Fretting over the perfect first day of school outfit is often one’s earliest experience with both the pressures and importance of personal style, but the students at Manhattan’s Fashion Institute of Technology have more than proud parents and classmates looking on. Over the past few years, TikTok audiences have developed a growing fascination with what students at the fashion school wear to class, especially on day one, when the streets outside of the Chelsea campus feel more like a content farm. Think of it as the inverse of TikTok’s #BamaRush obsession. Instead of sorority pledges spending hundreds or even thousands of dollars on outfits to essentially fit into a specific mold, FIT students are assembling their thrift store and Depop finest to be uniquely themselves.
This year though the trend leaked over to X, the social network formerly known as Twitter, where a 42-second TikTok video was reposted and quickly went viral with 45 million views and counting. One student was dressed like an ’80s goth complete with white face makeup. Another was decked out in the latest jockstrap chic like a background dancer in Troye Sivan’s “Rush” music video. There were all-black minimalist pieces, subversive graphic tees, and echoes of Bella Hadid-core. Some commenters tried to dunk on the students. “The zoomers have gone insane,” wrote the user who originally posted the video. Many others, however, quickly came to their defense. “This is cool as fuck,” clapped back another user. “Just say you have no taste, perspective, viewpoint, and have no courage to express yourself visibly or fearlessly. Y’all are so annoying and boring Lmfao.”
The students on campus are aware of the social media eruption, and, well, they’re really not all that fazed by it.
“To people that don’t live in New York or study fashion, I think it’s kind of shocking,” says Emily Tressa, a third year fashion business management student who was seen in the video wearing a ruffled blue dress. “It’s cool though because I think fashion is kind of supposed to get a reaction. And, to all of us, it’s not that serious.”
Saman Bakayoko, a student in her final year, had somehow evaded the viral lens of the TikTok paparazzi throughout her studies and decided to take control of the situation herself. “If no one’s gonna put me in their video, I’m just gonna make videos myself,” she says. She already had an interest in using armor in her own style and plans to incorporate it into her own planned line Yoko, but decided to order an entire knight’s suit and styled it in different ways for a week of class. “I think we’re avatars,” she says. “I just like to dress up my avatar and right now my avatar is very armored.” A video showing off all her looks has attracted 1.6 million views on TikTok, and her following has grown from around 3,000 to more than 15,000 now. She’s accepted offers to collaborate with brands and other TikTok creators but says it all started with her own interest in armor as a fashion statement. “The heart of it all is just me doing it for fun.”
While second-year student Nicholas Villamizar describes his own style as more classic and muted, he’s found his niche in interviewing schoolmates about their outfits and life at FIT. Inspired by man-on-the-street content he’d seen filmed in trendy neighborhoods like SoHo, he realized his own campus was a fertile ground. “I don’t think most people at FIT are dressing to draw attention to themselves,” he says. “I just think since it’s an art school, it is very important for people to feel like they express themselves through their art, which is fashion in this case.”
The trend stands not only in stark contrast to all that #BamaRush content, but also that steady stream of social media put out by professional influencers and the street style circus that surrounds New York Fashion Week. Often, that content features overly stylized outfits with pieces gifted or borrowed from brands. The fact that these outfits are what students actually wear to class is proof positive to viewers that this it’s representative of actual personal style. And while some viewers may gawk at their choices, Villamizar thinks many more are looking to the students for inspiration. A native of Columbia who also creates content in Spanish, he says he gets positive comments from all over the world, with audiences particularly interested in students who showcase secondhand purchases or items from sustainably-minded brands. For the record, he thinks boho chic is coming back, and red boots in particular are trending on campus this semester.
Though the students say the TikTok lens only shows an edited portion of what life at a fashion school is actually like and how many of their classmates dress. Among all the corsets, breastplates, and platform boots, you can still find students dressed in jeans and a t-shirt.
“I think people are, like, ‘What if I dress normal at this school? Am I gonna be bullied?’ But it’s not like that,” says Tressa. “Everyone’s kind of in their own world and minds their own business.”
The first week of class, students say, also tends to be the week when the biggest fashion statements get made. As the weather gets colder, the classwork gets more onerous, and finals come around, even students with more outré style tend to dress more practically.
“When you’re running late, you can’t put on a whole suit of armor when you go to school,” says Bakayoko.
In the meantime though, the students aren’t going to let any negative online attention get in the way of expressing themselves.
“I did read some of the comments,” says Tressa. “People are like, ‘They look ridiculous. What are they doing?’ But I think that’s the fun of it.”