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.