This time last year, the world as we knew it came to a screeching halt. From theatre shows, concerts, and events, to sports competitions – the Coronavirus canceled, well, everything… As we became confined to our homes, social media and in particular TikTok became the channel through which we came to communicate. Instead of dance battles in clubs, we now dance to snippets of songs; instead of hanging out with friends, we have banana bread bake-offs, and instead of watching fashion shows through magazines, we invite ourselves to the “frow”.
Enter, the TikTok front row challenge. A quick search for #frontrowfashion or #frontrowtiktok yields videos with hundreds of millions of views, with the first videos dating back to January 2021. Supposedly started by @andoej, #frontrowfashion has taken the TikTok fashion world by storm. Prompting users to don outfits that one would wear to the front row of luxury fashion shows, the challenge allows regular people to participate in a fashion conversation that, in the past, has tended to be quite exclusive. Until now, invitations to runways were extremely difficult to obtain, and in order to make it to the front row, one would have to be someone of particular influence or status. What the #frontrowchallenge asks us to do is to imagine ourselves in such a position; a fantastical and ultimately escapist endeavor.
The rise of this particular brand of social media is rooted in something called “participatory culture.” Coined by Henry Jenkins (2006), the term describes a culture in which people actively and freely engage in its making – the foundational characteristic of which is collectivism. Everyone is free to create and to share their own content and it is because of this shared-ness that people connect together virtually and, ultimately, feel a sense of contribution to the larger culture. Within participatory culture, anyone can be an expert at anything; social media platforms flourish on this basis and capitalize on users’ knowledge, as well as their desire to be social.
Social media users take part in such a challenge, then, because they believe their contributions matter (and they do). In essentially digitally disrupting the fashion hierarchy by democratizing its most hallowed and revered spaces and traditions, the #TikTokChallenge is more than just an escapist dream. In a pre-pandemic setting, this challenge could potentially have still been relevant, however, there is no doubt that the pandemic has made these kinds of challenges more influential than ever. As a result of our sequestered, and cloistered lives, (usually dressed in sweatpants), challenges like this give us a chance to showcase our best selves, and to give ourselves some semblance of“normality”, and “certainty”. The “glitz and glam” of regular cosmopolitan life is something we are all collectively yearning for and what the digital “frow” ultimately gives us a glimmer of.
From Dior, Gucci, and Louis Vuitton to Prada, Versace, and Saint Laurent, social media users are revealing their personal visions of these luxury brands, with the iconography of each brand, however, undoubtedly still present in their representations. For Dior femme, most are replicating the famous Dior “Bar” jacket accentuated by oversized tulle skirts cinched at the waist with a belt. For Gucci, it is the “grandma/ grandpa” aesthetic: big colorful jumpers, oversized pants, and even headscarves (for added drama). For Saint Laurent, users indulge in head-to-toe all-black leather. Although the point of the challenge is to showcase one’s personal style, it is also important to stay on-brand to be appropriately “front row.”
Still, even though the challenge was created for everyone, and invites everyone to join, one look at the top-rated TikTok videos for the hashtag shows something most would overlook: the people who have done the challenge most successfully are often fashion influencers themselves such as Leonie Hanne, Marta Sierra, and Wisdom Kaye. Of course, as influencers, these users have a bigger platform to spread their content but they also have something else: the capital and the resources to pull off these kinds of luxe looks. Not everyone who has the most views for these challenges are fashion influencers, but most of them can be seen wearing pieces from the brands themselves.
Because the #frontrowchallenge is rooted in a setting that entails power and privilege, and though everyone can take part in it, what ensures success here is power and privilege, as evidenced in our own views and likes. What’s thought to be disrupting and inclusive turns out to reinforce the very exclusivity it is trying to destroy. Fashion is inextricably tied to issues surrounding social, political, and economic matters. Still, the #frontrowfashion challenge is a fantastical dream, and right now above all, the world needs to dream.
Delora is an Editorial Intern at liminul.
Hanoian born and raised, she grew up in a village with a rich history of handicraft. Her favourite place? Museums. Favourite phrase? The Eye Has to Travel.