How TikTok became Gen Z’s haven for fashion discovery and trendsetting

Key takeaways:

  • Gen Z harness social media for fashion discovery, with TikTok as their star player
  • Macro trends spring to life from micro influencers, and Gen Z lead the charge
  • Gen Z actively seek out creators that don’t gatekeep
  • Price and sustainability remain at the forefront of Gen Z’s fashion choices

If you were impressed (or maybe slightly freaked out, same-same) by the impact millennials had on the already incredibly fast-paced trend cycles that rule the fashion industry, then brace yourself for Gen Z’s influence, because they’re making trends pop up faster than you can say ‘cheugy’. For this young cohort, social media has become the epicentre of fashion discovery and expression. But how exactly do Gen Zers approach social media for all their fashion needs, and how can your brand catch their attention in an authentic way? Don’t worry, we’ve got the lowdown for you (based on a sample size of 35,000 16-27-year-olds, no less).

TikTok’s taking over Instagram as a tool for fashion discovery

For Gen Z, social media platforms have become their primary source for discovering the latest fashion trends and subcultures. Instagram, once the go-to platform for fashion inspiration, is facing a noticeable decline in popularity among this demographic. In fact, they are more than twice as likely to leave Instagram due to feelings of insecurity after using the app. This shift signals a significant change in how Gen Z perceive and utilise social media.

A pivotal platform in this transformation is, you guessed it, TikTok. The app’s short-form video content and algorithm-driven recommendations make it an ideal place for Gen Z to explore fashion aesthetics and discover new brands—and don’t even get me started on the TikTok Shop. According to SCREENSHOT’s data, more than half of 16-27-year-olds prefer TikTok over Instagram, with a staggering 60% claiming they feel a strong sense of community on TikTok.

Remember July 2020, when Gen Zers and millennials alike went absolutely feral over House of Sunny’s Hockney dress, which ended up being worn by Miss Kendall Jenner who posted a picture of it on her Instagram? At the time, Instagram was still very much the biggest player when it came to turning micro fashion trends into mainstream products.

Fast forward to 2023 however, and the shift from IG to TikTok is pretty evident. Any respectable Gen Z who’s got an interest in fashion will know that Sandy Liang (the New York-based label that recently collaborated on a line of bags with TikTok-favourite BAGGU, which sold out before most customers could even load the drop’s landing page) has the coquette and hyper-feminine aesthetics to thank. And guess where both aesthetics first appeared? Yep, TikTok, where #coquette now sits at 12.6B views, and #hyperfeminine has over 495 million views.


Exclusivity 🤝 urgency 🤝 delulu resale behavior. Surprise at the end please enjoy the rant. #baggu #sandyliang #resellers #delulu #fashion

♬ original sound – Mandy Lee

While Google remains the world’s top search engine, TikTok is on its way to dethroning it as Gen Z’s favoured search engine. “In our studies, something like almost 40% of young people, when they’re looking for a place for lunch, they don’t go to Google Maps or Search. They go to TikTok or Instagram,” Prabhakar Raghavan, a Google senior vice president, revealed at a technology conference in July 2022. Gen Z’s active engagement on TikTok confirms that this platform has evolved into a powerful tool for fashion discovery.

But Gen Z’s interest in fashion extends beyond mere discovery. A substantial 51% of this demographic conducts brand research on social media before making a purchase. They closely inspect brands they discover on these platforms, checking for authenticity and reliability. Social media has, in essence, become a gateway for informed fashion shopping decisions.

Macro trends start with micro-influencers, and Gen Z are fully aware of that

Gen Zers understand the dynamics of trendsetting in the digital age. A significant 59% of them believe that macro trends originate from micro creators, particularly on platforms like TikTok. This perception underscores their awareness of both their influence and their ability to shape culture.

Sure, this isn’t a new concept, especially for those in marketing and content creation. The concept that macro trends start with subcultures and niche communities has been widely acknowledged. But what’s distinct about Gen Z is their active participation in these trends. They not only recognise the role they play in shaping culture but also hold creators accountable. In a world where massive celebrities can copy small creators—Matilda Djerf, I’m looking at you—Gen Zers have a keen eye for authenticity. They can spot imitations and dupes from a mile away and aren’t afraid to call them out.

In this light, it’s not surprising that 38% of Gen Z express a preference for smaller creators who represent diversity and realism. They understand that these creators are at the forefront of trend creation. This insight presents a compelling opportunity for brands to align with these emerging trends authentically. By collaborating with the creators Gen Zers love and follow—UGC, hello—brands can demonstrate their support for these trends in a way that resonates with this demographic.

Gen Z actively seek creators that don’t gatekeep

For Gen Z, the fashion world isn’t just about following trends; it’s about expressing their unique individuality. As a content creator, proving to your audience that you don’t gatekeeping is a quick and easy way to signal authenticity and transparency—two traits that are at a premium now. This is, of course, the premise that all influencer culture is built on: aspirational meets accessible. But it has a useful twist as the former ‘influencer’ label is now getting replaced by ‘creator.’

Influencers post with the sole motivation of selling things to you, while creators share their favourite items in confidence. Gen Zers don’t want to watch ads of fashion influencers recommending products to them, they want to come on TikTok and be entertained, inspired, or learn something. They want to peek beyond the gates.

Take @LuxeCollective for example, which currently has over 1.5 million followers and 70.5 million likes on the app. “Tips & Info on all things designer 🔥” reads the account’s bio, along with a link to its online shop for designer secondhand clothes and accessories. A quick scroll through the TikTok page proves my previous claim about Gen Zers and gatekeeping: from videos on how to spot a designer “super fake” from a real one to insightful deep dives into some the most iconic luxury bags’ history and hidden features, Luxe Collective feels like an older sister who knows everything about fashion and loves to share her knowledge.


Louis Vuitton’s 2 in 1 Bag!! 🤩 The neverfull is a favourite among LV lovers for its versatility and comfort but this HACK takes the classic damier print to a bold red! Did you know this? 🤔

♬ original sound – Luxe Collective

Price and sustainability are still massive touchpoints

Price and sustainability remain two of the most significant touchpoints for Gen Z’s fashion choices. Despite the emergence of the ‘buy now, save the planet later’ trend as a response to the cost of living crisis, this philosophy hasn’t resonated as significantly with Gen Z in 2023. A significant 77% of them prioritise the sustainability and quality of their fashion items over cost. For Gen Z, the items themselves take precedence, demonstrating their commitment to long-lasting, ethically produced pieces.

Moreover, 57% of this demographic sees secondhand shopping as an avenue to acquire unique designer pieces at affordable prices. This preference for secondhand items underscores their focus on individuality and ethically produced clothing. Long story short, Gen Zers are unapologetic about their commitment to sustainable and ethical fashion.

Gen Z is challenging the notion that they would settle for the cheapest options without considering their environmental impact. They understand the importance of responsible consumption and are willing to invest in quality items that align with their values.

Brands can tap into these four key trends and preferences by aligning with Gen Z’s values, collaborating with their favourite creators and promoting authentic, ethical, and unique fashion choices. As Gen Zers continue to shape the fashion landscape, it’s crucial for brands to adapt in response to these evolving consumer preferences. Because if you don’t, someone else will.


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