Global Youth Redefine Themselves through TikTok Fashion

Through social media, specifically TikTok, Generation Z “Zoomers” place themselves at the front row of a Chanel haute couture show in their most luxurious tweed and envision themselves throughout the decades from a social outing to high school picture day.  TikTok is a social media platform that has been dismissed by some in the past for being seemingly frivolous and off-center; however, it is the creative outlet and imagined stage for many of Gen Z, who value individualism, democratization, and open mindedness. Youth users of the platform are able to construct their own fluid identity that is not restricted to gender, social class, or even time periods.

This fluid identity is essentially their “digital aspirational persona,” one where the users place themselves in every context that they want to be in without boundaries. The world is endless for this online generation—they romanticize and reconstruct vintage in a modern customization that brings the old to the new, and the new to the old, in a cycle of reinvention and recreation.

The typical fashion funnel is from haute couture to the mass market; however, youth culture’s aspirational world views have greatly influenced luxury fashion houses, with Gen Z emerging as the true trendsetters. Refinery29 states that Gen Zers are, “not only activists for individuality and inclusivity, but they assume all people have the freedom to define anything (and everything!) for themselves.”

The “Front Row Fashion Trend” on TikTok is one of the ways that users quite literally blur class lines by placing themselves front and center. Participants imagine what they would wear when attending a fashion show for various high end brands. Color-blocked Gucci, Versace gold trimming, Prada black patent leather, and airy white Jacquemus linen form the fabric for each individual user’s aspirational vision of themselves where they command attention and act as the Anna Wintour of their own worlds.

Rachel Fried of CRFashionBook comments on the viral challenge, “TikTok reimagines the margins of the runway, giving users the platform needed to curate their front-row digs even without the season’s invite. With the phygital (physical and digital) pretense of fashion holding strong, everyone now has the opportunity to indulge in the doom of Rick Owens; the bohemian tweeds of Virginie Viard, and if dared, the jacquard long johns of Miuccia Prada and Raf Simmons.” The democratization of fashion is fully present on the social platform and amplifies the democratization of the fashion industry in general.  It does not matter that most do not have the means, prestige, or class to be invited to a high fashion runway show, because they can just construct their imagined runway show with one click of their phone.

TikTokers move fluidly through time periods by imagining themselves in a vintage context where their world is romanticized and they act as the main character. Many TikTok users were born in the 2000s; however their own, self-identified personas. They meet a romanticized version of the 1950s in their modernized dirndl dress at a picnic in the fresh air and crocheted high-waisted pastel pieces for a beach day. They then move through decades from 1950s picture day to dayglo color palette jackets and voluminous hair for 1980s picture day to grunge leather jackets for ‘90s picture day. Within each digitally fabricated context, they also change their look based on imagined identities from goth, class clown, athlete, and jock to art student, cheerleader, and class president. These contexts are niche but expand the user’s individuality to cover spaces where they did not previously exist. This allows users to reconstruct a world where they exist in these spaces.

Reconstructing vintage is not only done metaphorically, but also physically through “shopping grandma’s closet” to bring new life to older pieces. Thrifting is extremely popular as the “thrifter”can take the basis of a style they like and customize it to fit their individual tastes. One user finds a tailored blazer in her grandmother’s closet and creates a casual edgy look by leaving the blazer open and pairing it with a black bandeau, ripped jeans, and a vintage beaded Prada bag. She also wears a slitted silk dress that may have once only been worn as lingerie. She then pairs a yellow double-breasted, puff-sleeve sweater with jeans, which is a fashion that has re-emerged this past year.  This represents fashion’s circularity; just as TikTok youth move fluidly through decades, so too does fashion to reveal an endless realm of archived identities that can be pulled out of the closet at any point in time.

These vintage styles are tried by all different kinds of users, but those that seem to find the most power and identity in it are BIPOC (black, indigenous, people of color), especially Black women. Glamour magazine explains, “Fashion trends that romanticize historic moments are frequently problematic because by nature they exclude those who were disenfranchised during the period of inspiration.”

Media and education systems often exclude and erase the existence of BIPOC in the US during these romanticized time periods. When we think of the 1950s, for example, we often think of white women on screen from Audrey Hepburn and Grace Kelly to Marilyn Monroe and Sophia Loren. This whitewashing quite literally washes away identities of people of color, particularly Black identities. BIPOC, through TikTok trends, are constructing their imagined identity by writing themselves back into the narrative while deconstructing stereotypes in the process.

A noted example of this reconstruction is the “Black Girl Cottage Core.” Cottage core is a popular aesthetic for Gen Zers and usually showcases white women in western agricultural settings. However, Glamour says, “Take one scroll through Instagram, and you’ll find that Black women all over the world are inlaying themselves in the bucolic and pastoral imagery formerly obscured by whiteness. They’ve not only participated in it, but emerged as some of the most interesting ambassadors of the trend, using it to, in part, reclaim a history that refused to recognize them.” The way that Black women have embraced this trend directly debunks the dehumanizing stereotype that Black women are hard, intimidating, and unable to be gentle or ethereal.

Images courtesy of TiikTok

Gen Z is showing that they have the power to create powerful change using Tik Tok and other social media platforms. Their vintage fashion trends have designers re-releasing archived collections. On Farfetch’s best of archives, we can source from vintage Louis Vuitton monogram trunks, Givenchy 1980s chain link bracelets, and Chanel logo basketball and rhinestone basket bags. Gen Z leads the march toward social and political reform and circularity in fashion with their willingness to speak their minds—unless they receive the wrong dish at a restaurant, then they will just smile and eat it. We look forward to seeing the future of fashion when Gen Z takes the front row!


—Tessa Swantek

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