TikTok is a fickle creature. Its feed is a never-ending scroll, making the app an infinite wealth of content. Creators garner audiences the size of a small country’s population with relative ease, but virality is never a sure thing. Of course, there is a method to the madness — there’s a finely tuned algorithm running the show. But even still, TikTok is a social media live wire, where engagement is never guaranteed and one video can spark a phenomenon that takes on a life of its own. TikTok’s fashion trend forecasters are intimately familiar with the app’s unpredictable and enigmatic nature — Mandy Lee, for one, incidentally incited an uproar with the mere mention of a particular style revival.
“Let’s talk about the twee aesthetic of the late 2000s,” Lee, aka @oldloserinbrooklyn, begins a December TikTok while The Smith’s Morrissey drones in the background about there being light and it never going out. “The style itself was very cutesy — tights and shift dresses had a big moment,” she recounts to her 291,000 followers while a bluntly banged, banjo-strumming Zooey Deschanel appears behind her in a slideshow. The fashion analyst goes on to reference the misunderstood Manic Pixie Dream Girls from indie rom-coms and points to today’s ‘60s mod revival for proof of twee’s comeback. The video itself is innocuous, coming in just shy of 60 seconds — but it spawned a fervent and industry-spanning discourse.
Lee’s comment section quickly flooded with opinionated TikTok users — some naysayers, others staunchly pro-twee. Comments like, “This is horrendous” and “The ModCloth Mafia really did us all dirty” sit alongside hoards of vomit emojis and grimaces. Other users proudly remarked, “I never left this aesthetic lol” and pleaded with Lee to keep the twee content coming. The conversation made its way to Twitter, where it garnered a similar mixed bag of reactions.
Lee’s video now has a million and a half views and over 216,000 comments, making it one of the most viewed and interacted with on her page. “I really did not expect that reaction when I posted [the original video,]” she tells TZR over Zoom while enshrouded in a blush pink, Kika Vargas cloud dress. Though, Lee adds, the public’s emotionally charged reaction was a bit premature. “I think we’ll see [twee] a lot more this year. But, at least in terms of the mainstream, it isn’t going to come back for another couple of years,” she asserts.
Lee is adept at seeing the big picture and has a finely tuned sense of foresight, something she jokingly refers to as both “a blessing and a curse.” She got her start in Boston, working as an e-commerce analyst at a tech giant and a forecast analyst in the beer industry. Eventually, Lee pivoted to fashion, where she’s now worked as a trend forecaster for seven years. “Trend forecasting, at its core, is researching and noticing patterns within the fashion industry,” she explains. “[It’s about] understanding cultural shifts, connecting them to historicals, and understanding what they mean in relation to current culture.”
“With any [trend] revival, though, things will look different. The culture doesn’t necessarily copy and paste into what’s happening today, even if they’re borrowing styles from whatever the revival is referencing.” Lee uses the controversy surrounding 2022’s twee resurrection to illustrate her point: “There’s been this criticism about how [twee] is intrinsically tied to eating disorder culture. However, I think it’s not necessarily the aesthetic that’s driving that — it’s the references and associations to what was popular during the peak of twee, which was 2007 to maybe 2015,” she says. Lee recalls a time before the body positivity movement when sites like Tumblr were a cesspool for toxic messaging and promotion of disordered eating.
She implores you to see twee holistically and understand its resurgence doesn’t suggest the associative factors from its time will resurge, too. We, as a culture, have evolved. Conversations around body acceptance and fashion’s involvement in fatphobia are becoming abundant now — and Lee assures this will affect how twee manifests in 2022.
Like Lee, Agus Panzoni (@thealgorythm), a former WGSN trend forecaster who now shares her insights on TikTok, sparked an industry-wide conversation through her videos. “I was seeing a cultural mood towards rebellion and [observed the] different ways it was manifesting, including protests, the anti-capitalist discourse online, the great resignation, amongst others. In fashion, I was seeing a move towards cutouts, sheers, modularity, and deconstruction.”
Inspired by the work of Clarissa Larrazabal, a designer known for her strategic sensuality and sheer layering, Panzoni coined the now-renowned term ‘subversive basics.’ “When it comes to subversive basics, the industry was most likely aware of cutouts and sheers as trending design elements — it was all over market data.” But she points out that “What the industry hadn’t done yet was understand the narrative that tied these design elements and cultural movements together.” Panzoni shared her findings in a TikTok from April 2021 and invited her 250,000 followers to think about how wardrobe basics were “[rebelling] to the point of losing their utility.” From there, it spread like wildfire. Now the phrase holds an official slot in fashion’s lexicon, and the ‘subversive basics’ hashtag has over 92.9M views on TikTok.
Alyssa Mosley, a TikTok fashion contributor, also has her finger firmly on the cultural pulse. Her content, found under the handle @cherryemojixo, spans how the metaverse will interplay with fashion to videos celebrating underrated Black designers. Most recently, however, she’s become known as somewhat of a celebrity styling oracle. Mosley pulled a Roberto Cavalli Fall 2000 dress out of the digital archives in a November TikTok discussing how she’d hypothetically dress Megan Thee Stallion. One week later, Law Roach put Zendaya in a custom-made version of the same gown for the Ballon d'Or photocall.
Some of Mosley’s followers theorized her TikTok post popped up on Roach’s ‘For You Page’ and inspired the stylist to piece together the look for the Euphoria actor. (Disclaimer: These theories have not been confirmed.) “I got DMs on Instagram saying you need to charge these people consulting fees,” she details to TZR over the phone. Mosley, however, finds it to have been nothing more than a coincidence between two like-minded fashion insiders. “Personally, I believe [Zendaya’s spine dress] was in the works for a long time. And [the timing] all just kind of aligned that way,” she says.
Mosley, like Lee and Panzoni, has found kinship within TikTok’s fashion hub. “I think TikTok was the first platform where I saw a lot of female creators discuss fashion in an analytical way.” She mentions how there were female creators on YouTube and Instagram, of course, but their content consisted mostly of shopping hauls, ‘get ready with me’ videos, or #OOTD posts. “I never saw women dissecting trends, breaking down runway shows from 13 years ago, or discussing how different technology trends impact fashion” — until she joined Gen-Z’s beloved “clock app,” that is.
Lee echoes Mosley but says TikTok’s female-dominated fashion community can, at times, be a double-edged sword. She cites how male creators who make style-centric content on TikTok seemingly have a very different experience on the app than their female-identifying counterparts. “When men enter a traditionally femme-focused industry, they immediately get more respect for putting their male stamp of approval on it. Whereas the women leading the conversation who are making educational and inclusive videos are just one and the same,” she asserts.
“People will straight up tell me, ‘Your job’s fake. That’s not real.’ And it’s like, all right, do I understand the inner workings of what weathermen do? No, but I trust they’re forecasting based on a certain set of data and qualifications, even though I don’t understand it,” Lee emphatically says. She concludes: “I really only see [this lack of respect] happening with [women and non-binary and trans people] in fashion. It all boils down to misogyny.”
Lee adds, too, there is a generalization of illegitimacy for those who use TikTok, as some of the greater public seem to have associations of it being an app meant for children and filled solely with silly dance videos. “I think people still have that idea in their brains that people that people aren't making content of substance on TikTok,” concurs Mosley. “I think there's so much value in the platform. I don't care if people are on it or not — do your thing,” Lee says. “But to deny the impact of TikTok, in general, is kind of fooling yourself.”
Lee believes TikTok to “somewhat [be] eclipsing mainstream media” and says it’s becoming the new news. “I treat my platform as a living, breathing news site. All my videos are research-heavy because I want my page to be a credible source of information, much like any publication would be,” she says. “I've gotten comments on my page and DMS, where people [say they] stopped reading [other fashion platforms] and they just checked my page and others for what's happening in fashion.”
In addition to changing media consumption, TikTok is fundamentally altering the very nature of the fashion industry. “In the past, agency trend researchers did runway analysis to predict what was next, and in turn, sell these reports to fashion companies and publications,” summarizes Panzoni. “Today, TikTok trend researchers analyze social media to understand what’s trending, share it back to the app’s community, which in turn helps the trend go viral, and then — boom — the trend explodes.” And this is directly impacting user spending habits too; A survey done by Point and OnePoll found that out of TikTok users surveyed, 71% admit their purchase decisions are influenced by TikTok’s fashion creators — more so than those on any other social media platform.
“Internet culture reigns supreme, and trends no longer go from runway to rack,” summarizes the analyst. And it’s only just the beginning. “I predict we’ll eventually see an absolute implosion of the trend research field, and the concept of a ‘trend’ will be watered down to a new type of marketing narrative. The democratization of fashion has reached new heights,” articulates Panzoni. Welcome to the future of fashion.