C R Ys i s
Xochitl Ríos Galvez photographed by Beláxis Buil
By Xochitl Ríos Gálvez
Edited by Beláxis Buil & Global English Editing (Ash)
Recently I’ve learned about a pattern that occurs whenever there is a recession – fashion tends to become more outrageous! This has to do with people wanting to escape the economic reality of their existence. It's a mechanism to cope with the circumstances. I was once critical of kids who were popular and started dressing in alternative styles out of the blue. For me, and so many others, dressing a certain way means that you're part of a community that shares certain ideologies and beliefs. For these kids, however, their changing behavior, style or identity seemed to be a way for them to escape the isolation. Maybe it's the isolation of Covid. Perhaps it's a coping mechanism. It can be quite frustrating to discover your classmates have now become “Alt” ..., but I guess it’s a Crysis.
There is a difference between the term “Alternative” and Alt in contemporary culture, particularly within youth culture. One describes a wide umbrella of ideas in fashion, while the other describes a vague reference to alternative culture and fashion. Since the start of the pandemic, Alt fashion has been on the rise. I attribute Alt’s popularity to TikTok (a video sharing app), which has become central to most (U.S.) teenagers’ livelihood during the pandemic. In its own way, TikTok has provided a community hub, especially for those who frequently use the app.
It is important to note that the user communities of TikTok are usually divided into two groups. This division happens by themselves. One group is the alternative TikTok community, commonly referred to as Alt TikTok. The other is referred to as Straight TikTok. This divide is determined by what types of videos users commonly view on their “For You” page. Straight TikTok, referenced as such, has to do with the content produced by people that mostly identify as straight; i.e., those characterized by kids who are considered (or crowned) “popular” at their schools, or kids making dance videos or poorly acted-out scenarios and “thirst trap” videos. Alt TikTok is basically everything else. Defined this way, the latter can be interpreted as a source for “alternative” users. Finally, because Alt TikTok forms the majority userbase, the content on the app is thusly created by this larger group. Eventually, Alt TikTok videos make their way onto the For You pages belonging to Straight TikTok users, exposing the ideas and styles within the alternative community to a broader audience.
At the dawn of the pandemic, teenagers on Alt TikTok began to notice how popular kids mimicked their fashion and style. Kind of awkward. The outfits were costumes influenced by several alternative styles: goth, scene and emo. At least this is what they appeared to resemble. It felt terribly odd and uncomfortable to see this happen. Most of the teenagers in the Alt TikTok community identified these Straight TikTokers as their elementary school bullies or problematic classmates. This was especially troubling, as most of the identified kids had previously made fun of others for dressing the way they did. But now, here they were trying to dress like them. “Alt” became a term to define the costume-like mimicry cultivated on TikTok. Will Alt style lead these teenagers to further explore new identities? And what will their new identities mean to them?