A few years ago, TikTok was just an obscure little corner of the internet known as Music.ly, which users flocked to for lip-syncing videos and comedy sketches. Fast forward to today and it’s the most downloaded app globally, beating Zoom and Facebook, and the birthplace of this year’s most viral fashion trends, from Lirika Matoshi’s fabled strawberry dress to the crocheted cardigan inspired by JW Anderson’s patchwork one. In a year that has upended all fashion predictions and rendered catwalk trends moot (who could have foreseen Anna Wintour in a pair of red tracksuit bottoms a year ago?), we drew style inspiration from unlikely places, like reality TV shows about real estate and bitesize clips on social media – and TikTok was there to fill the void.
“Because of people having all this extra time at home, the fashion industry has audiences engaged and waiting in a different way to before,” says Abi Buller, foresight writer and trend researcher at The Future Laboratory. “So where people might have browsed in physical stores for fashion inspiration or looked to the streets, they now really only have social media, and TikTok’s been able to merge the element of discovery with entertainment in an interesting way.”
With all the extra time spent indoors and nout to do, 2020 had many of us reaching for our needles and crochet hooks for the first time (sales of sewing accessories at Liberty had risen by 380 per cent in March compared with the same time last year), and TikTok, with its predisposition towards short, informative How to videos, became the destination of choice for budding DIYers. Lily Fulop, who runs a TikTok page called @mindful_mending and has published the book, ‘Wear, Repair, Repurpose: A Maker’s Guide to Mending and Upcycling Clothes’, says the process videos of people making their own clothes on TikTok have exposed more people to DIY and sustainable fashion. “They’re fun to watch and although the sped-up clips make it look super easy which is a double-edged sword, it’s made the barrier to entry smaller so it’s less intimidating for people to get started,” she says.
A DIY craze that gripped TikTok’s community of crochet enthusiasts was the #harrystylecardigan challenge, with fans attempting to crochet or knit their own version of the JW Anderson patchwork cardi worn by Harry Styles during a rehearsal for his appearance on The Today Show back in February. The trend became so huge (the hashtag has 47.2 million views to date) that the brand even released the cardigan’s original pattern on its website for people to download freely, and the V&A has since acquired the cardigan for its permanent collection, making it a part of fashion history. TikTokers have also re-created a Giambatista Valli dress worn by Kendall Jenner, upcycled designer dust bugs into tops, and recreated a Loewe bandana print shirt and trousers worn by A$AP Rocky, spearheading a crafting revival.
No fashion trend quite captures the vagaries of this year better than cottagecore, the aesthetic characterised by billowy prairie dresses reminiscent of the outfits worn in Picnic at Hanging Rock, and wicker baskets brimming with freshly picked fruit and gingham tablecloths. Although the aesthetic has been around on Tumblr since 2018, its popularity has reached new heights on TikTok this year, among those yearning to escape the doldrums of 2020 to a romanticised pastoral fantasy land. The cottagecore hashtag has 4.7 billion views and counting, and its influence has extended beyond TikTok to the shores of our wardrobe, seen in the myriad iterations of nap dresses and silk headscarves that dominated this summer.
In times of hardship we tend to revel in nostalgia and seek comfort in the past, so it’s perhaps no surprise that cottagecore has flourished this year. “People have been having less new experiences in terms of live social events so this has driven us to reflect on previous lives, both our own and historically as well,” explains Abi. “There’s also been a push towards sustainability and slowing down, and all of these things are managing to play out in digital spaces too.”
Encapsulating the cottagecore trend with its puff sleeves and saccharine strawberry print, Lirika Matoshi’s frothy pink tulle strawberry dress became a TikTok sensation over summer, with users posting videos of themselves giddily unboxing the dress, or making their own version. According to the fashion search engine Lyst, searches for the strawberry dress, which retails at $490 or £370, spiked by 103 per cent in August. Despite no dress quite reaching the ubiquity of that infamous polka dot Zara dress, the spangly strawberry dress – which even boasts its own fan art – would probably come closest.
From TikTok challenges to virtual collections for Animal Crossing, 2020 was the year luxury fashion shook off its elitist image and became more fun! A case in point was the viral #Guccimodelchallenge which saw users layer various garments from their own wardrobe while a voiceover distilled the maximalist Gucci aesthetic into a simple formula, starting with “a random turtleneck”, layered underneath a “random shirt that doesn’t match it”, followed by a “random vest” as “layering is important” and finished with a headscarf which is “very crucial”. Much like JW Anderson’s response to the cardigan challenge, Gucci embraced the fun of the model challenge and even posted videos of TikTok creators doing the challenge on its own TikTok page.
“TikTok’s definitely shaken up the whole industry in terms of the way that we connect with fashion and luxury more generally,” says Abi. “We’ve been seeing this rise of ‘uneasy affluence’ and a backlash against ostentatious spending and especially during the pandemic, it just doesn’t sit right with people to have these expensive luxurious items so a lot of these brands have had to connect with consumers in completely new ways, becoming a lot more content driven, even embracing meme culture and encouraging people to make their own versions of items.”