Inside TikTok’s micro-trend crisis and how it is fueling fashion overconsumption among gen Z

By Bianca Borissova

Published Oct 19, 2021 at 01:11 PM

Reading time: 4 minutes

What if I told you that there is a connection between overconsumption, trends dying at the speed of light, and gen Z behaviour on TikTok?

Social media has always played a role in fashion consumption—it’s how most people tend to keep up with current trends or discover new brands nowadays. Instagram, for example, has literally turned itself into a shopping app, as fast fashion brands all over the world are turning to influencers to market their clothes. Now, TikTok seems to be propelling this even further.

The entire premise of the app is designed to give us short-form video content that is quick and easy to consume. Therefore, the lifespan of trends and phenomena on TikTok are often short-lived, despite their popularity. Lifestyle and fashion content is extremely popular on the platform—birthing an array of aesthetics. Think of the infamous cottagecore, the egirl, or even the ‘coconut girl’—each community requires a specific clothing style to participate, promoting consumption among those wishing to fit the aesthetic. This allows for fast fashion brands especially to monetise on this by producing conspicuous amounts of clothing items, for said micro-trends, while they are still relevant and in demand.

There are five stages to a trend cycle: the introduction, the rise, the peak, the decline, and eventually, the obsolescence. At first, a clothing item or specific style comes onto the fashion scene either on a runaway or worn by a figure with a lot of influence. If it proves popular, it starts gaining momentum, as various retailers begin producing it rapidly, reaching its peak—the stage in which most everyday consumers are seen wearing it.

Once the item reaches this stage and becomes oversaturated in the market, and viewed as ‘mainstream’, its popularity begins its decline, eventually reaching the end of the cycle and going out of date. Of course, often these trends might re-enter the cycle in a decade or so. Hello, Y2K revival.

Trend cycles apply to both micro and macro-trends. Macro-trends typically last around five to ten years and are styles we associate with a specific decade; micro-trends, which quickly rise and fall in popularity, typically last anywhere between three to five years—a much shorter lifespan. Items such as sweater vests, pearl chokers, and pastel knits are a good example of micro-trends currently popular among gen Z—the same way in which UGGs, skinny jeans, or galaxy prints once were for millennials.

Right before the pandemic started, in February 2020, I purchased a gorgeous pair of the House of Sunny Parasol pants, after months of anticipation for their release. The brand is notorious for creating cute micro-trends (cue the famous Hockney dress) while also promoting its commitment to slow fashion. My intention was to wear the pants once it got a little warmer, but as we all know, what followed was a series of lockdowns that lasted for over a year. By the time things started opening up again, I was no longer sure if I liked wearing the pants—especially after seeing the groovy pattern copied and repurposed by hundreds of different brands, in different colours and variations, plastered all over social media. I no longer knew how to style these in a way that felt authentic, or unique to me.

Needless to say, the pants were not the problem here—I was, and so was my relationship with micro-trends and social media. The real issue is that we, as consumers, need to commit to the clothing that we purchase and if you take a look at our prevalent micro-trend crisis, currently being fueled by TikTok, we are doing the exact opposite.

The issue with TikTok influencing the fashion space is that now, micro-trends no longer live for three to five years—instead, they die out in a matter of months. And oftentimes, it’s TikTok fast fashion influencers who are to blame.

For instance, the phrase ‘cheugy’, used to describe something once in style but now outdated, has been adapted in hundreds of various fashion related videos. Users share clothing items they believe are cheugy, and thus, out of style or uncool. Very often, in some of these clips, you will find clothing that was trending not even that long ago, meaning it’s very likely that thousands of people (at least) could have these items in their wardrobes and are now getting discouraged from wearing them.

Hundreds of ‘advice’ videos started popping out on what to wear to avoid looking cheugy—most times, the creators of these will list the current popular micro-trends that are most likely to go out of style in the coming months, joining their cheugy counterparts. Of course, this is incredibly influential. Nobody seems to want to be perceived as having a basic fashion sense, which only further contributes to the overconsumption of current trends.

@miks_tiks

should i do another there’s just so much cheug #cheugyfashion #cheugymillenial #cheugy #fashionstudent

♬ Monkeys Spinning Monkeys - Kevin MacLeod & Kevin The Monkey
@miks_tiks

Reply to @grostas2merde this not that to these ✨cheugy✨ trends #cheugy #cheugymillenial #cheugyfashion #fashionstudent #TeamofTomorrow

♬ Monkeys Spinning Monkeys - Kevin MacLeod & Kevin The Monkey

Another popular TikTok phenomenon sees users promote $500 fast fashion hauls of brands, such as Shein, with the #sheinhaul trending at 3.6 billion views. The hashtag is pretty straightforward, people share their hauls while showcasing just how much they were able to purchase for the money, given that Shein is known to be a lower cost, fast fashion brand specialising in trending clothing (and spoiler alert, it’s a lot, as it was revealed that Shein offers from 700 to 1,000 new styles daily).

@divvybobivvy

oops #fyp #haul #shein #sheinhaul #tryon

♬ Brent Faiyaz - "dead man walking" - Alpha House
@jodi.opuda

I got 91 items total so stay tuned for all the parts:) #shein #sheinhaul

♬ Triple S - YN Jay & Louie Ray

The trend has been criticised for promoting overconsumption, and rightfully so. While it is important to note that shopping more sustainably is a privilege for many—due to economical, geographical, and sizing factors, and we should never shame others for where they shop—purchasing so many trendy items at once is far from a necessity.

Our relationships with authenticity when it comes to fashion, trends, and consumption must change. No one can keep up with the constant cycle, and nor should they. It’s not good for your wellbeing, your bank account, or the environment (the fashion industry alone accounts for about 10 per cent of global carbon emissions).

We need to be cautious about where we shop, as well as how much we shop. That is not to say that you should not participate in trends you like, if wearing it makes you feel good, that is wonderful—it’s how clothing should make you feel. But you need to commit to it, make sure that if you are purchasing this item of clothing, you’re in it for the long run. Don’t be shamed by fast fashion influencers who think it’s not ‘cool’ anymore. Invest in your pieces for the years to come. Otherwise, we are just adding fire to the fuel.

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