The strawberry dress. The crossover leggings. The Vivianne Westwood pearl choker. There are endless examples of fashion trends that TikTok has breathed into existence. This relatively new smartphone application has so much ownership over these trends that their original names are frequently tossed aside in favor of “the TikTok (insert article of clothing).” As an Aerie employee, I saw the buying power behind TikTok firsthand as I watched girls swarm to our store for months in search of “the TikTok leggings,” a term that can be linked to both Aerie’s crossover leggings or Amazon’s scrunch leggings. TikTok’s seemingly endless amount of discomfiting content and young audience have built a connotation of thoughtlessness around the platform. But seeing droves of people who had never been in an Aerie before walk in with such purpose and interest illustrated the tangible effects of this deceptively simple app.
For an app that is so commonly deemed to be “stupid” or “for middle school girls” — an insult rooted in the well-established tradition of delegitimizing female interests — TikTok has created an impressive amount of careers for users in a relatively short period of time right from their own bedrooms. However, TikTokers are rarely given the respect that influencers on other apps are given. Whether or not their content deserves this respect is dependent on both the TikToker and the perspective of the viewer. With their problematically superfluous associations with the fashion industry, fashion TikTokers are often seen in a materialistic manner. However, considering the 156,000 emails Aerie received from customers asking to be put on the waitlist for the crossover leggings, this “materialism” resonates with audiences of a multitude of different backgrounds.
At some point, we have to ask ourselves: Is liking clothing and the way it can make you feel frivolous, or is the assumption that these interests are frivolous, frivolous itself? Similarly, is TikTok thoughtless, or is that connotation a result of thoughtlessness? Many people make a pointed effort to separate themselves from what society generally considers to be unimportant. In terms of TikTok and fashion, two subjects that are frequently discredited, TikTok’s ability to get people to spend money — a metric American capitalism places particular emphasis on, for better or for worse — stands in stark opposition to the perception of frivolity around the two.
The subject of a TikTok does not seem to affect the popularization of a specific piece of clothing. Even videos that have nothing to do with what the creator is wearing have gone viral due to their clothing. The particular TikTok that sparked the frenzy around the aforementioned leggings was a simple dancing video. This trend embodies the constant presence of the fashion industry in our lives. Just by dancing, Hannah Schlenker, the creator who made the video that began the craze, caused Aerie stores all across the country to sell out of the leggings — an item that, from my experience working there, had not been performing well for months.
While it is indisputable that the success of this video is partially due to luck and an algorithm that champions a certain kind of white, stereotypically attractive user, this kind of economic impact is a testament to the “productive” — meaning the ability to create action — power of TikTok. A vital part of TikTok’s success in the fashion industry lies in its video format. The app relies on an interplay between video clips, text and photos which allows for a more multidimensional representation of clothing in a way that apps such as Instagram and Pinterest have historically failed to offer. Videos also allow brands to share backstage content and designers to give an inside look at the production of their clothes in a dynamic way that attracts users’ attention. TikTok’s popularity has even led other apps to change the way they format their content, exemplified by Instagram’s creation of Reels. People enjoy feeling like they are getting an inside look into seemingly glamorous happenings that they would otherwise not have access to, and TikTok readily gives them that inside perspective.
Regardless of my own opinions on the app, it is undeniable that TikTok has created a new avenue for clothes to be marketed to the public. If you ask me, Aerie owes Schlenker big time for giving their company publicity and buzz they could not create with their own marketing. More generally, the associations of thoughtlessness around TikTok and clothing are more representative of society’s assumptions about the superficiality of the two than a true reflection. This is not to say that fashion and social media cannot be shallow. However, as seen with the crossover leggings, the two in conjunction with each other can be a powerful means of expression and communication. Only time will tell what the marketing monster that is TikTok will popularize next.
Olivia Mouradian is an Opinion Columnist and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.