Saw It On TikTok: What are Microtrends and What Do Loyola Students Have To Say?

Students reflect on trending items, including Birkenstock Bostons and fashion aesthetics.

With fall in full swing, first-year Chloe Coldiron had been itching for social media’s latest autumn shoe craze: a pair of clog-style Birkenstock Bostons. However, to Coldiron’s surprise, the shoe was sold out online, with limited stock in many department stores.

The incredibly quick and social media-driven rise of the Bostons has all the indicators of a microtrend. This is a short-lived movement in fashion that quickly gains popularity and fall out of style even faster, according to WRAP.

To Coldiron, getting a pair of Birkenstock Boston’s was motivated by the shoes’ popularity around campus. The 18-year-old said she specifically got a pair because she had seen many students wearing them.

Microtrends have quickly become a topic of discussion in online fashion spaces, especially on TikTok. The sandy blues of “coastal grandmother” coexist with the pastel pinks of “balletcore” on the platform. The two trends share similar audiences but rose and fell in popularity entirely independently.

A frequent TikTok user might remember the popularity of the House of Sunny Hockney Dress, which was rocketed into fame by its celebrity appearances, most notably on Kendall Jenner. It spiraled out of favor as quickly as it rose into it, facing allegations of being “cheugy” and out of style.

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Jetzemany Sanchez, a first-year at Loyola, said TikTok is one of the main reasons trends have become so short-lived online. Things move so quickly on the social media site it feels as though people are always moving on to the next thing, she said. 

Associate marketing professor Dr. Jenna Drenten said the labels for these different aesthetic movements come directly from TikTok users and influencers within niche fashion spaces, as opposed to fashion houses or luxury fashion brands. 

“I think it also speaks to Gen Z’s desire to put a name and a label on something,” Drenten said. “Rather than being able to have just a style, [but] that needs to be categorized as something.”

Influencer marketing is especially profitable to the brands who capitalize off of these microtrends to reach consumers. TikTok has also been pivoting to e-commerce and changing the app to make shopping through links and endorsements easier, according to the Associated Press. 

Drenten said influencer marketing is similar to a multi-level marketing scheme, drawing comparisons between the heavily exploitative nature of both practices. 

“Oftentimes these influencers are getting some kind of kickback,” Drenten said. “The more people that are drawn into that particular aesthetic by buying the items an influencer suggests, [the influencers] get benefits.”

Cybersecurity major Nancy Rojas said it’s easy to see the impact of influencers on the way microtrends spread online. If people see an influencer wearing something, they’ll want to wear it as well, Rojas said.

This is also true for first-year student Tory Burkhart, who bought Bostons because of fashion and lifestyle YouTuber Emma Chamberlain. Burkhart said she initially thought the shoes were ugly but changed her mind after seeing Chamberlain’s YouTube video where she styled them.  

Some students brought up fast fashion giant Shein as the main driver of microtrends. The company has become associated with microtrends and overconsumption due to its reputation for incredibly quick manufacturing and the AI used by the company to quickly evaluate emerging microtrends on social media. 

Sanchez named the brand specifically when talking about the impact of microtrends. She said  the accessibility of fast fashion, both economically and in terms of volume of product, is one of the main drivers of microtrends. 

Dr. Drenten said criticism of these companies for perpetuating the cycles of overconsumption is warranted, but the consumer should also look inward and reflect on their own buying habits. 

“It’s the consumers who are demanding urgency and affordability of fast fashion,” Drenten said. “They see something they like and they don’t want to pay the price.”

However, pursuing fashion and getting fashionable pieces isn’t always the cheapest venture. The lower prices offered by these fast fashion retailers make fashion more accessible for consumers who might not have been able to afford items offered by other brands, especially given the rising costs of sustainable fashion and the secondhand reselling industry. 

Some consumers, both those interested in fashion and more casual buyers, have been pursuing thrifting as an alternative to the overconsumption brought about by the recent rise of microtrends. Three in five American consumers now regularly thrift and purchase vintage items, according to the Associated Press.

But what does this mean for Birkenstock Boston lovers grappling with the style’s potential microtrend status? Coldiron isn’t worried they’ll be going away anytime soon. She said her cousin has had them since 2016 and she’s thought they were cute since.

Featured image courtesy of Chloe Coldiron.

Audrey Hogan

Audrey Hogan