jeans by the brand Miss Me. They're not anything particularly special but they fit me well and I can tell that they'll be a good addition to my wardrobe. You can't go wrong with a good pair of jeans.

Figure 3. "Here, I've paired a Stray Rats sweater with UNIF pants," she says. "This is one of my favorite sweaters and I really love wearing outfits with coordinating colors throughout — my matching hair was a lucky coincidence!"

Any tips for thrifting newbies?

If you're a medical student with limited spending money, thrifting is a great way to discover a new style, and it can be a great source for basics, too. Have an intention of what you want to find. Even if you don't find it, having an idea of something specific that you're looking for is a good idea so you don't pass it by accidentally. And go when you have time. If you're rushing through, there's a high chance that you'll miss a hidden gem.

When did you start your YouTube channel? What made you start it?

I started my YouTube channel right before the pandemic while I was living in the dorms at school. It was always something I talked to my friends about. I wanted to make a channel so I could document our time in school together, to have something to look back on. On Valentine's Day of 2020, my roommates were all away and I had a quiet moment to film. After that, I had to take a break. I had no idea how much work it was to film and edit a video.

The next time I filmed a video, I was home for the pandemic. I found the whole process of filming and editing enjoyable. I needed something that was so detail-oriented and required a lot of time as an escape from my studies. I turned to that and started uploading once a week and just kept at it, even when no one was watching my videos.

Figure 4. "Brown has been a super-trendy color for the past few years and I'm taking full advantage of it with this monochromatic outfit," McKenna says. "Every single item is secondhand from the late 1990s or early 2000s. A good way to tell if something is vintage is by the tag; some iconic '90s/Y2K brands are Self Esteem and Rampage," she adds.

Do you think you'll keep making videos when you're in medical school?

I hope so! There's a bit of pressure of having to choose one or the other. If it comes down to it, I'd choose to pursue medicine over YouTube since I've been working toward it for so long, but I want to try to make both work. Even if I'm not posting videos as regularly, I hope to do it in some capacity.

Is it challenging to balance your creative pursuits with your studies?

Definitely. The more creative side of myself enjoys the whole process of having a YouTube channel, even more so when I'm very overworked at school. I value the release of all this creative expression and having control over what I'm doing and making. The more rigid my schedule gets, the more I value the creativity and production of YouTube.

A big struggle for me was time management. I didn't have a gauge on how long I would need to make a full video. Getting used to that learning curve, balancing the two, I feel a lot better about being able to do both when the time comes.

Any advice for someone struggling to play to all of their strengths?

It's important to do what you enjoy because it's easy to get wrapped up in doing what other people expect of you. Oftentimes, people do that and end up very unhappy. Later, they switch to what they actually wanted to do in the first place, but that time has been lost pursuing a dream that other people had for them. It's up to you to choose which of those strengths makes you feel fulfilled with how you spend your time.


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