How TikTok is leading a retro revival

If you asked someone from the ‘70s to describe TikTok, they’d probably give you a strange look and tell you it was a working clock. But TikTok has been instrumental in the recent retro revival spreading across the world and showing the younger generation how to party like their parents. 

Retro influencers are a fairly new phenomenon on the app mostly known for dancing, but some would say TikTok has been essential in spreading the wave of Retromania.

Andy Sly is part of a group of what might be called retro influencers who have TikTok accounts dedicated to posting as though from the ‘70s – one of Andy’s more popular videos features him in the iconic David Bowie lightning bolt makeup. He has amassed a following of over 45,000 in the short time he’s had the account. I spoke to him to delve further into his online time capsule.

“I began my 70s journey with Bowie and the Beatles,” he tells me, going on to say that he prefers “the more glamorous side, like Elton and Bowie, not just bell bottoms and belts and boots.”

Growing up in France, he admits that he discovered these artists a lot later than most, and that they helped him to “be more me”, adding: “When you’re 16 and you’re attracted by makeup, you wonder if it’s possible…and then you discover a man has already done this 15 years ago!”

As for why people now are so drawn to the style of the era, Andy thinks he has an explanation: “There’s a lot of big brands now that are pretty boring and bad quality. When you think of the ‘70s, you think of glitter, sunglasses, flares…but now I can’t describe a single item of clothing we all wear in the ‘20s. People were more connected then.”

“We want to be unique and we want to dream.”

In Andy’s view, Tiktok has definitely boosted interest, allowing a wider audience. “We’ve never had a platform like this before.” 

But while he appreciates the gateway TikTok has become for him, he confesses that “you’re never really known. You can be seen by 20 million people, but they won’t remember your name.”

TikTok’s love of the ‘good old days’ isn’t just constrained to screens. Vinyl album sales have risen for the 17th year in a row, reaching their highest point in 30 years. While obviously this can’t all be attributed to an app that was only launched in 2017, the hundreds of videos of people showing off their vinyl collections, and people like Andy Sly encouraging a more ‘retro lifestyle’, it wouldn’t be far-fetched to give TikTok some credit.

 A way in which TikTok is directly involved in the revival of vintage music is through viral sounds. People with a large following start trends based on lyrics from often forgotten songs such as ‘Love Grows’ and ‘Running Up That Hill’, which then catapults them up the charts as more people discover – or in some cases re-discover – their love for such songs. 

Tears For Fears, a band formed in the early ‘80s, has fully embraced the new audience TikTok gave them. Their song ‘Everybody Wants To Rule The World’ hit the US Billboard top 10 in 2022 for the first time since 1985 – when it was first released. The band are now working on a new album and are currently on a worldwide tour, and they directly thank TikTok for this second wave of success.

Harley Middlehurst owns Harley’s Vintage Boutique on Bridge Street Row in Chester. She first opened in Llangollen 10 years ago, and now splits her time between Llangollen and Chester since opening her second location in 2022. She says that she has “definitely noticed a younger audience in Chester, especially uni students. As soon as we post that we have Carhartt in stock, it sells out!” 

Carhartt is one of the more popular brands people mention on TikTok, known for selling what they dub as ‘workwear’ items such as cargos, corduroys, and satchels. They’ve become a cult staple for vintage enthusiasts, something Harley knows all too well.

The only social media Harley uses for the shop is Instagram and Facebook, but she is planning on starting a TikTok to attract a younger audience. “There’s definitely more people following vintage fashion now than there was 10 years ago,” she says, referencing the Llangollen shop.

Another worker of Harley’s Vintage Boutique shared her views on the topic, adding: “It used to happen in my day with my mum! I’d ask if she’d heard this song, and she told me it was sampled from one of her favourites.”

Whether what is happening with TikTok is cyclical, something that every generation will experience, or a unique event, it’s clear that social media has never been more influential.

I believe that even if a rediscovery of previous generations has happened before, the significance of social media can’t be ignored. If not for apps such as TikTok, this wave of Retromania would be confined to one region. Thanks to such a global phenomenon, vintage shop owners like Harley are seeing increases in sales, and people like Andy have a platform to share their passion with other people. 

It’s also a way of uniting generations – children playing songs from their parent’s years, or dressing in the same styles they used to, offers a new way of connecting. For some, it could even be the way they got into it in the first place, and TikTok lets them celebrate that with others in the same situation.

No one can predict when, or if, the retro revival will end. 

Who knows? Maybe my generation’s children will be donning ‘I Love The 1975’ tees.

By Sonia Veneziani-Rocha

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