TikTok’s algorithms excel at surfacing a constantly renewing supply of subcultures for its users to gape at—remember that brief period when everyone was obsessed with sea shanties?—and last week, it was sorority recruitment season at the University of Alabama’s turn in the spotlight. It’s a world dominated by thin, wealthy, white women, and in many of the most viral #BamaRush videos, one or more aspiring sorority members fitting that description shows off her outfits for the camera, ticking off where each clothing item or accessory came from. For TikTok users and onlookers who aren’t Southern or college-aged, the retailers these women rattled off became one of the most fascinating aspects of the whole phenomenon: What the hell, for example, is Shein, and how did every single ’Bama freshman know to shop there? Do they really sell cute clothes at a place called the “Pants Store?” Should you know who Kendra Scott is? Can shoes be geese?
If you’ve found yourself asking any of these questions, you’ve come to the right place: What follows is a stroll through the strange virtual mall that is #BamaRush fashion.
Easily the most frequently cited retailer on #BamaRush TikTok, Shein (pronounced SHEE-inn) is a Chinese purveyor of fast fashion. It’s hugely popular among Gen Z women and ubiquitous on their social media feeds. Despite the site flying under the radar among older demographics, Vox has reported that it recently surpassed Amazon as the top shopping app in Apple’s App Store, and that at least one analytics firm has declared it the most visited fashion and apparel destination on the web. You may have noticed that, as often as Shein was cited by Alabama women on TikTok, the clothes and accessories they got there didn’t have much in common: This is because Shein isn’t defined by a particular aesthetic but instead by its extreme affordability: You can find just about every trend there, and for super cheap, from chunky pairs of earrings for $1.50 to a psychedelic mesh crop top for $6 to a full-on fuzzy coat for $15—and all of those prices are undiscounted. (There are also lots of knockoffs and occasionally straight-up bizarre finds, like fried chicken or shrimp necklaces.) Not only is Shein cheaper than its fast-fashion forebearers like H&M and Zara, but it’s better stocked too, adding 1,000 new items to its shop a day, and using an extensive data operation to predict and respond quickly to customer behavior.
There are a few fashion brands named after their female founders that Alabama PNMs (or “potential new members”) cite by just their first names, chief among them Tory, Lilly, and Kendra. Of those, the first two, Tory Burch and Lilly Pulitzer, might be familiar to you as sorority-girl mainstays even if you graduated from college 15 years ago, but what about this “Kendra” woman? Well, it and she are a jewelry brand, named for its founder, that has been around since 2002. Per In the Know, the Kendra Scott line “has an immediately recognizable look to it, thanks to its matte metal finishes and geometric shapes.” You can buy the pieces in flagship Kendra stores or at department stores, jewelers, and other boutiques. Most pieces go for under $100, which is part of why its popularity with the sorority crowd makes sense; one of the ways the brand grew was also by marketing directly to that demographic. Kendra was the clear winner among her peers, but a few other jewelry brands that got a lot of play among the aspiring sorority set throughout these TikToks were Enewton and AK.
The Pants Store
The Pants Store sowed much confusion on #BamaRush TikTok for its perplexing name: Why did so many women seem to buy nonpants items from this self-described repository of trousers? It was as distressing as Just Salad’s inclusion of wraps on its menu. But you’ve got to see things from the Pants Store’s perspective: It started out just selling pants when it was founded in Leeds, Alabama, in 1950, but it turns out you can make more money if you don’t limit yourself to just one clothing item. It has since grown into a five-store chain of boutiques, with one location in Tuscaloosa, which explains its popularity on the University of Alabama campus. The store seems to understand its customer base’s needs very well, selling stylish, midpriced men’s and women’s clothing, accessories, and gifts appropriate for attending class and other activities college students frequently indulge in. (See: these Vici patches for “hangover support.”) Though it has a tragically less interesting name, Martin’s is another local, similar clothing chain that came up a lot among PNMs.
It’s standard procedure when showing off one’s outfit on TikTok to turn to the side, bend a knee, and kick up a foot toward one’s butt—and on #BamaRush-Tok, if it was a casual day as opposed to a dressy day, more often than not that foot was sporting a “Golden.” These white sneakers look a lot like Adidas’ Stan Smiths, but instead of simple green accents, they feature a signature star on their side and come in a wide variety of styles, often pre-distressed and featuring sequins and leopard prints. If at some point you were impressed by the thriftiness of Alabama’s freshmen women—in addition to Shein, in their videos there are lots of picks from Target, Amazon, and TJ Maxx—that’s going to end in one second, when you find out the following: These shoes cost $500. Go ahead, check them out at Nordstrom, Neiman Marcus, and Bergdorf. No doubt some of the gals were lucky enough to snag their pairs on Poshmark or the like, but yes, there are a bunch of girls in Alabama walking around in $500, Italian-made sequined tennis shoes. Honorable mention for most popular #BamaRush sneaker goes to “On Clouds,” a lightweight running shoe line from a company called, annoyingly, “On” … that’s the company’s whole name, just On.
It didn’t come up nearly as often as Shein, nor does it sound as goofy as the Pants Store, but Altar’d State’s name still stood out for the surprising frequency of mentions in the rush TikTok videos. If you check out its website, it’s affordable but not cheap, and its clothes look like those you might find at a lot of retailers that cater to Gen Z women, like Aerie or Brandy Melville: girly, lots of ruffles, kind of boho. Like those other stores, Altar’d State has brick-and-mortar locations as well as an online shop. All those skorts and poofy shorts the Bama girls were wearing? You can definitely buy that kind of thing at Altar’d State. But there’s also something that sets the store apart from other retailers in its category: In 2015, Racked called it “the massive, secretive Christian clothing chain you’ve never heard of.” What makes a mall store Christian? Again, its clothes look a lot like those of its competitors, so in practice, this mostly seems to mean that the company donates some of its proceeds to charity and that its retail locations are peppered with Christian-y signage. And the religious angle probably gives the company a boost in places like Alabama, where the Bible Belt culture remains strong.
#BamaRush ’Tok was so packed with unfamiliar but incredibly named brands and retailers that it would take forever to explore them all, so I will instead leave you with this list of a few more of my favorites: I Just Have to Have It, Princess Polly, Hello Molly, Pretty Little Thing, Painted Pink, Queen of Sparkles, LoveShackFancy, Lucy in the Sky, the Lace Cactus, the Impeccable Pig, the Willow Tree, Moodz and Vibez, and, last but not least, Brunch Club. So many #OOTD possibilities, so little time.