These Are The Next-Gen TikTok Critics Shaking Up Fashion

Rian Phin’s TikTok videos are about fashion – but there are few of the styling tips, hacks or hauls that usually dominate the category. Instead, watch her videos and you might learn something new.

One reveals how the Y2K revival ‘signals authenticity’ in our modern era, a further focuses on status as it relates to style and another is something even less typical of an average fashion creator: a reading list. Phin, whose social-media handle is @thatadult, is one of a new generation of voices giving fashion criticism a software update. There’s also, to name a few, @thekimbino, an Instagram account run by Kim Russell that looks at catwalk nostalgia through an archival lens; Odunayo Ojo’s Fashion Roadman on YouTube, which offers fashion history and analysis to newcomers and insiders alike; @oldloserinbrooklyn on TikTok, a trend-forecaster account run by Mandy Lee; and Alexandra Hildreth’s commentary under the account @guyfieri.superfan, also on TikTok.

Courtesy of Hildreth

Moving on from the age-old notion of the fashion critic as a front-row insider reviewing catwalk shows for a small audience of other fashion experts, this new cohort is more likely to give their thoughts from their bedrooms – but with significant reach. Ojo’s YouTube channel has nearly 100k subscribers. The Kimbino has 158k followers on Instagram, including Julia Fox, Precious Lee and Jourdan Dunn. Lee’s @oldloserinbrooklyn, meanwhile, has an audience of 430k on TikTok and such influence that a video about indie sleaze she posted in October 2021 sparked last year’s much-discussed revival.

There’s a new generation of voices giving fashion criticism a software update.

They work across different platforms, but the internet is what unites them. Phin, who is based in New York, describes herself as ‘chronically online’. ‘It helps to have a broad conversation, which is more inclusive of different voices,’ she explains. Russell says Instagram has allowed her to join the conversation from Perth in Australia – one of the most isolated cities on earth. ‘I can now put myself on the same pedestal as some of the biggest heavyweights in fashion and that’s happening all the way from here,’ she says. ‘How else would I have that sort of world stage?’

Notably, many of these creators are people of colour and/or come from working-class backgrounds. This means what they do has reach beyond the typical industry audience of other insiders. Caroline Rush, the CEO of the British Fashion Council who oversees London Fashion Week, has noticed this shift over the last decade. ‘The rise of digital and the influence of social media has changed the way we view and discuss collections,’ she says. ‘What we have seen is the emergence of a younger online audience with an interest in fashion and educational content, eager to get involved.’

tiktok fashion criticism

Odunayo OjoYouTube

Ojo, who studies fashion journalism at Central Saint Martins, started @FashionRoadman in 2015 because he was reading about fashion in old issues of style magazines but didn’t see anything similar on YouTube. He now hopes his channel is helpful. ‘People are interested in fashion, but they don’t really know where to start,’ he says. ‘What I try to do in my videos is to not assume knowledge.’ He says his designer profiles – where he tells the story of, say, Rei Kawakubo or Alessandro Michele – are among his most popular, suggesting viewers use his videos to learn fashion history.

Russell, a former primary-school teacher who first started posting about fashion online on the now-defunct site Polyvore, is aware that she is representing a demographic that has previously been shut out of fashion – and that motivates her. ‘I don’t look like the typical fashion person. I’m not able to get on a five-hour flight to New York or Paris,’ she says. Russell explains that the distance from the fashion capitals means that ‘everything is slower and harder. I’ve quit many times, but it’s too late for that now,’ she says referring to her large, engaged audience that tunes into every post she makes.

I don’t look like the typical fashion person.

Ojo says his drive to open doors comes down to details. ‘Even if I’m explaining something very simple, I simplify it even more. I still have to say, “Oh, yeah, by the way, Demna is the designer at Balenciaga,” before I even talk about anything that he’s done.’ Lee, meanwhile, is mindful of others like her ‘who didn’t grow up with money’ and this influences her point of view. ‘It’s important to me to not gatekeep,’ she says. ‘It’s not to gain points, to virtue signal or anything like that. The fashion industry likes to keep lower-income people out of the picture, and that’s bullshit. I don’t agree with that.’

tiktok fashion criticism

Courtesy of Lee

There’s no doubt that fashion discourse – like fashion itself – has long been judged an elite sport, with top jobs often going to those with connections. In his book Fashion Climbing, the late Bill Cunningham relayed stories about going to shows in the Sixties where the ‘press ladies, especially the magazine girls, made fabulous calculated entrances, with their wardrobes planned out for three or four changes a day’. Those in this milieu were paid peanuts, he revealed, but that didn’t matter because they were often independently wealthy.

Iain R Webb, Professor of Fashion & Design at Kingston School of Art, wrote criticism for The Sunday Times and The Observer from the late Seventies – and was ELLE’s Fashion Director in the late Nineties. He came from a fairly humble background but joined an exclusive club. He has memories of shows in Versailles and the Forbidden City in Beijing and – in one incredible 24 hours – attending Madonna’s Blonde Ambition tour followed by Gianni Versace’s first couture show. He says that, in the pre-internet days, the critic was the eyes and ears of the fashion industry. ‘You’d have a review of a whole week of shows [in The Times] and that would be all you would read about it until six months later, when it might be in magazines.’

The fashion industry likes to keep lower-income people out of the picture.

Without the internet, only a chosen few had a voice, as the only place to read about fashion was the limited number of publications that chose to write about it. This led to a small, close-knit cadre of critics reporting on shows, largely to interpret what we would all be wearing next season. Even if designers such as Jean-Paul Gaultier and Alexander McQueen created fantastical shows, they would be judged as an artistic take rather than what we would now see as a viral moment designed to create shareable buzz around a brand.

tiktok fashion criticism

Courtesy of Russell

This model was challenged when digital hit in the early Noughties. As fashion bloggers’ profiles grew along with their follower counts, they began attending shows – to the chagrin of established fashion editors and critics. Tamu McPherson was one of this generation. Her blog, All the Pretty Birds, began in 2008. She remembers others being ‘wary’ of her and her fellow bloggers when she started going to fashion weeks. ‘At first, there was definitely curiosity,’ she says. ‘Especially because we did not come up the ranks as many [editors] did.’

McPherson ‘paid her dues’ and moved from the fourth row to the front row as bloggers morphed into influencers, and – alongside journalists and stylists – became paid-up members of the fashion establishment.

Vanessa Friedman, the storied fashion critic at The New York Times, says it’s important not to overstate these moments. ‘We should be careful about not getting too overwrought about what we see as big shifts,’ she says. Instead, she views them as part of a gentle evolution. ‘Journalism is not a static practice. It’s constantly changing. And it may seem more dramatic now, but it probably seemed equally dramatic 40 years ago. Every generation speaks to the world it’s living in.’

tiktok fashion criticism

Courtesy of Phin

Despite their position as the new guard, these creators respect their elders. All reference established critics like Friedman, The Business of Fashion’s Tim Blanks, Another Magazine’s Alex Fury, The Guardian’s Jess Cartner-Morley and the American edition of Harper’s Bazaar’s Rachel Tashjian, who also writes the influential invite-only newsletter, Opulent Tips. ‘I hope to see myself as a contributor [to the fashion ecosystem] but I’d never want traditional fashion criticism to go,’ says Phin.

‘I would never want people to not have access to [critics] like Tim Blanks.’ It’s also clear that names writing for more traditional media still have power, even in online culture. After the Coperni show in September, where Bella Hadid was spray painted into her dress, Tashjian wrote an article lamenting gimmicks on the runway. The story generated headlines for days after.

Every generation speaks to the world it’s living in.

Tashjian describes criticism as ‘the trendiest way to engage with fashion at the moment’. Her own take chimes with other voices but provides a slightly different focus. ‘I’m 33 years old. I ask a lot of the same questions someone who’s primarily doing commentary on TikTok or Instagram or Twitter asks,’ she says. ‘There are people on social media who maybe make [fashion] more accessible… I’m trying to show that there’s so much going on, and [it’s] so intellectually rewarding, and delightful, rigorous, fun and challenging to unpack it and think about it.’

tiktok fashion criticism


The changes in how we view fashion come in cycles.

Tashjian draws a comparison with the 2010s, when ‘people were on Tumblr and Blogspot, discussing fashion collections in great depth’. The focus on inclusivity, meanwhile, mirrors Webb’s approach in the Eighties. ‘I always wrote for the reader, not the person sat next to me at the show,’ he says. ‘I referenced popular culture, which gives people a way in even if they’re not into fashion.’ His new exhibition, The Fashion Show: Everything but the Clothes, opens at V&A Dundee this summer, collecting ephemera from shows over the years. It’s likely to reinforce another generation of critics’ thinking in similar ways.

There are signs that the wider fashion industry is accepting and making room for these new voices, as it did for the bloggers before them. Oyo is now meeting with brands such as Gucci; Phin and Hildreth write for publications including Paper; while Lee has become a full-time trend forecaster. Through her work online, meanwhile, Russell has attracted the attention of high-profile names – including Bella Hadid and Kim Kardashian, whom she has advised about historical collections such as those by Alexander McQueen. ‘As my page grew, my experiences became better because I connected with these amazing industry people who weren’t gatekeeping,’ she says. ‘I can’t imagine where I would be without having found my online community.’

tiktok fashion criticism

Courtesy of Phin

When digital culture is most effective, it’s about that community. These critics and creators aren’t sitting on high – they are, more often, representatives of something bigger. Ojo gives the example of his Discord, a social-media platform, which has 2,200 members. ‘People are obsessed with the Antwerp Six [the influential Belgian group of designers including Dries Van Noten, Ann Demeulemeester and Walter Van Beirendonck],’ he says. ‘So when I interview Walter, I interview him from the perspective of what those people want to know.’

A generation that has grown up online is also used to a wealth of information at a click. McPherson is particularly taken with the knowledge-is-power element of this content. ‘For Gen Z, who are trying to learn about fashion, I think it’s great and responsible for accounts to provide education,’ she says. ‘And if you have a fashion brand that does something culturally insensitive, then these new critics should absolutely talk about it in a constructive way.’

The changes in how we view fashion come in cycles.

Lee argues that these two factors – community and the quest for knowledge – are working on twin tracks, and they will influence how fashion criticism and analysis develops further. ‘I feel like there aren’t that many really good in-depth fashion podcasts,’ she says. ‘And I’ve seen so many new Substacks pop up. TikTok’s not going to be around forever. You have to pivot and figure out where to go next.’ Russell has a different way of moving forward: diversifying. ‘I want to be a fashion editor, stylist, creative director, critic,’ she says. ‘I want to do it all and I know I can. That starts with me.’

And, thanks to the ever-diversifying landscape of media platforms and disrupted hierarchies, it is possible to do it all. In 2023, the average fashion fan might get their news from a TikTok video, a newspaper critic’s review or an Instagram post. All have the chance to go viral. Going forward, Tashjian sees the beginnings of a more inclusive and varied conversation around fashion.

‘One thing I really like is that people share my writing and other writers and other people on social media will say, “I don’t agree with this, but I thought it was really interesting.” That is such a significant change,’ she says. ‘I hope that, in the next year, there is more consideration of other points of view or accepting that there are multiple ways to look at things.’