Modern fashion: More than just a catwalk

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By: Maria Zoi Michailidou

From: Sciences Po Menton

Thanks to social media and Hollywood, the fashion industry has radically transformed in the past few decades. Even though fashion weeks in Paris and Milan are still undoubtedly in the front stage of the fashion world, nowadays it takes more than a successful catwalk to succeed in the industry. Hailey Bieber introduced us to the concept of brownie glazed lips and strawberry makeup, creating an obsession with food-themed skincare. Greta Gerwig’s Barbie movie started a worldwide frenzy marked by pink clothes and “Barbiecore” outfits. The TV series Succession, for better or worse, taught us how the super rich dress, kickstarting the trends of quiet luxury and old money style. We can therefore deduce that nowadays, fashion is more about marketing than actual haute couture. That’s why in this article we will attempt to analyse how the attitudes of consumers are being influenced by mass media, effectively changing the face of the fashion industry.

We could consider the fashion industry as an enormous, carefully constructed pyramid. On top we have the meticulously crafted, handmade and mostly unaffordable haute couture. On the bottom we can find ready-to-wear collections, offering mass-produced styles for a wider audience. Usually, fast fashion would get inspired by haute couture, offering to the audience a more affordable version of what was seen in the runways. However, some claim that the long-established hierarchy has recently been reversed because of the impact of mass media on the fashion industry. Now, haute couture, in order to remain relevant, has to find a way to appeal to a broader audience. That means that it will have to become more relatable by delving into different methods of promotion, including mass media and, why not, adapt itself to the preferences of the audience it wishes to attract.

We could first examine the case of TikTok. One could argue that the platform acts as a tool for self-expression, allowing the users to put on display their fashion sense and create new trends. Moreover, designers have started displaying their creative process on the platform, hoping to gain popularity amongst the younger generation. The impact of TikTok influencers on the fashion industry should not be underestimated. In 2020, the hashtag #Y2KFashion has over 58 million hits and counting, according to TikTok. There was a ripple effect into the mainstream fashion industry: Brands such as Juicy Couture and Von Dutch reinvented themselves and re-launched due to the surge in demand. However, TikTok’s influence doesn’t stop there. Bygone are the days when fashion weeks reigned supreme, being so exclusive that only well-established figures of the fashion industry were invited to attend. Now TikTokers are spotted sitting on the first rows and chances are, they will take enough videos to share with their followers the whole experience. Even the procedure of choosing models has changed enormously because of the platform. Nowadays, modelling scouts rely heavily on TikTok to discover the next big star of the catwalk, hopefully enabling the fashion industry to break free from stereotypes and toxic standards and discover different kinds of beauties, representing a bigger portion of the population. Even though inclusivity is far from achieved, it is encouraging to observe the gradual diversification of the fashion industry and its efforts to incorporate new elements from different cultures (1).

Juicy Couture and Von Dutch are not the only brands that benefited from mass media exposure. More recently, Mattel, the company that creates Barbie dolls, experienced an uproar in their sales thanks to the considerable success of Greta Gerwig’s movie. Other companies were quick to act, launching their very own Barbie-themed clothing lines. Zara, GAP and Crocs are amongst the numerous companies that rapidly picked up the new trend. Statistically speaking, if one takes a closer look at Zara's Barbie collection, it features 17 children's garments and accessories, while the offering for women is much broader, with 85 items. That signifies, that despite what one might think, demand is quite higher for adults than children, showcasing that the target audience is in fact consisted of adults. The fact that the lead actress, Margot Robbie, caused a sensation in every red carpet she attended prior to the film by channelling her inner Barbie definitely boosted the sales and contributed to the global frenzy around the movie. (3)

Keeping up with the TikTok theme, it would be interesting to comment upon the increasingly popular “old money” aesthetic. Apparently, Gen Z’s most recent obsession is inherited wealth, which comes hand in hand with summers in the French Riviera and sprawling manors in the Alps. TV series such as Succession, Gossip Girl or even the film Saltburn have done nothing but fuel this obsession. Since it is literally impossible to belong to old money unless you have been born into it, Gen Z has tried to replicate the feeling through their outfits, opting for clothes with neutral colours and materials such as linen. This trend has put once more brands that had been long forgotten, such as Ralph Lauren and Loro Piana, in the spotlight. The numbers are quite impressive. The hashtag #OldMoney has gathered about 2.5 billion views in TikTok, showcasing its popularity. Knowing that some of the brands featured are too expensive, Gen Z has turned into second hand retailers, with Depop witnessing a 70% increase in searches for ‘collared shirts’, and a 76% increase for ‘trench coats’).(2)

Even though this article has tried its best to explain how mass media affects the fashion industry, there are some unavoidable limitations and data bias. Firstly, since the whole phenomenon is quite recent, it is difficult to have an objective, holistic view of it because it is still developing. Secondly, most of the sources cited are not statistical companies but fashion magazines, casting a doubt over the accuracy of the numbers stated.

In conclusion, the interplay between mass media and the fashion industry has undeniably transformed the traditional landscape, ushering in an era where trends are not solely dictated by elite runways but are democratically shaped through digital platforms like TikTok. The resurgence of iconic brands, the rise of the old money aesthetic, and the newfound popularity of Barbie-themed fashion exemplify how cultural phenomena propelled by media can redefine consumer preferences and industry norms. While this article sheds light on these shifts, it acknowledges the inherent challenges in comprehensively capturing a rapidly evolving phenomenon and highlights the potential data bias in relying on fashion magazines as sources. Nevertheless, as the dynamics between mass media and fashion continue to evolve, the industry's landscape stands poised for ongoing innovation and transformation.

  1. Nast, Condé. ‘How TikTok Changed Fashion This Year’. Vogue, 28 December 2020,
  2. Reid, Helen, and Helen Reid. ‘Global Retailers Cash in on Barbie Movie Craze’. Reuters, 21 July 2023., Sangster, Ella. ‘'Saltburn' Brings the Old
  3. Money Aesthetic Back to the Fore’. Harper’s Bazaar Australia, 29 September 2023,
Second year student in Sciences Po Paris, Menton campus.
More posts by Maria Zoi Michailidou.
Modern fashion: More than just a catwalk
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