For University of Alabama sorority hopefuls, local fashion boutique The Pants Store has long been known as a go-to for rush dresses. Thanks to the viral #BamaRush TikTok trend, the rest of the country now knows this, too.
The retailer went viral on TikTok after being featured in many of the rush outfit-of-the-day posts that swept the app last week. During that time period, it has seen a 400% increase in online sales. Out-of-state purchases made up 90% of orders, up from 50% normally.
“It was total craziness. I had friends texting me TikTok videos of all this stuff. I’m sitting home with my wife’s laptop, and I’m like, ‘Look at this. Pants Store has gone viral,’” said Michael Gee, owner of The Pants Store.
As #OOTD videos from the 2,000-person rush process frequently appeared on people’s For-You pages (FYPs) on TikTok, a wave of commentators and parodies helped drive the trend to viral heights. By the end of the week, newly minted TikTok influencers were born and brands such as Kendra Scott, Pantene and The Pants Store had gotten on board. The hashtag #BamaRush currently has 235 million views.
The hundreds of outfit videos popping up across TikTok provided a view into the fashion tastes of the college sorority set, which included a heavy emphasis on online fast-fashion from Shein, Amazon, Princess Polly and Lulu’s. “Basically, now you all know I shop on Amazon,” said TikTok user and Alabama rush candidate Bella (@lil.millsy) as she listed Amazon as the source for her dress and jewelry, before adding, “Hair is mine.”
Local Southern brands also factored heavily and gained national attention. Students posted about Alabama-based retailer Willow Tree and Tennessee-based Christian boutique Altar’d State. Texas-based jeweler Kendra Scott, which was mentioned frequently, jumped on the trend with several TikTok posts of its own about #BamaRush. The brand received thousands of new followers, according to Kendra Scott CMO Mindy Perry, as well as a 17% increase in new users on its site. On TikTok, the brand’s profile views have increased by over 750%, and it received 2 million views on its rush-related content.
“The core of our TikTok brand strategy is social listening. Our team spends a lot of time on TikTok watching, learning and listening to our customers,” said Perry via email.
The Pants Store gained an especially large amount of commentary as many perplexed users observed that most of the outfits sourced from the shop were not, in fact, pants.
“Sometimes that name has been a little bit inhibitive,” said Gee, who added that it created the attitude of, “Why would I want to shop The Pants Store? All they sell is pants.” But that irreverence found its niche on TikTok. “It finally played out where people were talking about, ‘Why are these girls wearing dresses from The Pants Store?’” he said. “That’s maybe why we blew up, in particular, versus some other boutiques.”
The boutique leaned into the parodies of the OOTD videos, creating its own parody TikTok of itself to get in on the trend. It also enlisted the influencers going viral on TikTok to do promos for the shop and saw its follower count increase from 7,000 to over 19,000 in the course of the week. The most prominent was Makayla Culpepper (@whatwouldjimmybuffettdo), a rush participant who has amassed over 130,000 followers on TikTok in the past week after she was dubbed the “queen” of rush by many of her fans. Culpepper is already receiving gifted products from major brands; she posted on Instagram about a PR box from Pantene over the weekend.
“Jumping on this trend was a fun and agile collaboration across our internal teams and our agency partners,” said Rachel Luckcuck, marketing technologist at Procter & Gamble. She added that Pantene has an “‘always-on’ approach to monitoring trends.”
Culpepper’s support ballooned when she revealed that she had not been selected for any of the sororities she rushed, causing a larger outpouring of support for her online. TikTok users were quick to note that she was one of the only biracial candidates who had come across their FYP, sparking a wave of discussion around the University of Alabama’s racial discrimination in sorority recruitment; the sorority system only desegregated in 2014.
Joining the outfit trend was user @downtownkbrown, who was in the group of first Black women to be accepted to Alabama sororities in 2014, following a nationally reported racism scandal that broke in 2013. She described the outfits that she wore to fit in, with multiple dresses by then-sorority go-to brand Lily Pulitzer and statement necklaces.
Also weighing in was Marissa Lee (@mar_lifebelike), who was also one of the first Black women to be accepted to an Alabama sorority in 2014. She later became the first Black president of her sorority, Phi Mu. She noted that rules against infractions, such as social media posts depicting drinking, are often unevenly enforced when it comes to rejecting bids from women of color versus white women.
“We can’t have this trend where, if you’re going to be a woman of color or if you’re going to be a different person in an environment, then you have to be above reproach,” said Lee in her video. “You have to be exceptional.”