TikTok Isn’t in China, So Who’s Posting All Those Chinese Street Style Videos?

They all look like paparazzi shots but, surprise, most aren’t candid at all.
For illustrative purposes only. Shoppers in Beijing's trendy Sanlitun area, where many of the Douyin videos are shot. Photo: FRED DUFOUR / AFP

If you’re addicted to TikTok and have spent the majority of your quarantine scrolling through its endless stream of videos, then you’ve surely noticed those unbelievably stylish and surprisingly hypnotizing posts of Chinese street style.

If you haven’t, they’re these video compilations that show young cosmopolitans casually walking on the sidewalk, dressed to the nines in high fashion brands like Balenciaga, Off-White, and Gucci. People started noticing them on TikTok in July and now they’re all over the platform. The hashtag #chinesestreetfashion now has over 290 million views, with each video receiving millions of likes.


But TikTok isn’t available in China, so where are these videos coming from? It turns out, they’re compilations of posts from Douyin, China’s version of TikTok. Both apps are owned by Beijing-based tech company ByteDance.

According to Shirying Tay, a 20-year-old Douyin and TikTok user based in Hawaii, most of the people featured are actually social media influencers in China and, despite the videos’ “paparazzi” vibe, many are not candid at all.

Tay said that photographers and videographers go to popular shopping districts in major Chinese cities and either meet up with these influencers or, on rare occasions, find random fashionistas on the streets who ask to be filmed.

“I think [the trend] started when celebrities in China would post their outfit videos online, and people became hyped up about fashion. This is when they started uploading these ‘street style’ videos,” Tay told VICE.

These videos are edited with dramatic music or show the influencers walking in slow motion, giving a “didn’t notice you’re there” vibe. But if it looks like they’re strutting a runway, it’s because they kind of are.

Tay said that in the viral videos, these influencers often wear clothes from brands that sponsor them.

“On Douyin, the influencers and videographers usually tag the clothing brand they are wearing under their video, for marketing purposes,” she said.

These tags don’t appear on TikTok when users like Tay post the video compilations. For her, it really is just all about the style.


“Initially, I posted a compilation video of the Chinese streetwear with the intention to spread Chinese culture, which isn’t really on foreign social media,” she said. “And then it blew up. More people started to hop on the trend and copy these styles themselves.”

A video she posted under the handle @sh1ryinyin in early July has received over 4.7 million likes as of press time.

Inspired by these videos, some TikTokers are now sharing outfits they’d wear if they were walking the streets of Chinese cities — in slow motion, of course. It has created yet another TikTok challenge.

TikTok launched outside China in 2017 but blew up earlier this year, as more people stayed home due to coronavirus lockdown restrictions. Like the #chinesestreetstyle trend, many other challenges have gone viral in the app, often with very random premises. One had people stripping naked and secretly filming their partners’ reactions, while another had users dancing to a catchy handwashing jingle.

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