The style tribes of TikTok

Since its launch in the US in 2017, TikTok has become the Ripley’s Believe It or Not of social media platforms: its allure is largely derived from the unexpected people, places and things that its algorithm transforms into viral sensations. In the fashion community, especially, it has enabled the proliferation of countless “style tribes,” each with their own visual identity and ethos. “Social-born aesthetics are certainly not new, but in the last year, they’ve captivated the masses,” Cassandra Napoli, a strategist at the trend forecasting agency WGSN, said. As TikTok use skyrocketed over the pandemic, these microcosms became one of the app’s main attractions.

Many of these tribes are grouped by a hashtag with the “core” prefix, which (when attached to a noun) denotes a corresponding aesthetic community. In 2020, the pastoral-inspired #Cottagecore community—known for wearing billowy, vintage garments in lace, paisley and gingham while engaging in domestic, rural activities, like petting farm animals, baking muffins or going on picnics—dominated the app. But weirder, more specific identities are really where TikTok shines. Take #Goblincore: this nature crazed style tribe marries fantasy fashion (reminiscent of The Hobbit) with “grandpa” sweaters and other goofy garments, like suspenders and overalls. TikTok “Goblins” typically wear weathered clothing in clashing patterns and have a known affinity for frog motifs and mushroom foraging. They’re not to be confused with the primary-colored, balloon-filled, LGBTQ-centric world of #Clowncore, whose genderless aesthetic pulls from the outfits of mimes, court jesters, and clowns throughout history. #Clowncore users have fascinated (and frightened) users online with their maximalist make up looks, oversized silhouettes and unruly, dyed hair.

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