An Old's Guide to TikTok Fashion

Are you old? Are you overwhelmed by TikTok? Step into my office.

Welcome to the first installment of “An Old’s Guide,” in which I, an Old, explore and attempt to understand various aspects of youth culture. I am 36, which in the world is in no way old, but when it comes to things like TikTok and Olivia Rodrigo is VERY, VERY old, like woolly mammoth old. Perhaps you are young, say twenties, and think you don’t need An Old’s Guide to anything. To which I say, who do you think is going to LinkedIn message you when you’re looking for a better paying job? That’s right. An Old. An Old just like me. Welcome to my head space.

What is it?

TikTok is a video feed social network designed to turn us all into zombies who move through the world doing dance memes every time we find ourselves on a staircase. Not that we move through the world that much because we are so very addicted to TikTok that our asses are basically fused to our sofas, our phones to our hands, TikTok autoplaying for all eternity. In case anyone here is so old (and a very good welcome to you) they don’t even know the basics: TikTok mashes together the most addictive elements of Facebook and Instagram and then adds even more addictive elements, compels users to make videos, and then presents all these flashy content shards in a never-ending algorithmic feed.

Today, we’re focusing on the manifestation of fashion on TikTok, which often involves attractive young people wearing outfits in slick and dazzling short videos.

Why Does TikTok Matter?

TikTok matters generally because it’s the one social network that keeps Mark Zuckerberg up at night. Three weeks ago, the New York Times reported Instagram had 1.3 billion users, TikTok had 1 billion. And among teens, 30 percent said TikTok was their favorite social network — but just 22 percent said Instagram.

Ok ok. But fashion on TikTok?

Yes, I am here to tell you that people wear clothes on TikTok! Clothes everywhere! But seriously, where there are social networks, there are celebrities of that very social network, and where there are celebrities, there are brands lurking in the shallows like leeches ready to attach and suck the influence right out of them.

Plus, the news media, always jonesing for traffic, has figured out that anything with “TikTok” in the headline is going to click, so fashion coverage must now be consumed through that lens, the very same way culture is now consumed through the lens of Kim Kardashian and anyone in any way related to her, biologically or otherwise. You know how if you simply glanced at the celebrity/lifestyle internet this week, you are burdened with the knowledge that it was Kendall Jenner’s 26th birthday around the time of Halloween? That very same thing is happening with TikTok. If you can’t yet, don’t worry — you will soon be able to tell someone at the office about a “TikTok fashion trend” you happen to be aware of whether you want to be or not.

What’s trendy on TikTok?

I’m going to call it “Easter Hipster” only think current hipster and — I cannot stress this enough — definitely not skinny jeans Hedi Slimane aughts hipster. This means bright colors. Think Starbursts. Or the CVS seasonal aisle circa April. I’m talking vibrant pastels, purple, gingham. Also, light wash jeans with enough room in the leg and seat region to hide a few packs of peanut M&Ms. Take your skinny jeans and cut them up and turn them into a throw pillow because they have no place here. (As one member of Gen Z told the Washington Post earlier this year, “When I wore skinny jeans in the past, I looked like a fool.”)

If you are thinking of getting into making your own TikToks (god bless) and want to be fashion influencer-y about it, you can try demonstrating to your fellow olds how to wear non-skinny jeans. Such as flare, wide leg, or mom styles. Consider including items from your TikTok fall fashion starter pack: cowboy boots, the reflective sunglasses you wear when riding your bike on the weekend that will one day embarrass your small children, and some version of this dress from the movie 13 Going on 30. You also can’t go wrong with a baggy sweatsuit in an Easter color palette. Both on TikTok and in life these days.

I texted a Young (who would pass on TikTok for an Old, but a Young Old) how she would describe the TikTok look, and she said: “It’s the opposite of Instagram in 2015. How then everyone had to have perfect pictures and look all magazine-worthy. Fashion TikTok is like, you can’t look too perfect, you have to come off breezy and chill even though you’re still trying sooooo hard to come off that way. Everyone’s all, ‘I’m chill and easy,’ but there’s nothing chill and easy about a video with eight fancy transitions for one outfit.”

Got it. Are there certain brands TikTokers like?

Well something called Cider claims to be “a globally minded, social-first fashion brand,” and became popular via TikTok, according to Women’s Wear Daily. Only there’s no way it’s actually sustainable given it looks like just another fast fashion site that sells “drops” (one is “Berries and Cream,” translation: “YOU THIRTYSOMETHINGS ARE VERY OLD”) and $9 T-shirts. I’m not linking to it because fuck fast fashion companies that greenwash but imagine it as Delia’s but for Ella Emhoff instead of Olds like you and me.

But high fashion brands are on TikTok too — of course they are! They see TikTok and can practically taste the money filling their faux fur-lined coffers. Gucci, for instance, did a #GucciModelChallenge where they invited kids to “pile a bunch of random items on top of each other, creating an eclectic, Gucci-esque look,” per Vogue.com, and then reposted a bunch of them. (Whether anyone was paid for doing this work is unclear to me, I hope/imagine some were.)

Kids on TikTok are also really into #upcycling and #sustainablefashion and #vintage. After they gradate college, they don’t want to have to live on top of piles of rotting old millennial skinny jeans, you know? And they sure as shit know all the Super Olds at COP26 aren’t doing anything to guarantee that won’t happen to them.

Should I follow my favorite Instagram fashion people on TikTok?

Sure you should. I think Bryan Boy is pretty great. People like Bella Hadid and Adut Akech are on TikTok. In fact, TikTok is now a funnel for fashion models, not to mention reality stars and actors and whatever it is Addison Rae does (can someone younger than me who speaks Old please reply and explain? #tyvm).

What about fashion nostalgia? Will I find that on TikTok?

Why yes, you will find trends you remember like they happened yesterday being treated like they have been excavated in the Badlands in South Dakota by people with Ph.Ds in Very Old Shit.

Fashion from the aughts is celebrated (and not skinny jeans, I must stress this again) under #Y2Kfashion. Nylon.com even reports that tan tattoos — where you put on a sticker in order to tan around that shape — are now trendy on TikTok. (But also, don’t do that, because tanning is bad and ages you and we’re trying to trend Young here.) The Juicy Couture velour tracksuit pops up on TikTok Youngs all the time, which makes sense given the ubiquity of colorful sweatsuits. Frankly, they look great, but I also have a sinking feeling that if I were to attempt it I’d look like one of the COP26 Super Olds.

I’ve heard about “cheugy.” I can throw that around and just seem like I get it, right?

Well, no. According to my Young source: “It’s cheugy to say cheugy now.”

If I’m still feeling overwhelmed, can I just ignore this and stay totally away from TikTok but remain in the know, fashion-wise?

Well, if you want to be the person who didn’t know the British Fashion Council unveiled nominees for the 2021 Fashion Awards on TikTok until you saw a blog post about it after the fact, then yes. If you don’t want to be that person, I suggest you join me in digging through those old clothes you were thinking of giving away for velour loungewear.

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