TikTok: A trend advertising monster
The strawberry dress. The crossover leggings. The Vivianne Westwood pearl necklace. There are endless examples of fashion trends that TikTok has launched. This relatively new smartphone application is having so much influence on these trends that its original names are often tossed aside in favor of “TikTok (insert garment)”. As an Aerie employee, I saw the purchasing power of TikTok firsthand when I saw girls raving in our store for months looking for “the TikTok leggings”, a term that is synonymous with Aerie’s crossover leggings and Amazon- Scrunch leggings can be linked. TikTok’s seemingly endless amount of uncomfortable content and young audiences have built a connotation of thoughtlessness on the platform. But seeing crowds of people who had never been to an aerie with such a purpose and interest highlighted the tangible effects of this deceptively simple app.
For an app so often viewed as “dumb” or “for middle school girls” – an insult based on the established tradition of delegitimizing female interests – TikTok has created an impressive number of careers for users in a relatively short space of time right from their own bedrooms. However, TikTokern is rarely shown the respect that influencers have for other apps. Whether or not their content deserves this respect depends on both the TikToker and the perspective of the viewer. With their problematically superfluous associations with the fashion industry, fashion TikTokers are often viewed materialistically. Given the 156,000 emails Aerie has received from customers asking to be placed on the waiting list for crossover leggings, this “materialism” finds an audience from a wide variety of backgrounds.
At some point we have to ask ourselves: do you like clothes and the way it makes you feel frivolous, or is the assumption that those interests are frivolous itself frivolous? Similarly, is TikTok thoughtless or is this connotation a result of thoughtlessness? Many people make a deliberate effort to separate themselves from what society generally considers to be unimportant. Regarding TikTok and fashion, two subjects that are often discredited, TikTok’s ability to get people to spend money – a metric American capitalism places particular emphasis on good or bad – stands in stark contrast to perceptions of frivolity about the two.
The theme of a TikTok doesn’t seem to affect the popularization of any particular garment. Even videos that have nothing to do with what the creator is wearing have gone viral because of their clothing. The particular TikTok that sparked the leggings frenzy above was a simple dance video. This trend embodies the constant presence of the fashion industry in our lives. Hannah Schlenker, the creator of the video that started the madness, let Aerie stores across the country just dance to sell the leggings – an item that, in my experience, hasn’t done well for months.
While it is undeniable that the success of this video is due in part to luck and an algorithm that advocates a certain type of white, stereotypically attractive user, that type of economic impact is evidence of what is “productive” – i.e. the ability to Create Actions – Power of TikTok. A significant part of TikTok’s success in the fashion industry lies in the video format. The app is based on an interplay of video clips, text and photos that enables a multidimensional representation of clothing in a way that apps like Instagram and Pinterest could not offer in the past. Videos can also help brands share backstage content, and designers can provide a dynamic glimpse into how their clothing is being made that draws users’ attention. TikTok’s popularity has even resulted in other apps changing the way they format their content. This can be seen, for example, in the development of reels through Instagram. People feel like they’re getting a glimpse of seemingly glamorous events that they wouldn’t otherwise have access to, and TikTok gives them that inside perspective.
Regardless of my own opinion on the app, there’s no denying that TikTok has created a new way of marketing clothing to the public. If you ask me, Aerie Schlenker owes a lot of time to give her company advertising and excitement that she couldn’t create with her own marketing. In general, 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 doesn’t mean that fashion and social media can’t be superficial. As can be seen with the crossover leggings, the two together can be a powerful means of expression and communication. Only time will tell what marketing monster TikTok will bring to the table next.
Olivia Mouradian is an opinion columnist and can be reached at email@example.com.