If, through five months of quarantine, you have resisted the urge to download TikTok, then hats off to you.
However, if you’re like myself and plenty of other bored college kids, you probably downloaded it early in the lockdown phase. And by now, you’re familiar with a long list of things you didn’t know you were supposed to care about: the Hype House drama, Megan Thee Stallion’s “Savage”, 100 gecs, whether or not we’re supposed to stan Jojo Siwa and Charli’s now-deleted Twitter takedown of ex-boyfriend Lil Huddy. You’ve also more than likely heard of alt TikTok.
Alt Tiktok, also known as elite, deep, gay, beans, frog, or Burlington Coat Factory TikTok, is something you’re either in on or want nothing to do with. Veering away from “straight” TikTok’s viral dance moves and cringe POVs, an alt For You page features absurdist, ironic humor. It’s counterculture; the distorted audio and nonsensical content are funny because they subvert what TikTok is supposed to be. Naturally, with counterculture comes the fashion to match.
Alt girls, not to be confused with e-girls, are heavily influenced by ‘90s and ‘00s fashion. Just like their For You pages, they challenge the mainstream of fashion. Whereas straight TikTok is Brandy Melville, alt TikTok is Dollskill. They’re fans of dramatic makeup, candy-colored bangs, monochrome, plaid miniskirts, nose rings and big t-shirts, their bedrooms illuminated with color-changing LED strips. A hallmark of the look is the “little shirt, big pants” philosophy - oversized, baggy cargos paired with baby tees and cropped tanks. It’s both ironic and sincere, feminine and androgynous, provocative and plain.
Counterculture in general is the outward expression of not caring what other people think. It rebels against the norm and it’s inherently queer; hence the names “gay TikTok” and “straight TikTok”. The concept has since moved out of the LGBTQ+ community now and into a sort of mainstream counterculture of its own. Just the fact that I’m writing this now means that it’s a popular enough style to describe and for outsiders to recognize and understand. Even Nylon reported on the trend (see: Why Alt Girls are TikTok's Newest Fashion Inspiration) with hyperlinks to buy similar clothing. One could argue that this takes away some of the power and point of the whole idea. Once “straight” TikTok and the general public become equally aware of alt TikTok, everyone is in on the joke. The style isn’t exclusive anymore.
The whole story goes to show how cyclical fashion really is: alt girls take heavy inspiration from goth, grunge and skater styles, all countercultures of their own. There has always been a self-identified “out” group since we started using clothing to express ourselves. Alt TikTok and the fashion that comes with it isn’t a new concept, it’s just a new medium for celebrating nonconformity. So maybe we can take some comfort in that.