An “old loser in Brooklyn” is TikTok’s foremost fashion critic

Maybe you’ve read that so-called indie squalor is making a bold comeback, reviving flash photography, smudged eyeliner, flashy electro-pop and American Apparel. Or that trends could return to twee, indie-pop subgenus from the mid-1980s he is now associated with Zooey Deschanel, Peter Pan collars and childish frills. What about the rise of before the apocalypse or clowncore?

Read any article on what’s going on in fashion, regardless of whether it is Rowing or Vox, and you will likely encounter a recurring source: Oldloserinbrooklyn. That’s the TikTok username of Mandy Lee, 30, a Brooklyn-based fashion commentator and trend forecaster who has become a leading public analyst of what we wear and why in the age of social media.

Social media has given the average person unprecedented access to encounter different aesthetics and subcultures, but people don’t always have the context to understand what they are seeing. Lee helps to root trends in a broader cultural and historical framework. On TikTok, she shares rigorously researched fashion breaks, highlighting exciting emerging designers or explain the symbolism of a Euphoria character wearing Miu Miu. With 300,000 followers and even wider reach, her account also helped her turn trend forecasting into her real job.

VICE spoke to Lee about what it means to be a trend forecaster, the importance of developing a personal style, and what feels new in fashion now.

This conversation has been edited for brevity and clarity.

What is a trend forecaster?

I’ve been working in forecasting for six years, for beer, beauty, e-commerce, and tech. All of these industries need planners and forecasters to have sufficient supplies or to understand what they will be up to next season. With fashion forecasts, you are looking at what’s happening on the runway and how it will translate into real life or vice versa. I am really passionate about the history of fashion and there are so many elements of trends today that mirror the past, what was happening economically. Trend forecasters can also help brands become more sustainable and refine their niche, which I really care about.

What media defined your fashion sensibility when you were little?

My first love was actually music. I got really rooted in the Boston DIY music scene when I was around 15. This has been the channel of my interest in fashion. I have intensely collected Alternative Press. I also loved the NYLON. There was also this deal with Hearst and Condé where if you subscribed to one publication, you would get like two other free subscriptions. I made them as much as possible.

When I got a little older, Man Repeller era my whole world. They were one of the few publications to talk about personal style, not focusing on the male gaze when dressing. The editors would show their royal clothes. Naturally, the fashion blogger was born 12 to 13 years ago. I loved Fashion Pirate and Style Rookie.

How did you get interested in fashion as a professional business?

I’ve always wanted to work in fashion, but it seemed really unrealistic for someone with my background to be able to do it. I grew up in a truly rural city. I was financially cut off when I was 18. In college, I worked in a bagel shop to support myself, and after graduating from college I literally asked any publication to hire me. I worked for about $ 12 an hour part-time in a local magazine writing lifestyle articles. I hated it so much. I was like, “I’m going to get a full-time job and I’ll be back later.” You can’t always chase your dreams when you are trying to survive.

I took a job in the tech industry working in customer service and then applied for an internal position as a performance analyst. It was a company adjacent to Amazon, and I was working in furniture and land for large packages, so I was analyzing, like, what’s going on in transit? Why does the shit break? And do a truly traditional e-commerce performance analysis. I got really good at Excel and retail math.

“Things are referential and cyclical for a reason. Where the novelty comes into play is the styling.

Eventually I made my way into the beauty industry. I thought that if I can get into beauty, I can probably get into fashion. Then came the pandemic and I was fired. I started posting on TikTok for fun and didn’t know it would change my life so drastically. There is no way I would find fashion jobs if I didn’t have social media.

What is the goal of your TikTok account?

In the beginning, I focused heavily on debunking the trend cycle and how it affects consumers by helping people think about longevity when they are building their wardrobe. My first viral video it was breaking down the concept of “microtrend”, as capitalism and brands operate today. I noticed how the House of Sunny brand began to symbolize fashion on TikTok. Think about your Instagram Explorer page – bright colors, blurry textures. The style itself is called first basemeaning simple silhouettes with an ostentatious pastel palette.

In my previous working life, if someone placed a bulk order of 100 dry shampoos for their bachelorette party, it would have to be removed from the data pool because it skews the results. Sunny’s house is viral green knit dress it was informing a lot of people about buying decisions, but I didn’t know if it would be worn in a couple of months. People really liked that video and I used it as a starting point.

Then I started incorporating more high fashion analysis and runway forecasting because I felt less personal. There are repercussions of going viral because it’s like, Did I help make this article obsolete? If you buy it, I want you to love it. Now I do what I want. I’m doing a series right now where I’m breaking down the old-time fashion roles. It was really fun.

What impact do you see TikTok has on trend cycles?

I see an extreme where it’s just PacMan for microtrends, people who eat whatever is fashionable next. Then there is the other side, where people are aware of the trend cycle and are using this information to lean on their personal style. TinyJewishGirl is a great example. She’ll style Chloe’s archive to up-and-coming designers in something thrifty for five cents. At least in my community, my For You page, I’ve really witnessed the shift to smarter and more purposeful buying decisions.

Guide me through the research process for one of your analytics videos. How long does it take you to do research? What kind of data points are you drawing from?

I’ll do indie sleaze: this is my most viral, halo effect prediction. Cutting wrote it change of atmosphere article anticipating it, and that’s what I was talking about.

I had the idea for two or three months before doing indie sleaze video. When I was in college, Girl Talk was so popular and people were getting close to dubstep and weird experimental music. I kept seeing it on TikTok – TikTok loves a good mash-up. Then I noticed a shift from Y2K to a darker, more somber aesthetic. Blumarine is Y2K’s poster child, right? And last season, half of the show was all black. There has been a return to outdated technology that has absolutely manifested itself ever since I posted that video. Balenciaga used broken phones for its Fashion Week invitations.

What really got me ready to make the video, though, was this longing for real community during the pandemic. It made me think about my days in the DIY music scene. They were really people who cared for each other.

When TikTok focuses on a certain aesthetic, the actual definitions are often unclear: is a brand that switches to darker colors really an indie sleaze? There are also skeptics who think it’s just talk, that indie sleaze isn’t really a thing.

I think the evidence is overwhelming, but I think that’s my opinion. I base many of my predictions on cyclical indicators, as something from 15-20 years ago will be a reference. If you think of things in a more macro way, there is a swing of the pendulum. Indie sleaze is more rebellious, darker and more moody, while Y2K style and avant basic are cheerful, colorful, expressive, almost a bit risque. But I also don’t feel comfortable telling the world how to conceptualize and research all of this because this is my job and I get paid to do it.

It is also worth remembering that a forecast is just that: a forecast. You wait to see how, when and if it occurs. I think it’s ridiculous to think that a trend will copy and paste exactly itself.

Between Y2K, indie sleaze, twee, etc., I constantly hear about revival. Are there any trends you’ve spotted recently that seem more forward-looking, rather than nostalgic for a bygone era?

I made a video about this, but there is a cross between ballet and the Parisian style that people call it ballet core. It is very Simone Rocha, this mix of hard and soft. I have never seen so much tulle used in everyday wear.

Also, I worked with Instagram on a trend report for 2022 and they predicted that maximalism would be a general trend. I have to agree. There has always been maximalism, but I’ve never seen it celebrated like this with the press. Sarah Campz is a good example. TinyJewishGirl also.

Things are referential and cyclical for a reason, though. How do you invent something completely new? Yes, there are crazy subcultures in fashion, but you have to keep it realistic. People don’t wear Comme Des Garçons silhouettes, Michelin man shit on the street. Where the novelty comes into play is the styling. I was reading an interview with Lynn Yaeger, one of my personal style inspirations, and for 30 years she has been talking about how fashion is a combination of new ideas on the same thing.

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