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Can I Dress Like a TikTok Teen if I’m Not Part of Gen Z?

Personal stylist, TikTok creator and ageless fashion advocate Barbara Aleks is here to help.

Fifteen minutes into my first scroll session on TikTok, I found myself thinking, “Am I old?” Not only was I embarrassingly late to the social media phenomenon, but as I went down rabbit hole after rabbit hole of fashion-related hashtags, I found myself filled with doubt. Am I dressing all wrong? Why don’t I own any pleated tennis skirts? Do I need a tie-dye sweatsuit to prove my youth? 

If the rise of the TikTok aesthetic has taught us anything, it’s that teenage girls currently own the internet — just look at Gen Z’s Charli D’Amelio and Addison Rae, the two most-followed stars on the platform. Using only their dance skills and messy childhood bedrooms as a backdrop, Gen Z users ignited a new trend funnel, quickly giving rise to aesthetics like “e-girl,” “cottagecore,” and “light and dark academia,” influencing young shoppers everywhere. As popular styles seem to change as often as Netflix’s homepage, the biannual fashion runways are no longer the only voice directing the new season’s trends.

So, where does that leave the rest of us who are decidedly not TikTok teens? Is it possible for a non-Gen Z person to adopt these trends without looking like we’re doing an Amy Poehler “I’m not a regular mom, I’m a cool mom” impression?

Photography courtesy of Barbara Aleks

Enter style expert Barbara Aleks, a 50-year-old personal stylist from Toronto with over 425.5K followers on TikTok. Although Aleks started her social media journey on Instagram, she now fosters a TikTok community of mature, stylish women looking for outfit inspiration. We talked to the fashion creator about the hashtag #over40style, where she gets her style inspo and what it’s like being on a platform crowded with youth.

How did you become a personal stylist?

“I’ve been a personal stylist for many years, but I was an interior designer before that. I fell into styling when my kids were little, and I started styling many moms going back to work. They just liked how I dressed, and they wanted my help shopping and putting outfits together. And so that’s how it slowly evolved.”

How did you first get into TikTok?

“I fought it for so long. My kids were talking about how I should be on there, and I thought, ‘No, I’m too old for this.’ And then my fiancé’s niece was like, ‘No, you don’t understand. You will do well — there are older women on there.’ I didn’t know what I was doing, but I posted something anyways. And then there was an interest, so I posted something else, and then I posted something different, and it just grew extremely quickly, which really surprised me.” 

@barbaraaleksMaking of an Outfit 69 ##ootd ##outfitideas ##whattowear ##zara ##outfitinspo ##outfitinspiration ##style ##fashion ##styletipsforwomen ##styletips ##heels♬ Fancy Like – Walker Hayes

What is your inspiration for the outfits you share on TikTok?

“Honestly, I dress for myself. I take in everything that’s going on with fashion at the moment, pick and choose what I like and combine it in ways that work for both my style and body. [My TikTok account] is really what I wear and any new purchases I make. I can’t constantly be buying new pieces because I have a budget like everybody else. So, if I buy something new, I’ll feature that, but then it’s all just instinct. I’m a big believer in using fashion as an expression of who you are. ”

What are some of your favourite things about being on TikTok?

“I love TikTok because it’s quick and easy; there’s entertainment, and it packs a little bit of knowledge. You’re exposed to new things because of the For You Page [features videos] you might not regularly see on your feed. It provides a platform for a lot of people to have a little bit more fun and freedom than having to have this perfect grid, like on Instagram.”

What has been the response like to your account?

“Within the #over40style community, I find people fall into two groups: the ones that were like, ‘Wow, I love that you’re wearing these types of clothes at your age,’ and then the other camp of ‘How could you be wearing these clothes your age! They’re so inappropriate.’ The latter is such a tiny percentage that I don’t even respond. I was shocked that younger women, for the most part, are more supportive than older ones. I thought I would just be hitting the over 40 and 50 markets, but all these young women were like, ‘Oh My God, I want to look like this when I’m older,’ and are inspired by my style even at their age.”

@barbaraaleksMaking of an Outfit 24 ##casualoutfits ##outfitideas ##outfitinspiration ##outfitinspo ##ootd ##over50style ##over40style ##style ##fashion ##zara ##womenover50♬ Everytime Tha Beat Drop – Monica

Were you aware of the #over40style community before you started posting?

“Because of Instagram, I knew there was a fashion movement of women over 40 and 50. So I started using that tag [on TikTok] and then I found a lack of need for it [and stopped using it as frequently] because fashion is so fluid. I enjoy watching younger women and their fashion, and I enjoy watching women who are older than me and their fashion. But I still use the tag every once in a while to find those women who haven’t found me yet.”

What are your thoughts on the fashion trends coming out of TikTok, such as “tenniscore,” “cottage core,” “normcore,” and “academia?”

“I love that there are so many trends and so many choices now versus in the ’80s, when there was one main look. I have people ask me what’s in for denim in the fall and I’m like ‘everything! Other than skinny jeans.’ There’s so much variety in fashion right now, and that’s what I love. I love that there are these vibes going around that are distinct and unique. Do I have a favourite? No, but I love little elements of everything.”

Do you think people that are not teens can adopt TikTok fashion trends?

“I think they absolutely can! Just like any other trend, it’s about making it your own. You could be wearing whatever the look is, but if it’s not really who you are, then the clothes will be wearing you, and people can sense that. So, take the trends and make them your own. There’s no age limit to how you wear it. I think every woman should play around and have more fun with her style. [TikTok fashion] is fun, and that’s what trends are all about.”

@barbaraaleksMaking of an Outfit 71 ##ootd ##outfitideas ##whattowear ##outfitinspo ##outfitinspiration ##style ##fashion ##styletips ##styletipsforwomen ##neon ##heels ##hm♬ Exactly How I Feel (feat. Gucci Mane) – Lizzo

What advice would you give to someone who’s hesitant to try TikTok fashion trends?

“I would suggest taking one element — whatever is the most dominant element of that trend — and work that into what you already have. [For example], people have been talking about the neon trend for so long. I literally just took a neon blazer, and I did a pop of colour in my shoes with jeans and a t-shirt and people are going crazy over it on TikTok and Instagram. So it’s about staying current but not going over the top. If you’re older and a little hesitant, maybe incorporate neon in a handbag, an accessory, or a t-shirt. You don’t have to go like whole-hog, full-out on a trend, but just keep the vibe and the feel of it. You could add pieces slowly, and then if you get more comfortable and daring, keep adding.”

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