“For me, it's [about] practicality,” she says. “It’s literally what I'm wearing to work, as I’m taking the train.”
She’s far from the only one doing this. On TikTok, search results for “subway fit” have amassed over 13 billion views, with people showing off their outfits of the day while waiting for or riding the train. On the influencer front, London’s “Tube Girl,” whose real name is Sabrina Bahsoon, has gone viral practically overnight for filming herself inside the train in exaggerated close-ups, shifting angles in a dizzying fashion.
With every new wave of fashionable social media stars, there’s been a common theme: democratisation. Back when bloggers first emerged in the '00s, it was all about showing everyday style from everyday people outside of the mainstream fashion industry. With Instagram, it took an aspirational twist, as photos became posed and feeds curated with immaculate detail. The idea was to showcase a lifestyle others would desire. That rarely included public transportation. But for many TikTok users, style creators in impractical, luxury outfits — the kind that would require a car — have become as cringe as side parts and skinny jeans. “For me, it's not very authentic,” says Zhang. “I think [the subway videos] are resonating with people because people feel empowered by it.”
Once again, people are looking for everyday fashion from everyday people.
Zhang typically puts her phone anywhere that gives her a good angle — a staircase, a bench, a wall — and films as she waits for the train. “I try to make sure that I actually am living the life that I’m showcasing because I think that's what resonates with people,” she says. Similarly, her outfits reflect her commuter reality in a city that forces its inhabitants to dress for a whole day's schedule rather than isolated occasions: “Because I'm commuting back and forth, usually on the subway or even on a Citi bike, [my outfit] has to be very practical and pretty lightweight,” she says. This translates to oversized tote bags, chunky flat boots, ballet flats, and quilted jackets that Zhang describes as “cohesive and very exceedingly practical.”
It’s a mindset that can also be seen with other creators like Bahsoon, whose videos have made her a fashion industry darling (she attended the Valentino spring/summer 2024 during Milan Fashion Week, among other Fashion Week events). Her outfits are casual but represent the unique point-of-view of a 20-something woman who sees the city (in her case, London) as her work-and-play ground: easy-to-move-in maxi skirts and jeans, as well as heat-proof scarf tops and cold-ready puffer jackets.
Not everyone fits the on-the-go commuter approach though. Kristina Avakyan, who goes by the username @subwaysessions, went viral on social media earlier this year because of her dramatic outfits — a feather skirt with a button-down shirt and rolled-up basketball shorts with lace tops and pumps — polarized digital onlookers. (The debate over Avakyan’s outfits has since taken a controversial turn when The Cut published an interview in which the creator, who is based in the Lower East Side, said people in Harlem or Queens “don’t understand” her style.)
The high-low perspective on fashion is what Zhang says attracts people to the subway fits videos popping up on TikTok. “I think that the ones that are specific to New York are very interesting because you can kind of see how the way that people live their lives and the way that they dress is very much catered towards the city they live in,” she says. “I think that's why the subway is like such an interesting breeding ground.”
To out-of-towners, it can also be inspiring. Orlando-based Acacia Walker started filming her outfits on the subway during her September trip to New York City. “Taking a video of yourself kind of gives you a moment in that busy space where you're acknowledging all the people around you, but you're still saying, ‘I can take this moment and just have my own spotlight for just a second.”
Since returning to Florida, Walker continued taking clips of herself in public transportation, showing off her outfits in the process. She says that, as a young college student, it’s heartening to see creators displaying a more relatable lifestyle and fashion through this trend: “I definitely tend to gravitate more towards content that I relate to, more than aspirational content.”
When Bahsoon attended the Valentino show in Milan, she didn’t post a video of herself walking out of a fancy black car as is the industry norm. Instead, she filmed her video taking the train in her head-to-toe Valentino outfit, saying, “I may have gone to Valentino but you bet I took the metro there.”
Metro cards out, we are going shopping.