Reset Did the TikTok Aesthetic Kill Personal Style? The Revival Issue
Did the TikTok Aesthetic Kill Personal Style?

Did the TikTok Aesthetic Kill Personal Style?

A bit of bad taste is like paprika.

With every change in season, there’s an inevitable scramble for appropriate outfits to wear, pants to thrift, and comfortable shoes to find. After all, despite a sustainability crisis and economic instability, most of us are still buying clothes at least semi-regularly. But this year, I’ve felt especially directionless, unmoored in my fashion instincts. Every few weeks, it feels like I have an identity crisis when it comes to my wardrobe. Thankfully, I’m good at talking myself out of it, but it still begs the question: Why? I didn’t always feel this way. In fact, I’m usually pretty secure in my sense of self—both sartorially and otherwise. And according to my group chat and a few internet strangers, I’m not alone in feeling pressured to define and refine my personal style. 

The answer to this question is both simple and complicated: I blame TikTok. Don’t get me wrong—there’s a lot to love about the app. There’s an intimacy to the creators there, an honesty about how life isn’t always curated. People are weird, unkempt, and awkward, filming themselves as they are, and the algorithm loves them for it. The platform is like Instagram’s cool, edgy, smart little sister, who’s interested in educating more than posting increasingly stale eye candy. TikTokers loves to categorize and contextualize—it’s part of what makes the platform so compelling—but it can be kind of a drag when it comes to personal style.

Bella Hadid in white suit


Fashion trends, of course, have always been with us, but with the platform’s meteoric rise in popularity has come an equally overwhelming breadth of so-called “aesthetics.” And if your For You Page is anything like mine, breakdowns, takedowns, “inspo” videos, and analysis of all the personal “main characters” you might choose from are inescapable. And this phenomenon is more than a passing fad like low-rise jeans or Valentino pink. It’s a whole lifestyle. The aestheticization of everything has turned outfits into whole personalities. The Vanilla Girl isn’t just a Matilda Djerf wannabe who loves cream separates. She’s also a scented candle lover, someone whose home is always tidy and cozy, and a biweekly French manicure-getter. She’s, in essence, a vibe—more than a look.

It doesn’t help that there’s a new, neatly packaged aesthetic waiting for you every time you start scrolling. Some questions I’ve asked myself during a bedtime revenge procrastination scroll: Do I have coquette energy? Am I a Angelina Jolie dark bimbo à la Gabriette? Maybe I’m more of a balletcore girl. Or should dark academia be my winter vibe? It’s enough to make you feel unhinged, overwhelmed, and devoid of inspiration.

The problem here is that visual consistency is appealing online. It’s branding 101: Give people something to visually latch onto and you’re in business. But humans aren’t mood boards. They contain multitudes, have a wide set of interests, and are more than just a color scheme or set of cohesive references. Sometimes I want to live out my Stepford Wives fantasies with pearls and a cardigan, but that pairing never feels right to me without a ripped pair of jeans. Other days, I’m feeling boyish, donning Sporty Spice track pants, but I inevitably crave some glittery accessories to balance things out. 

Lori Harvey Blue shirt set Hailey Bieber white tank

@loriharvey/Instagram, @haileybieber/Instagram

I don’t have a consistent vibe. I like a lot of different stuff. I’m constantly changing and evolving. And I have to remind myself that’s perfectly fine. In fact, a lot of my style icons switch and swap aesthetics with impunity. Madonna is constantly reinventing herself. David Bowie had a multitude of eras. Vivienne Westwood’s oeuvre included punk rock anti-fashion, renaissance corsetry, and tartan. They’re all over the place. And so am I. 

It’s a good reminder that no one needs an aesthetic. If you want one, go for it. But it’s not a prerequisite for personal style. Experiments, flops, and slays are all a part of the joy of getting dressed. To quote another of my fashion heroes, Edie Bouvier Beale, personal style is about finding “the best costume for the day.”

And while I’ll never be as cool as Bowie, as staunch as Edie, or as stylish as Vivienne, it’s a good reminder that chaos is a vibe too.

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