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From ‘latte makeup’ to ‘girl dinners,’ TikTok has launched tons of trends. Will its influence last?

NEW YORK (news agencies) — TikTok and its bite-sized videos arrived in the United States as a global version of the Chinese app Douyin. Less than six years later, the social media platform is deeply woven into the fabric of American consumerism, having shortened the shelf life of trends and revamped how people engage with food and fashion.

The popularity of TikTok coupled with its roots in Beijing led Congress, citing national security concerns, to pass a law that would ban the video-sharing app unless its Chinese parent company sells its stake. Both the company, ByteDance, and TikTok have sued on First Amendment grounds.

But while the platform faces uncertain times, its influence remains undisputed — and for now, arguably unrivaled.

Interest in bright pink blush and brown lipstick soared last year, for example, after the cosmetics were featured in TikTok videos with looks labeled as “cold girl” and “latte” makeup. An abundance of clothing fads with quirky names, from “cottagecore” to “coastal grandma,” similarly owe their pervasiveness to TikTok.

Silly video snippets have spun food hacks like “smash burger” tacos – a burger fried with a tortilla on top – and “girl dinners” — shorthand for a snack plate that requires less cooking and cleaning up than a typical evening meal – into cultural currency. And sometimes, into actual dollars for creators and brands.

Plenty of TikTok-spawned crazes last only a week or two before losing steam. Yet even mini trends have challenged businesses to decipher which ones are worth jumping on and stocking up for. A majority of the more than 170 million Americans who use TikTok belong to the under-30 age group coveted by retailers, according to the Pew Research Center. Whether fans of the platform or not, shoppers may have a #tiktokmademebuyit moment without knowing the origin story behind an eye-catching product.

“The impact has been almost immeasurable,” Christopher Douglas, a senior manager of strategy at the influencer marketing agency Billion Dollar Boy, said.

What made TikTok such a trendsetter compared to predecessor platforms? Researchers and marketing analysts have often described the platform’s personalized recommendation algorithm as the “secret sauce” of TikTok’s success. The company has disclosed little about the technology it employs to populate users’ “For You” feeds.

Jake Bjorseth, founder of the advertising agency Trndsttrs, which specializes in Generation Z, thinks the app’s use of an interest-based algorithm instead of personal contacts to connect like-minded people is what gave TikTok the edge. Predecessors like Instagram, Facebook and Snapchat were known more for peer-to-peer networks.

TikTok also changed the standard for what was considered desirable in social media content. Because the platform was designed to be easy to use, many videos lacked filters, lighting setups or production-level audio. “These minimally planned and produced” recordings made TikTok creators seem more authentic and allowed them to develop more intimate relationships with their followers than earlier breeds of influencers, Bjorseth said.

In the early days of the app, TikTok recruited influencers from rival platforms by paying them to join and post content, according to Brendan Gahan, the CEO of influencer marketing agency Creator Authority. “Video-makers with as few as 1,000 followers still can earn commissions by promoting products in their videos, although those with at least 10,000 followers – and a minimum number of video views – are eligible for programs that pay them based on viewership.

The platform naturally has plenty of critics. Some experts argue that TikTok, like other social media sites, can be addictive and promote hours of endless scrolling, as well as unnecessary spending. Others accuse TikTok of promoting harmful behavior, like young girls engaging in skin care rituals and procedures intended for older women.

Some observers accuse prolific TikTok video-makers of using gimmicks to concoct ersatz trends or repackaging the looks of an earlier era with attention-grabbing names. Yet for all the detractors who won’t mourn TikTok if it goes away, a vocal base of fans hopes it doesn’t come to that.

Niki Maragos, a 26-year-old digital marketer from Charlotte, North Carolina, is one. She credits TikTok with transforming her personal style. Before frequenting the platform, she wore clothes from a single genre at a time and followed the same makeup routine.

Now she’s into experimenting. To attend a recent music festival, for example, Maragos wore white ruffled bloomers, a black top and cowboy boots — a vintage-inspired look known as “cottagecore” in TikTok speak. She’s also tried applying faux freckles — a sun-kissed cosmetics trick that’s experiencing a renaissance — and latte-toned makeup.

“TikTok has allowed everybody to be their own fashionista,” Maragos said. “I have become free. I am going outside the box.”

Casey Lewis, a trend analyst based in New York who previously worked as an editor at Teen Vogue, said TikTok’s clout in the fashion arena first became apparent to her when videos about Birkenstock’s Boston clogs overtook her “For You” feed in 2022.

Lewis thought it was odd since her brother, whom she described as a “frat boy” and not a fashionista, wore the cork-soled comfort shoes in college. As the number of TikTok videos exploded, some creators took to advising their followers where they could find the suddenly sold-out clogs.

“I’m not a psychologist, but I’m sure there’s some psychology where your brain goes from thinking like, ‘How weird? Is that fashion?’” she said. “And then suddenly you’re obsessed with it.”

Eventually, two other out-of-style shoes, UGG boots and Crocs, also saw their sales rebound after gaining a foothold with young consumers, Lewis said. The pace with which TikTok-shaped trends popped up — many of them tagged with the suffix “core” in a reference to the wearer’s style — was so dizzying that Lewis devoted much of her Substack newsletter to them.

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