Skip to main content

How I Shop: TikTok Style Star and IMG Model Wisdom Kaye

With more than 4 million followers, chances are you already know the 19-year-old as a creator, model and Rick Owens aficionado. But you may soon know him as a designer, too.

We all buy clothes, but no two people shop the same. It can be a social experience, and a deeply personal one; at times, it can be impulsive and entertaining, at others, purpose-driven, a chore. Where do you shop? When do you shop? How do you decide what you need, how much to spend and what's "you"? These are some of the questions we're putting to prominent figures in our column "How I Shop."

When I (and every other millennial on the Planet Earth) hopped on TikTok in a quarantine-induced haze this spring, the first person I followed was Wisdom Kaye, AKA @wisdm8

We talk about how good the platform's algorithm is, but what we really should be talking about is how it's almost too good: It showed me one of Kaye's signature styling-challenge videos early on, and I was captivated from first scroll. He was high-fashion yet accessible; overtly vintage-influenced (by the 1970s, more specifically) yet entirely contemporary. It had been a long time since I was so transfixed by an online-stranger's style, and I know I wasn't alone.

Kaye only joined TikTok in January, but his love of fashion began years earlier, in high school in Houston, Texas, when he started following designers like Hedi Slimane and Rick Owens and gradually, began molding a sartorial sensibility all his own. Now a 19-year-old college student, he's racked up more than 4 million followers on the app (and more than 600,000 on Instagram) and has seen more than a few of his clips go viral. One in particular, his take on the internet-wide "Vogue Challenge," has been viewed 9 million times. By August, he had signed a blue-chip modeling contract with IMG Models, and has since collaborated with brands like Balmain, Dior and American Eagle

It's the kind of laser-fast rise to fashion fame that really only happens if your style — and the platform with which you showcase it — is not like anything else on your feeds or on the market more widely.

"My wardrobe is a combination of avant-garde, high-fashion and vintage," Kaye says of his secret style sauce. "There's a lot of stuff in there because I'm interested in so many different things, so I just try to bring it together and add my own personal taste whenever I make a look."

Below, he fills us in on his self-proclaimed "meticulous" shopping strategy, which includes Margiela Tabis and his middle-school-era sweaters in equal measure, and what we might expect from a Kaye-helmed fashion label one day.

"Being a freshman [in high school] in 2014, everybody was into streetwear, stuff you'd get at the mall. Young & Reckless, for example, was one of those brands everybody would wear. OBEY was really in. I was going shopping there and buying whatever everybody else was buying. It was more about wanting to fit in and being like, 'Oh, I'm cool, too. I have the same clothes you guys have.' There wasn't much of an identity there. I was just trying to blend in with the crowd to not stand out. I was already a pretty tall kid and I was kind of awkward, so it was a 'what can I do to not get picked and look like everyone else?' kind of deal. And then, over time, as you go on and everyone around you matures, you start to care less about what everyone's thinking. I went off on my own thing that started to take form very recently, like my first year of college.

"I never, honestly, even saw myself doing fashion. I think the lightbulb moment for me was when IMG reached out. That was the moment I was like, 'Whoa, wait a minute. Am I here? Is this actually happening?' Prior to that, I was making videos just for fun. I never knew where it could lead, but I knew that making videos was something I liked to do. I liked fashion, and people liked the way I dressed, so I just kept doing it. But I didn't think it would become anything. I was just doing it because I liked it, and it ended up going somewhere, which is the craziest thing ever.

"Everything I post on my social media, I'd wear out. I'd wear it to class, for crying out loud. I will say, though, because I live in a very country, conservative area, there are certain things I may not put on to go out to the store or whatever. But other than that, anything I'm wearing on Instagram or on TikTok is fair game for me to wear anywhere else.

"I'd love to stay in the business because it's something I like to do. I love making looks. I love curating things. And I love fashion, so I want to stay in it. I just didn't think it'd actually, I guess, pay off in the long run. When you're growing up, you're told to go to school, become a doctor, a lawyer. You've got to have these more 'grounded options,' in a way. So for that reason, I never thought much about fashion becoming a career. Now that it's more of a possibility, it's really exciting.

"One thing I know I want to achieve, for sure, is to have my own line. There's part of me that works as a creative in making videos, but I'm also really interested in clothing, and I want to figure out how to do that and take my creative abilities to the next step, and bring my fashion and what I create together into my own line.

Scroll to Continue

Recommended Articles

"When I look at these high-fashion houses, what they have, what their price points are, I always think, 'Do I want to do somewhere that's a lot more affordable? Do I want to do somewhere that's more high-end? Do I want to go for more vintage pieces, or make things like that more accessible in a modern environment and a modern market?' There's a lot of debating back and forth with what I want the brand identity to be, and I'm still figuring all that stuff out.

"Prior to the pandemic, I had never shopped online in my life. I had always gone in-person to a mall. More recently, when I was in university, there was this vintage store nearby campus that had a lot of great '70s pieces, a lot of great vintage band tees, which is what helped me discover more of what I'm into. And even that was an in-person thing. But now that everything is remote, I had to say, 'Hey, let me see what this whole online shopping thing is about.' But I tell you, I get it: It's addicting. I understand now why people are doing it all the time. It's a really fun thing — just the convenience of sitting in your bed and browsing an entire world of clothes and accessories. Now more than ever, I'm definitely shopping online.

Related Articles:
Vi Lai — AKA @WhatsonVisFace — Is a Skin-Care Icon for the TikTok Generation
IMG Is Now Scouting Models on TikTok
Fashion Influencers Are Navigating What Content Looks Like During a Pandemic

"When I do vintage shopping, literally, there's nothing I don't like. And that's what makes it tricky, because then you have to start getting really careful about what you get. I mean, I'm not going to buy the entire store. So you have to get meticulous about what it is you're actually going to take home with you at the end of the day because all of it is so appealing. It's definitely more of a tactile, more carefully-thought-out process as to what exactly you're going to take home.

"I like to acquire pieces that are versatile. So I often look at items and ask myself, 'How many ways can I wear this? How many ways is this going to be used?' There's a lot of pieces I admire more, where I look at something and I'm like, 'This is amazing, but I wouldn't buy this because I'd probably only be able to wear this once in blue moon. There's not much flexibility.'

"I'm not really someone who likes to stock up my wardrobe with things because of its value or because of how rare it is. Those are things I appreciate, but I don't want to spend money on it and have it in my closet if I'm not actually going to be wearing it frequently, because I like wearing all my pieces and mixing and matching. I definitely take a lot of time whenever I'm thinking about getting something. I ask myself, 'Do I already have something similar? Do I have these colors?' And I'm always, always trying to expand and get what I don't have, and just open up more possibilities for looks I can create.

"I know one item that's been taking up all the space in my head are the Rick Owens Kiss boots, the ones with the clear heel. I cannot get them out of my mind. I'm 6'4", so with those heels on, I think I'll be around 6'10", or something like that. I'm going to be huge in them, anyway. I think part of the reason why they've been in my head is because I haven't been sure if I should get them. I don't want to be a giant, but I kind of already am. They're definitely difficult to get a hold of at the moment. They're kind of off the market, if you will — in my size, for sure. But I've been eyeing them like a madman. And if I ever hear of any availability, they're definitely going to be something I get. I genuinely would wear them! In fact, I've been making outfits with them in my head, and I don't have them yet. Which I should stop doing, because it's making the fact that I don't own them more unbearable.

"Wow, the last thing that I bought… Oh, I bought some Margiela Tabi boots. An iconic boot. Absolutely iconic. I should've made the decision a long time ago. I'm kind of late to the whole party, but yeah, I had to. They're so unique. I just had to add them to my collection.

"I'm not really big on getting rid of pieces, giving them away or taking them out of the rotation, unless I genuinely just haven't put it on in years and can't see myself doing so in the future. Otherwise, I just hold on to it because as you grow in developing your style, you find new ways to wear things you didn't know of before, so it's good to hold on to stuff.

"The oldest item I have, I think, is from the seventh grade. It's this Polo turtleneck, and it's not like a conventional turtleneck — you zip it up. It still fits me. I don't know how or why. I don't question it, because I like it. I keep wearing it pretty often. It's definitely a must-have, for sure. I want to add more pieces like it to my collection."

This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.

Never miss the latest fashion industry news. Sign up for the Fashionista daily newsletter.