Senior Staff Writer
TikTok has become extremely influential in American youth culture, especially with college students. Among the variety of content that floods the app, fashion occupies a particular niche and is one of the primary ways TikTok’s impact can be observed outside of the app.
Popular fashion and lifestyle aesthetics such as the so-called e-girl, VSCO girl, dark academia aesthetic, and cottagecore aesthetic have been popularized and made mainstream by TikTok influencers. Fashion items inspired by these movements, which originated in fringe corners of the internet, can now be found in big-box stores such as Target and Walmart.
The Head of Fashion, Luxury, Beauty and Retail Brand Partnerships of TikTok, Cassandra Russell, said in a 2021 interview with The Industry, “TikTok has fast become a home for fashion creators, designers and stylists to find their voice, collaborate, share their unique style and create the next big fashion trend.”
Top fashion brands such as ASOS, H&M, Gucci, and Prada have used the platform to promote their products through corporate accounts and deals with popular creators. The Global Brand Creative Lead at ASOS, John Mooney, cites the lockdowns during the beginning of the COVID pandemic as a part of the platform’s growing impact on the fashion industry and culture.
Mooney stated, “When TikTok exploded in popularity during lockdown, we knew we had to be part of that exciting journey.”
TikTok’s hold on the fashion industry has been further secured with features such as the TikTok Shopping feature, which allows brands to tag which of their items have been used in sponsored posts and offer a link to purchase those same items.
However, there is a dark side to this community and the influence that the app holds in regards to overconsumption and fashion cycles.
Fashion cycles, or trend cycles, refer to specific trends such as the shape of sleeves or the width of a skirt that rise in popularity every twenty years. These cycles traditionally worked on a 10-20 year cycle. A trend would be popular for ten years, go out of style, then after another ten years would be back in fashion.
In his piece “TikTok’s fashion trends are a gateway for overconsumption” published in The Highlander, David Moreno notes that the style cycles on TikTok have accelerated to about a month for a trend to be in season, and then move onto the next phenomenon.
A specific example of TikTok’s fashion content promoting overconsumption was in October 2021, with the rise of clothing hauls from the fast-fashion brand Shein. According to fashion designer Venetia La Manna in an interview with Green Matters, the brand is considered incredibly unethical.
“[Shein’s] scale of output is unsustainable for our planet and its finite resources,” La Manna said.
The promotion of these brands and the rapid cycling of trends create a culture of overconsumption that is bad for the environment because clothes are often thrown out rather than donated.
However, TikTok’s fashion culture is still a space for young content creators to express themselves and has allowed for several new subcultures to emerge.
“TikTok is all about creativity and self-expression, which has huge synergies with the fashion industry,” Russel said. “As the community continues to creatively interpret trends in new ways, conventional style rules are challenged, and real originality is born on the platform.”