Maybe you’ve read that so-called indie sleaze is making a bold return, reviving flash photography, smudged eyeliner, garish electro-pop, and American Apparel. Or that trends might circle back to twee, the indie-pop subgenre from the mid-80s that’s now associated with Zooey Deschanel, Peter Pan collars, and childlike frillery. What about the rise of avant apocalypse or clowncore?
Read any article about what’s coming up in fashion, whether it’s in Vogue or Vox, and you’re likely to encounter one recurring source: oldloserinbrooklyn. That’s the TikTok username of Mandy Lee, 30, a Brooklyn-based fashion commentator and trend forecaster who’s become one of the leading public analysts of what we wear and why in the social media era.
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’re seeing. Lee helps ground trends in a larger cultural and historical frame. On TikTok, she shares rigorously researched fashion breakdowns, highlighting exciting emerging designers or explaining the symbolism of a Euphoria character wearing Miu Miu. With 300,000 followers and an even larger reach, her account has also helped her turn trend forecasting into her actual job.
VICE chatted with Lee about what it means to be a trend forecaster, the significance of developing personal style, and what feels fresh in fashion now.
This conversation has been edited for brevity and clarity.
What is a trend forecaster?
I’ve worked in forecasting for six years, for beer, beauty, e-commerce, and tech. All of these industries need planners and forecasters to have enough inventory or to figure out what they’re going to make next season. With fashion forecasting, you’re looking at what’s happening on the runway and how that will translate to real life or the other way around. I’m really into fashion history, 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 hone in on their niche, which is something I care about a lot.
What media defined your fashion sensibility when you were growing up?
My first love was actually music. I became really ingrained in the DIY music scene in Boston when I was like 15. That was the conduit to my interest in fashion. I collected Alternative Press intensely. I also loved NYLON. There was also this deal with Hearst and Condé where if you subscribed to one publication, you’d get like two other subscriptions free. I did those as much as I could.
When I got a little bit older, Man Repeller was my entire world. They were one of the only publications talking about personal style, not centering the male gaze when you get dressed. The editors would show their actual outfits. Of course, 12 to 13 years ago was the inception of the fashion blogger. I loved Fashion Pirate and Style Rookie.
How did you become interested in fashion as a professional endeavor?
I have always wanted to work in fashion, but it seemed really unrealistic for somebody with my background to be able to do that. I grew up in a really rural town. I got cut off financially when I was 18. In college, I worked at a bagel shop to support myself, and after I graduated, I begged literally any publication to hire me. I was working for like $12/hour part-time at a local magazine writing lifestyle pieces. I hated it so much. I was like, “I’m going to get a full-time job and I’ll come back to this later.” You can’t always go after your dreams when you’re trying to survive.
I took a job in tech working in customer service, and then I applied for an internal position as a performance analyst. It was an Amazon-adjacent firm, and I was working in large parcel furniture and ground, so was I analyzing, like, what is happening in transit? Why is shit breaking? And doing really traditional e-commerce performance analysis. I got really good at Excel and retail math.
“Things are referential and cyclical for a reason. Where newness comes in is styling.”
I eventually made my way into the beauty industry. I thought if I can get into beauty, I can probably get into fashion. Then the pandemic happened, and I got laid off. I started posting on TikTok for fun, and I didn’t know it would change my life so drastically. There’s no way in hell I would be getting fashion jobs if I didn’t have social media.
What’s the goal of your TikTok account?
In the beginning, I focused heavily on debunking the trend cycle and how it impacts consumers, helping people think about longevity when they’re building their wardrobe. My first viral video was breaking down the concept of a “microtrend,” how capitalism and brands operate today. I was noticing how the brand House of Sunny began to symbolize fashion on TikTok. Think about your Instagram Explorer page: Bright colors, fuzzy textures. The style itself is called avant basic, which means simple silhouettes with an ostentatious pastel palette.
In my previous life in business, if somebody were to make a bulk order of 100 dry shampoos for their bridal shower, that would need to be taken out of the data pool because it’s skewing the results. House of Sunny’s viral green knit dress was informing a lot of people’s purchasing decisions, but I didn’t know if it was going to be worn in a couple of months. People really liked that video, and I used it as a jumping-off point.
Then I started incorporating more high fashion analysis and runway predictions because that felt less personal. There are repercussions to going viral because it’s like, Did I help make this item obsolete? If you buy it, I want you to love it. Now I just do whatever I want. I’m doing a series right now where I’m breaking down old-timey fashion roles. That’s been really fun.
What impact you do see TikTok having on trend cycles?
I see one extreme where it’s just PacMan for microtrends, people eating up whatever thing comes into style next. Then there’s the other side, where people are aware of the trend cycle, and they are using that information to lean into their personal style. TinyJewishGirl is a great example. She will style archive Chloe to emerging designers to something thrifted for five cents. At least in my community, my For You Page, I’ve really seen the shift into smarter, more intentional purchasing decisions.
Walk me through the research process for one of your analysis videos. How long does it take you to research? What kind of data points are you pulling from?
I’ll do indie sleaze—that’s my most viral, halo-effect prediction. The Cut wrote that vibe shift article anticipating it, and that’s literally exactly what I was talking about.
I had the idea for two or three months before I ever made the indie sleaze video. When I was in college, Girl Talk was so popular, and people were getting into dubstep and weird experimental music. I kept seeing that on TikTok—TikTok loves a good mash-up. Then I noticed a shift from Y2K to a darker, gloomier aesthetic. Blumarine is the poster child of Y2K, right? And last season, half the show was all black. There’s been a return to outdated technology that has absolutely manifested since I posted that video. Balenciaga used broken phones for their Fashion Week invitations.
What really made me ready to make the video, though, was this craving for real community during the pandemic. It made me think of my days in the DIY music scene. It was genuinely people looking out for each other.
When TikTok gloms into certain aesthetics, the actual definitions are often unclear—does a brand shifting to darker colors really constitute indie sleaze? There are also skeptics who think this is all chatter, that indie sleaze is not really a thing.
I think the evidence is damning, but I guess that’s my own opinion. I base a lot of my forecasts on cyclical markers, how something 15-20 years ago will be a reference. If you think of things in a more macro way, there’s a pendulum swing. Indie sleaze is more rebellious, darker, and moodier, whereas Y2K style and avant basic are happy, colorful, expressive, sort of risque almost. But I’m also not really comfortable telling the world how I conceptualize and research all of this because this is my job and I get paid to do this.
It’s also worth mentioning that a prediction is just that: A prediction. You wait to see how and when and if it manifests. I think it’s ridiculous to think that a trend will copy and paste itself exactly.
Between Y2K, indie sleaze, twee, etc., I’m constantly hearing about revivals. Are there trends that you’ve detected recently that feel more forward-looking, as opposed to nostalgic for a past era?
I made a video about this, but there’s a cross between ballet and Parisian style that people call balletcore. It’s very Simone Rocha, this mix of hard and soft. I’ve never seen this much tulle being used in everyday wear.
Also, I worked with Instagram on a trend report for 2022, and they were predicting that maximalism was going to be an overarching trend. I do have to agree. There’s always been maximalism, but I’ve never seen it celebrated like this with the press. Sarahcampz is a good example. TinyJewishGirl too.
Things are referential and cyclical for a reason, though. How do you invent something completely new? Yes, there are crazy subcultures within fashion, but you’ve got to keep it realistic. People don’t wear Comme Des Garçons silhouettes, Michelin Man-looking shit on the street. Where newness comes in is styling. I was reading an interview with Lynn Yaeger, one of my personal style inspirations, and for 30 years, she’s been talking about how fashion is a combination of new ideas on the same thing.