Anyone familiar with YouTube knows that it has thousands of niches and subcommunities: there are ASMRists, comedians, gamers, critics and pranksters galore, some racking up millions of views, others just starting out and coming into their own. One such community is that of fashion vlogging. These sorts of videos have become increasingly popular in the mainstream, but YouTubers have been at it for years, creating a small community of mostly young women who are eager to show off their “hauls”: the fruits of a shopping spree or online order, which are given a rundown based on price, feel, brand and other criteria, for any viewers who might be interested in copping the latest trend for themselves. With so many vloggers to choose from, it can be difficult to find those who bring a unique flare to their videos.
Fashion vlogger Kelly Vuong, aka ThatTommyGirl on YouTube, has gained a wide following — over 49,000 subscribers, and more than 3.5 million channel views — for her eclectic mix of DIY how-tos, clothing hauls and lookbooks. Vuong’s channel is accessible and meticulously organized, and it’s perhaps most celebrated for her do-it-yourself uploads, where she’ll often reinvent an old piece from her closet so that it becomes something entirely new: old leggings turn into a top with grommet details; bikini bottoms become halter swimsuit tops; school uniforms transform into a cute outfit.
Her style inspiration segments are centered around a relevant theme: outfit ideas for going back to school, outfit ideas for date night, outfit ideas for beach day, and so on. For people who want to dress well but have a difficult time putting together a coordinated outfit, these videos are a godsend, advising viewers on great brands but also laying down the blueprint for what makes an outfit work well. Best of all, the videos are edited with a sleek, consistent aesthetic, surely making Vuong a favorite go-to for her audience.
Clothes are a form of expression; the fashion vlogging community is based on sharing your love for clothes with other people, and maybe helping others feel like they’ve got a handle on the way they present themselves. Vuong is no stranger to getting personal when she speaks about the way her clothes make her feel, and she curates her videos so that other people can feel the same confidence she does when she comes up with a particularly kick-ass outfit. I interviewed her to find out a little more about what she’s doing and why she’s doing it.
Jenna Benchetrit: Tell me a little bit about yourself. Where did you grow up? Did fashion impact you as a child in any way, and, if so, do you have an early memory involving your love for fashion?
Kelly Vuong: My name’s Kelly, I just turned 20 this October and I also just started studying for a baccalaureate in fashion management and design, with a concentration in fashion design and styling. I was born in Montreal, but I mostly grew up in the West Island [of Montreal].
I believe that what started my passion for fashion was my favorite holiday: Halloween! I love the whole month of October, and Halloween has always been the perfect occasion for me to dress up. I was always known in my school for preparing the sickest costumes, because I would make them myself and I would always come up with ideas that no one else thought of. For example, I dressed up as an elf and tied my hair up in the air using a water bottle as a support — it might be hard to imagine. Next thing you know, all the seniors copied my idea the year after [laughs].
Another year, I imitated Zombie Boy and showed up to school covered in paint. I was a skeleton in a suit. As the years went by, my love of dressing up just transferred into an everyday lifestyle, if that makes any sense. I think that Halloween is an amazing day; it’s a day to experiment, to be whatever you want […] you don’t have to be afraid of being judged by others.
JB: Tell me a few general things about your YouTube channel, ThatTommyGirl. What inspired you to start making these videos? When did you start to gain a wide following?
KV: A lot of people will automatically associate my name to the brand Tommy Hilfiger, but that’s only part of the reason why I chose this name. It’s mainly to express that I don’t have a defined style and it can range from being TOMboy to the GIRLiest fit ever. I don’t want to limit myself to only one type of style, because it’s like limiting myself to only one way of self-expression.
I started making videos because I constantly had ideas and concepts that I wanted to put into use. I didn’t want to waste my imagination and let it disappear with time. To grow your creativity, it’s important to constantly work on it. So, one of the videos that really rose my number of viewers was a DIY video. It was summer and halter tops and halter bikinis were extremely popular amongst teens, but they were also quite expensive. One day, I was just shopping in the clearance section of a bikini shop and I spotted these XXL bikini bottoms.
As soon as I saw them, a lightbulb turned on in my head. I told myself that I could just flip the bottoms upside down and I could see the shape of a halter top forming; obviously there were some modifications to make, and that’s why I decided to film a video showing how to apply this concept. People immediately found the idea clever and easy, I believe that the video has reached more than 1.2 million views! That was one the first videos that I produced, and I think it was back in 2015.
JB: There’s obviously a big fashion vlogging community on YouTube. Are there any channels that you admire? In the outside fashion world, do you have any inspirations?
KV: I get this question a lot, and it’s also one of the hardest to answer, because it is such a challenge to get inspired, but not to copy. It may sound selfish, but I try to really focus on myself and develop on my own ideas, because I know that I could easily get influenced by other artists. It is totally good to get inspired, I just tend to not get inspired by specific artists and influencers, but rather the concept or the item itself, without it being associated to an individual. However, I do enjoy watching vloggers, makeup YouTubers and fashion YouTubers such as ToThe9s, The LineUp, Casey Neistat, Q2HAN, Michelle Phan, Heizle Makeup and Pony Makeup.
JB: Your videos are usually clothing hauls, DIY how-tos or outfit inspiration. What kind of video is your favorite to make and why?
KV: I think that they all have pros and cons. I like to switch up between them or else I’ll get bored of it. Clothing hauls are great, because the whole process of picking clothes, getting clothes and showing it to you viewers is fun, amusing and relaxing. DIY [videos] are innovative and hands-on — I can put my imagination to work and create whatever I want.
But I think that outfit inspirations are my favorite ones, because they are the most realistic. I usually film them on separate days, because I actually wear them to school, to work or to an event, so I am being very honest with my clothing choices. Also, I get to enjoy what I create without having to be in front of the camera for three hours straight (which applies to hauls and DIY’s), because I film the look in less than 10 minutes and then I go on with my day wearing something that I am fully satisfied with.
JB: How would you describe your personal style? How has it changed over the years?
KV: I am still trying to find [my style], and I think that I will constantly try to find it. If I did have a defined style, I would feel limited in my clothing selection, which will not evolve as much as if I gave myself more freedom and specificity. However, if I do start my own label, the general idea of my style will be reflected in the clothing I’ll create. My style has definitely changed, evolved and developed through the years. I am always experimenting, and right now I am trying to experiment with the more practical, technical, sporty side, which is a style mostly seen on men.
JB: Your videos are unique because they’re so artistically edited. Do you edit all of your videos? What is that process usually like?
KV: The whole process of making a video is exhausting, time consuming and challenging. I do everything on my own in my little room, so I have to figure out the lighting, the background, the music, the editing, the filming, makeup and hair. I have had very bad experience with editing software, which explains why I hate editing videos. However, I also love it, because it’s such a crucial step to transmitting your ideas to your viewers. I get to experiment and improve the footage that I filmed. I like to go beyond what a beginner can do.
It’s interesting to see how my editing style has improved with time, and I always get comments and compliments about them. Sometimes, I could say that I am happier to hear comments about my editing rather than the content itself. The process of making a video from A to Z can take a lot of time. In the summer, since I don’t [have to] study, it can take one week of editing and filming, but during school it take weeks, and that’s my biggest challenge.
JB: You’ve mentioned in your videos that you’re pursuing fashion design professionally. What is it about designing clothes that appeals to you?
KV: The freedom of expression. Whatever I’ve wanted to own or create or wear, I will eventually be able to make it. I’ve decided to take the long way, to learn the art of designing, sewing and producing clothes, but in the end I will still be making something magical with my bare hands! I said this in the Hoaka Swimwear Campaign, but people tend to tell me that I’m shy, forgetful and awkward, and by creating clothes with my label, I will be able to create the opposite idea, because people will be wearing my clothes and it will leave a stamp of my brand on them.