In 2021, the pandemic elevated style subcultures like never before. Blame it on social distancing, but for many, experimenting with an extreme look or two became a form of escapism. As a result, more people began expressing themselves by dressing up on TikTok and beyond. There were Goths, punks, Dark Academia kids, cottagecore stans, and scores of other subcultures thriving both online and IRL.
Meanwhile, the fashion world began taking notice—and inspiration. Marc Jacobs launched a subculture-y division of his label dubbed Heaven, which takes from early Y2K style, punk, and grunge. Rick Owens and Marine Serre both went Goth for their respective spring 2021 runway shows, while the cottagecore aesthetic reigned supreme at Anna Sui and Chloe. If 2021 had cottagecore and dark academia, 2022 is making way for a bevy of new aesthetics that lean into fashion history and cultural discourse. You only need to look at balletcore to see that.
These days, fashion as a form of self-expression is at an all-time high, and with that comes a barrage of subcultures—both new and old—emerging on TikTok. Many fashion designers are still incorporating touches of these subcultures in their most recent collections—sparking discourse that eventually leads to the trickle-down effect on TikTok and other social media platforms. All things start on the runway, after all. We’re keeping track of all the TikTok subcultures shaking things up, and making their mark on the fashion world, below.
Chalk it up to the second season of Bridgerton on the horizon—regencycore is currently dominating Tiktok. Just like on the popular show, people are donning empire waist dresses, ribbon chokers, pastel colors, opera-length gloves and corsets—and making videos decoding the look and how to style it.
Regencycore’s aesthetic overlaps from the runway and into the most important fashion event of the year, too. This year’s Met Gala theme is set to be Gilded Glamour, set back to Gilded Age New York, which took place between 1870 and 1890. And even though the Gilded Age happened roughly some 50 years after the Regency period in England, there’s quite a bit of similarities between the two styles.
Maximalists existed long before TikTok was a thing, but the video platform was largely responsible for widespread embrace of modern maximalism. Creators like SaraCampz and Tinyjewishgirl are leading the movement, styling mixed prints, zany pieces, and a heavy vintage indulgence all together, all at once.
Some might reference it as merely an aesthetic, but it’s become more of a subculture and a way of life as people truly embrace maximalism to the furthest extent—filming everyday outfits that require more layers and unexpected combinations than one could ever conceive.
Rising out of maximalism is clowncore—a more extreme spin on the more-is-more look. In the clowncore subculture, oversized scrunchies are worn as collars, balloon-like pants take the place of jeans, and mixed polka dots with rainbow stripes become neutral palettes. Where clowncore also expands the idea of maximalism is in its aesthetic approach, as many of these visual cues relate to dopamine dressing, which is designed to make the wearer and those around them smile. “I like each look to have a combination of pattern, shape, and texture,” says Kelley Heyer in one of her many clowncore outfit videos. “I usually start by having a large solid color piece to anchor the look, and then add other patterns around it. I like at least one part of the outfits, usually the accessories, to be oversized.I see clowncore as an expression of joy and just an acknowledgement that life is a show, so have fun with it.”
The runways have heavily embraced clowncore both in the past and right now: Dior, Undercover, Rick Owens, and Nanushka showed clown elements for fall 2021, while Givenchy’s and Saint Sintra’s spring 2022 collections took things in a more directional tone with clown-like prints, textures, and colors.
Dolls are currently dominating pop culture and fashion. Apparently, the American Girl Cafe has become an unlikely party spot for influencers and their imitators. Elsewhere, the viral TikTok creator Hal.Baddie has popularized the term “dolls” for herself and her fans; many people in the trans community also use the term to refer to themselves on TikTok and elsewhere. LoveShackFancy just collaborated with American Doll, and all over the runway there were doll references, from Simone Rocha to Celine naming their collections “Boy Doll.” On TikTok, there’s also a huge trend of people showing off their “American Girl Doll teeth.”
Dollcore is an extension of the girlish, coquette aesthetic seen widely on TikTok. Consider it an embrace of the idea of girlhood and femininity, celebrating all things pink, whimsical, maternal, and pretty. From Juicy Couture terry cloth tracksuits to micro minis, dolls are rising up. “In 2022, I think being a doll has been more socially acceptable, it’s not seen as immature or ridiculous,” says Antonella, who’s behind the popular dollcore account Dollclubxo. “I think it’s beautiful that we are able to carry the word ‘doll’ with us into adulthood and have it be a little less ridiculous than in previous years.”
Normcore, a popular look also from the mid 2010s, is making its way back into pop culture and on TikTok. Perhaps it’s an act of backlash against all the vibrant maximalism we’re seeing, or maybe it’s just been reintroduced to society as more workers return to the office. Either way, the term was coined in 2013 by New York forecasting agency K-Hole and has everything to do with the idea of antistyle and conventional dressing beyond minimalism.
On TikTok, it’s coming back with a bang. Users are dressing up in looks that are, quite frankly, dressed down. On the runway, the wide-ranging appeal of comfortable, sensible sneakers; baggy jeans, and oversized silhouettes make just as much of an impact as a major, maximalist couture design. Either way, dad sneakers and baseball caps are here to stay—and are quickly morphing into a subculture of their own.
This one might be the most sustainable subculture yet. Twee prizes vintage and all things secondhand, prioritizing fashion that looks like it’s fresh out of the ’60s and ’70s. Rising out of the Tumblr aesthetic, twee is inspired by Zooey Deschanel, Wes Anderson movies, the girl who thrifted before it was cool, and the one who wore fake glasses for the aesthetic before it went mainstream.
And like many of the ever-present subcultures on TikTok, the runway recently predicted its return pre-TikTok. Take Coach’s spring 2022 collection, full of A-line silhouettes, houndstooth prints, and oversized minidresses—or all those minis at Dior and Miu Miu’s spring 2022 shows.
Much like twee, indie sleaze capitalizes on the style of the mid 2010s and the fashion surrounding it. Remember Cory Kennedy? The Cobra Snake? Justice? Effy Stonem from the original Skins TV series? All of those people and phenoms represent indie sleaze, which also encapsulates the return to dated technology, like film cameras and wired headphones.
The indie sleaze comeback had everyone buzzing on TikTok—but before that happened, the IndieSleaze Instagram account was creating its own sort of buzz, racking up 44,000 followers for its content “documenting the decadence of the mid-late aughts and the indie sleaze party scene that died in 2012.” One key fashion staple involved? The humble white tank top, which we saw explode in popularity for the fall 2022 collections—nearly every label, from Prada to Bottega Veneta, made its own riff on the style.
Like something straight out of a high fashion version of Harry Potter, the Dark Academia subculture revolves around the literary classics, beautiful libraries, plenty of starched collars, tweed jackets, and perfectly worn-in leathers. “Within the Dark Academia aesthetic, the desired look is encapsulated in sophisticated attire,” says Sydney Decker, a theater student who runs the popular MyFairestTreasure Dark Academia-themed Instagram account. “The look stems from fashion of the 1930s and the 1950s worn by students attending prestigious universities at the time. The color scheme centers around black, brown, and tan—earthy tones that compliment each other well. Plaid and wool are the usually preferred pattern and texture.”
On TikTok, you’ll see Dark Academia stans posting romantic tributes to leather-bound books and handwritten notes by candlelight, but the outfits seem to be just as important. Decker also notes that turtlenecks, blazers, loafers, plaid pants, dainty jewelry, and classic brown or black handbags are essentials. Also part of the culture? Thrifting. “Don’t diss thrift stores—they’re the best places to buy these staples at a low cost, especially for those who can’t afford full-priced, name brand clothing,” she says.
Think of cottagecore as Dark Academia’s sister. Cottagecore takes inspiration from a dreamy, quaint, and pastoral lifestyle. Looks revolve around prairie dresses, puff sleeves, white nightgowns, and basically anything else you might see on a fashionable person who lives in a little cottage in a rural area. On TikTok, the cottagecore movement romanticizes nature; you’ll often see posts of greenery, prairie dresses, picnics, and flower arrangements. Along with that, the staples of the movement are dresses from Laura Ashley, Jessica McClintock’s retired label Gunne Sax, Selkie, and Liberty London—styled minimally, with natural makeup and perhaps an oversize bow worn in a loose hairstyle. Luckily, fashion’s obsession with the aesthetic is only growing too, as seen in Rodarte’s pretty floral print prairie dresses for spring 2021—shot fittingly in the open air of the California hills—as well as Batsheva’s homey, simple A-line dresses for spring.
Scene kids from the early Aughts are back. A simple scroll through TikTok and Instagram will reveal all that goes with the scene kid aesthetic: layered plastic bracelets, voluminous neon hair, band tees, tight beanies, and Vans. Not to confused with emo, punk, Goth, or even the e-girl and e-boy subcultures, the scene kid loves experimenting with bright colors and graphic looks. Many of today’s scene kids have been recreating old Myspace photos from the original scene kid era, big hair and all. Think of the scene kid as a cross between a punk and raver. Fashion seems to be getting in on the scene aesthetic, albeit with an elevated look: Collina Strada’s pre-fall 2021 collection, for instance, featured neon tie-dye pants paired with rainbow streaks of hair.
The fashion Goth has been trending for a few seasons now. Just take a look at the spring 2021 collections of Sacai, Rick Owens, and Yohji Yamamoto and of course, mainstays like Noir Kei Ninomiya. But online, too, the Goth is making a comeback with spiked collars, mismatched leg warmers, chains, platforms, and plaid. “Welcome to Goth TikTok,” says the narrator of one video with over 800,000 likes. “Stay awhile and vibe with us.” The good thing is, you can bring a little bit of goth to your everyday wardrobe with accessories, too. Harnesses, fishnet layers, and even the right Victorian collar can give any outfit a fresh Goth vibe.
Punks, too, have made a particularly timely impression on fashion of late—with a renewed sense of flair. Think: purple mullets, long-line leather jackets, structured boots, white collared shirts and even liberty spikes and mohawk hair (with tutorials to go along with it, of course). The aesthetic just happens to resonate with some of fashion’s favorites this season, like Christian Cowan, who took inspiration from the movement for spring 2021, and punk original Vivienne Westwood.
E-girls and E-boys
E-girl and E-boy style takes inspiration from the modern versions of scene, Goth, and punk culture. Think: fishnets, miniskirts, band tees, harnesses, and colorful hair styled in a much more wearable fashion. The difference with E-girls and E-boys? The subculture stems from the gaming scene, and because of that, there’s a definite cyber influence. Think: headphones, anime-inspired clothing and makeup like hearts drawn underneath the eyes. Makeup itself is a huge part of E-girl culture, and as such, there are ample DIY tutorials online. E-boys in particular have already begun to inspire fashion’s biggest names. Take Celine, for example, and the spring 2021 men’s collection which Hedi Slimane described as “a ‘documentary’ collection spanning E-boys and current skate culture” and “a candid portrait of a generation that took advantage of the confinement to assert itself and emancipate itself creatively.”
Witchtok is the alternative subculture that focuses on self-care and wellness. And while the most important thing about Witchtok is the community, there’s definitely a certain sense of style that goes with it as well. Witches can be seen wearing astrology pendants, crystal amulets, lots of black, and ample amounts of silver jewelry. Fashion favorite Rohk infused huge amounts of witchy inspiration into its spring 2021 collection, with long, edgy black gowns as well as thick black dresses with heavy white collars.
“I think what’s interesting about the Witchtok community is the broadness and unfiltered aspect of someone’s practice,” says Ashley Ryan who posts as Pythian Priestess and has over 30k followers for her witchy content. “When we see something like Instagram, we see the end product. Witchtok is raw, and I get to see what people are doing for real.”
Like cottagecore, Goblincore focuses on nature but takes it to an even more extreme viewpoint. Think: fairy-like dresses, colorful hair, little charms, and a color palette of earthy greens, red, browns and plaids. Many of the self-proclaimed Goblincore members are found looking for mushrooms online or taking long, leisurely hikes. Mushrooms, insects, shells, and any other ephemera found in nature are overwhelmingly seen in the clothing choices of this down to earth aesthetic. But mushrooms overall seem to be one of the most impactful motifs of fashion right now—with labels from Iris Van Herpen (who looked to Entangled Life, a book by Merlin Sheldrake about how fungi sustain life on earth, for her spring 2021 couture show) to emerging brand Lirika Matoshi (who recently released mushroom knit sweaters) feeling the fungi.
All you need to indulge in Grandmacore is your biggest, coziest sweater, anything crochet, and lots of oversized collars. Like its predecessor dad style, Grandmacore emphasizes comfort and a wholesome approach to dressing down. Similar to its sister style of cottagecore, you can often find its fans wearing loose, floaty dresses or the aforementioned sweater. In times like these, it makes total sense, too: designer labels such as Anna Sui and Batsheva both indulged in floral printed house dresses for spring 2021 that looked wholly granny-chic.
Break out the flannels and dark eye shadows—grunge is coming back for a new era. Patchwork sweaters, ripped jeans, and grown-out roots, (worn to the tunes of Nirvana) are all over TikTok. The new grunge—much like oversized flannels paired with sequins and massive sweatshirts with crystal chokers seen at No. 21’s spring 2021 show—also mixes in unexpected touches, like pearls and a more Goth approach to makeup such as heavy cat eyes and black lipstick.
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