2021’s biggest TikTok fashion moments
Everyday was a fashion show and the FYP was the runway.
Images via @cuenotcandice, @sissyhankshaw and @queerbrownvegan
Though 2021 saw the return of IRL runway shows, street style and ‘going out out’ dressing, some of fashion’s most interesting moments took place on our phone screens — on TikTok, specifically. As it overtakes Instagram as our app of choice, it’s no wonder that the fashion world is embracing TikTok with open arms.
Of course, there’s much more to TikTok fashion than the Sailor Moon skirts and high-waisted pants of the app’s native e-girls and e-boys. For concrete proof, look no further than last month’s TikTok-sponsored Fashion Awards at the Royal Albert Hall – the event was livestreamed on the app, with breakout stars like Elsa Majimbo as red carpet hosts. Back in February, the platform announced a partnership with the British Fashion Council on its NEWGEN initiative; providing emerging designers with grants, mentoring and showcasing opportunities, as well as a showspace during London Fashion Week.
And the love goes both ways, with designers increasingly looking to TikTok for inspiration. For Celine’s SS21 menswear collection, Hedi Slimane paid tribute to the myriad subcultures on the platform, with silver chain necklaces, dangly earrings, beanies and sweater-shirt combos. Elsewhere, Ludovic de Saint Sernin presented his two-part e-Boy collection for SS21 and AW21, with rainbow Swarovski crop tops and cross-laced bandeaux. Then, of course, there was the JW Anderson patchwork cardigan that became a TikTok sensation in its own right, originally worn by Harry Styles and crocheted at home by legions of TikTokers. In response, the designer released the original pattern so fans could recreate the piece more accurately.
While its impact is clearly felt in the industry, it’s over on TikTok itself that the app’s ability to shift the fashion landscape is really obvious. Whether designers are ‘thrift flipping’ their charity shop finds or stylists are sharing outfit inspo, TikTok has spawned fashion trends and triggered whole cultural waves.
Here, we unpack some of this year’s biggest TikTok fashion moments — from the creatively ingenious to the downright baffling.
Thrifting can be a bit of a minefield. You may have dreams of finding well-fitted vintage Levis or the perfect second-hand leather jacket, but these days most charity shops are filled with last season’s Primark. You could spend the whole day traipsing through shops, just to return with nothing but sore feet. That’s where thrift flipping comes in. The practice — where you take second-hand clothes and customise them — isn’t new, but TikTok brought it back into focus this year, with the hashtag racking up 1.9 billion views. For many, it started as a lockdown hobby but evolved into them selling thrift-flipped clothing for profit on resale sites like Depop.
Similar to upcycling, it’s celebrated by some as a win for sustainability and saving money, but others have criticised the trend for gentrifying second hand shopping and perpetuating fatphobia. While questions were raised about the ethicality of affluent shoppers profiting from clothes they bought for discounted prices — often through transforming plus-size items into smaller garments — the movement has also encouraged people to get creative, inspire others and learn new skills. And when £140 million worth of used but wearable clothing goes to landfill each year in the UK, surely any trend that encourages us to extend the life of old clothes is a good thing?
While we’re on the topic of ethical fashion, this trend raises some serious questions about our relationship with mass consumption. The low price, high engagement trend saw the fast fashion giant amp up its TikTok influencer programme, generating 18.4 billion views under #shein and 3.9 billion under #sheinfashion. This year, the company also launched their bizarre young talent prize, judged by a panel that included Christian Siriano, Law Roach and Khloe Kardashian. While that’s weird enough as it is, it feels even more jarring considering the number of times the brand has been called out for copying the work of young designers. Huge TikTok hauls feel in conflict with gen Z’s supposed environmental and ethical conscience, but Shein’s dupes of trending garments — whether the original is fast fashion or designer — are apparently too much for some to resist.
Mama said that it was ok
Did you get a bit too into flower crowns in 2012 because of Lana Del Rey? Maybe you started wearing tiny sunglasses because they looked good on Bella Hadid. Or made a smoky eye and fishnets your go-tos after watching Skins. While this trend isn’t exclusive to fashion TikTok, if you’ve been looking for an excuse to justify your questionable or repetitive outfit choices, this might be it. Users describe their aesthetic and credit their style icons, while a snippet of Lukas Graham’s 2014 song “Mama Said” plays — the sound has been used over 1 million times. One video, for example, sees fashion TikToker @carolinafreixa wearing an oversized blazer with denim shorts while writing on the screen reads: “You cannot wear an oversized blazer with every outfit!” Cue the lyrics and a montage of Hailey Bieber wearing the look herself. If she can pull it off, so can you.
Getting ready for fashion school in NYC
Watch ‘that girl’ get ready in her New York apartment as Effy Stonem’s deadpan quip, “That termite over there got it, but you’re not going to get it, got it?” plays. Think the opening scene from The Devil Wears Prada: she puts on her first layer, then the second, then the third, then the fourth, then the — oh wait, she’s not stopping. Is this satire? While this started out as a sincere, get-ready-with-me trend, it didn’t take long for it to turn into a parody. The trend sees users poking fun at fashion students by layering all of their clothes at once or accessorising with household items. A comment on one popular video reads, “You forgot to layer your shoes!” That’s so CSM, sweetie.
You’ve heard of cottagecore, but this year we embraced… goblincore? Well, it’s time to get your hands dirty. Start collecting snails. Put on your delicate white linen dresses and wallow in the mud. Started by LGBTQ+ TikTokers, goblincore is rooted in nature, with mushrooms, toads and moss taking centre stage. Clothes are brown or khaki green with mushroom and floral prints and embroideries. If cottagecore is all about bucolic meadows and rolling hills then goblincore celebrates nature’s less appreciated elements. Followers of the movement collect items like animal skulls, mushroom art and fake foliage; taking aesthetic inspiration from David Bowie in Labyrinth and the Twilight saga. It’s a bit like the goth alternative to cottagecore, proven by the fact that one of the most popular #goblincore videos is a tutorial on “how to change your black clothes into goblincore vibes”. Turns out brown is the new black.
Sweater vests, classic literature and an affection for old university buildings. While dark academia originated with Tumblr and Donna Tartt’s 1992 novel The Secret History, the trend has experienced a revival on TikTok. The aesthetic first took hold on the app in 2020, but this year it went stratospheric, with the hashtag reaching 1.6 billion views. A dark academic spends their days reading heavy novels in big libraries, lighting taper candles and waltzing around art galleries looking moody while swathed in an oversized coat. The trend is also responsible for the unexpected revival of the tennis skirt (hello, old friend). This time around, wear yours with a white shirt, dark grey sweater vest, black tights, classic loafers, and a too-big blazer. The Secret History clique would approve.
2021: the year the word ‘cheugy’ went mainstream. Gladiator sandals? Cheugy. That double G Gucci belt? Cheugy. Skinny jeans? CHEUGY AF, at least according to TikTok. In the latest chapter of the gen Z-millennial feud, the younger cohort started calling out anything millennials wear that could be considered ‘off trend’. Most videos are prefaced with a “this is just my opinion” disclaimer before absolutely roasting everything cheugy. Wear a denim jacket at your peril. Or, y’know, just wait until they’re back in fashion again. TikTok is speeding up the 20-year-rule, after all.