Dust Off Your Hollister Jeans: Outlet Malls Are Back

At New York’s Woodbury Common Premium Outlets, the scene is straight out of an early 2000s film’s mall sequence. Groups of 20-somethings parade in cargo jeans, Adidas Samba sneakers, and Gap logo hoodies, carrying shopping bags from stores like Aéropostale, American Eagle, and Claire’s.
It’s a gray winter day complete with drizzles of snow that would make anyone rethink the outdoor shopping center just an hour outside of New York City. This isn’t the case for many shoppers though. Clad with vintage Louis Vuitton x Takashi Murakami pochette bags (which reached peak pop culture popularity when Regina George was seen clutching it in the mall scene in Mean Girls), they are shooting “outfit of the day” content and deals for their TikTok followers. 
The opportunity to go viral with a credit card swipe and a 60-second video is what differentiates this scene from the last time malls were the place to be. On TikTok, the hashtag #outlet has grown to over 1 billion views, thanks to shoppers sharing their hauls of discounted designer merchandise bought everywhere from Woodbury Common to The Mall Firenze in Florence. 
Outlet malls first appeared in the United States at the beginning of the 20th century but reached their peak in the 1980s with retail hubs across the country becoming go-tos for customers seeking a bank for their buck. Today, everyone from department stores, like Saks Fifth Avenue, to luxury designers, like Dior and Prada, have gotten on board, with some brands even producing styles exclusively to be sold at discounted brick-and-mortar offshoots. 
For many, outlets are not new — for many more who love a good deal, they never went anywhere either — yet, TikTok’s proliferation of discount shopping hauls has reinvigorated interest for an audience who is newly interested in roaming outlet malls IRL like it’s just another Saturday in 2005. Except now, we all get to see it on the app, where, amid an impending recession and rising living costs, the TikTok generation has rebranded dupecore and discounted shopping as cool. 

“I love sharing my purchases so people get inspired and see that there’s really good deals out there,” she says. 

Sam Spinale, 21
“I have a lot of expenses for school,” says Sam Spinale, a 21-year-old college student, who recently posted a video about her experience shopping at the Sawgrass Mills designer outlet in Florida. Although Spinale grew up going to outlet malls, her recent venture was inspired by a video she saw on TikTok, in which another user gave a tour of the designer stores available there: “​​I was like, ‘I have to go there.’” During her visit, Spinale bought a $39 top at Lululemon and a $150 ring at Saint Laurent. 
It was just one of the many shopping trips she’s documented for her followers on TikTok, with some of her haul videos ranging from a Louis Vuitton bracelet she got for herself after a semester of straight As to a trip to T.J. Maxx to find Zara discounted merchandise. “I love sharing my purchases so people get inspired and see that there are really good deals out there,” she says. 
Much like Spinale, Astrid Cioata was drawn to The Mall Firenze, a luxury outlet located outside of Florence through TikTok. On the app, videos about the outlet mall have grown to over 500 million views. “A lot of these girls were getting the same items that you could find in [retail] stores for 80% off,” she remembers of the TikTok videos she saw before visiting the outlet last year during a vacation. “And everything I got was 80% off, too.” Astrid shopped items that would’ve set her back nearly $5,000 — including a pair of Prada sneakers and three pairs of heels from Gianvito Rossi and Jimmy Choo — for a little over $1,000.  
For stylist Alon Cameron, seeing TikTok videos for The Mall Firenze evoked memories of her own childhood, hearing about the discounted shopping meccas from members of her family, which inspired her to pay a visit to Woodbury Common last December. She decided to document her experience, too, showing her shopping at stores like Acne Studios, Saks, Kenzo and Diesel.
While the markdowns and hauls may seem enticing to viewers on TikTok, Cameron warns that the scores are not always as remarkable as they may seem. She adds that people looking at the videos should be aware that some merchandise at outlet malls can be of subpar quality or different from retail offerings before visiting. Otherwise, she says “you’ll be disappointed.” That said: “If you already shop luxury and have an appreciation of the craftsmanship, then it’s a good option to get things you’ve been eyeing that are out of stores now for 20% or 30% off.” Plus, for Cameron, nothing beats the “instant gratification of walking out with a shopping bag and bringing this new piece home” after a good deal.
For people in the outlet mall TikTokverse, the phenomenon delivers continuous doses of dopamine rush after “buy[ing] something from your favorite brands for a little bit cheaper and sav[ing] money,” according to Cameron. It's an added bonus if it ends up featured on the "For You" page.

More from Fashion

R29 Original Series