Not long ago, while watching the antics of a guy I follow on TikTok, I noticed he had a message at the bottom that said, “Please follow me on Instagram — I’m moving all my videos over there in case TikTok gets banned.”
While this now seems like a prudent move in light of Trump’s recent war on the social media platform, a lot of the content that you see on TikTok doesn’t feel quite at home on Instagram, or anywhere else.
Where much of Instagram (or at least the Instagram accounts I follow) showcase sophisticated, highly stylized photographs with the self-seriousness akin to what you’d see on a catwalk, TikTok is unabashedly goofy.
Instead of immersing yourself in an image, you find yourself enjoying the endorphin kick of watching the world’s shortest sitcoms.
Even Instagram Stories, which use a lot of video, seem almost static in comparison.
TikTok is not really going away, of course — the U.S., while a sizeable market, is not the only place it’s popular — but the threat of a ban has prompted more than one person to contemplate what we would lose without it.
To my own surprise, I’m realizing that among the casualties would be a treasure trove of ideas and inspiration about men’s fashion and style.
The TikTok Look
The connection between TikTok and menswear would be easy to overlook, even if you spend considerable time in the app.
Most of what people wear on TikTok are the same things everyone’s wearing in 2020 — sweatpants, baggy shorts and T-shirts that are long past their “best before” date.
This makes sense, given that a lot of what you see on TikTok are people trying to replicate the same dance moves as different memes or “challenges” make their way across the platform.
Unlike a lot of other social media platforms, though, TikTok is more focused on helping you discover people you don’t know than keep you riveted to the same old influencers. That’s how I eventually came across a couple of interesting approaches to creating TikTok content that are basically all about fashion, and men’s fashion in particular.
1. The ‘Leap Through The LookBook’
Here’s just one example: a man stands in a room wearing a leather jacket, jeans and a pair of biker boots. He’s facing a row of other footwear — sneakers, dress shoes, maybe even cowboy boots — that stretch out in front of him.
With some kind of beat-heavy soundtrack in the background, the man jumps as if he intends to squash the first pair of shoes. As he lands, however, he is immediately transformed into a complete different look — maybe a polo shirt, chins and some comfortable boat shoes.
He leaps again, landing into a pair of loafers that change him, Cinderella-style, into a sharply cut dress shirt and dress pants.
Though I had seen similar sorts of videos on Instagram (and particularly IGTV), they were required a lot more variety of shots and takes to seem inventive and seemed a bit long, even at less than five minutes. On TikTok, the brevity of the medium and the emphasis on lightheartedness and music are a better match.
Even if this kind of video uses the most basic jump cut in cinematic history, it’s fun to watch someone cycle through half a dozen outfits in the space of a few seconds. Some of them mix and match pieces from the same wardrobe to literally teach you how to develop ensembles from a few foundational elements.
2. The ‘What I Would Wear If . . .”
The origins of TikTok memes are obscure (at least to me) so I’m not sure how this one started but it’s as binge-worthy as it gets.
A guy takes in the foreground, with a bubble of text that says something like, “What I Would Wear In . . . Toronto.” Jump cut to the guy in a trying-too-hard printed short sleeve shirt and pants.
“What I Would Wear In . . . Halifax.” Jump cut to the same guy in a plaid shirt and cap.“
“What I Would Wear In . . . Vancouver.” Jump cut to the same guy in shades, a tie-dyed T shirt and board shorts.
There are almost endless variations win this approach. I’ve seen ones that make fun of what people tend to wear at various Canadian universities, how guys in certain kinds of jobs and industries dress and many more.
These may not seem very helpful in terms of influencing style because they trade on stereotypes. A big part of developing a sense of style, however, begins with recognizing what is at least perceived as the custom or tropes in a given societal context.
In that sense, these TikTok videos are offering a fun but rather accurate ongoing history of menswear in the twenty-first century.
3. The ‘Ehhh . . . How You Doin’?’
A guy walks in looking pretty dressed-down, possibly giving the camera a quick grin and walking through the doorway to another room down the hall.
A second later, he comes out dressed to the nines, maybe using a video effect where he literally sparkles as he saunters into the foreground to the beat of the song.
There’s nothing complicated about this kind of content, but it’s a classic “before” and after” story that stretches back to Pygmalian, if not earlier. Even if these guys have nowhere to go (compared with Instagrammers who continually travel the globe to show off their outfits of the day), they’re willing to do something we used to only associate with little girls: play dress-up.
Before dismissing TikTok as trivial (or treating it as a national security threat), I’d recommend flicking through it, if only because it’s where some of the greatest experimentation in user generated content is happening right now.
The best menswear should be timeless, but it should also reflect the times. In that sense, TikTok is the most dynamic mirror we could possibly have.