For Aliyah Bah, it always starts with a miniskirt. Then she throws on earmuffs — always earmuffs. In fact, the 20-year-old former college student (and TikTok phenomenon turned model) showed up to our interview over Zoom wearing pink star-shaped earmuffs that poked out of her chocolate brown hair, despite the temperature in Atlanta, where she lives, being above 80 degrees.
“Every time it is always something that involves some type of Y2K type of look,” Ms. Bah said. “Then I go in with the accessories, which I would say would be the fishnet, the garter, the belts, the earmuffs — and fur.” The earmuffs help Ms. Bah “feel grounded when she’s overstimulated,” which is often, she said.
The look, now known on the internet as “Aliyahcore,” is singular. In addition to earmuffs and a miniskirt (or really short shorts), ensembles usually include crop tops, fishnet stockings over one leg and both arms, knee-high platform moon boots trimmed with fur, a garter belt, makeup that matches the shade of the outfit, and a flurry of hair accessories.
Not easily categorized, Ms. Bah’s style has notes of anime, harajuku, Y2K and alternative. And it has been resonating with an audience of more than three million followers across her social media accounts. Her outfits may be a big draw for viewers, but it’s her personality and openness that may actually be the lure.
Ms. Bah began documenting her outfits in 2020, during her freshman year Georgia State University, while she was living at home when classes had moved online because of the pandemic. She posted a series of videos on Aliyahsinterlude, her TikTok account, inviting viewers to get ready with her — her contribution to a genre known as “GRWM” videos online.
“The videos were like a visual diary for me,” she said.
The aesthetic began to catch on and has now moved beyond her viewers. Lizzo, who won the Grammy for record of the year in February, recently posted a video to her Instagram account where she was dressed head to toe in Aliyahcore: red moon boots topped with white fur, a white garter belt, a denim shorts-and-crop-top set, and pink furry headphones.
“Love you @AliyahsInterlude,” Lizzo captioned the post. Though Ms. Bah has skyrocketed from college student to influencer — she can be seen sitting at fashion shows and is invited to Coachella — she finds deeper purpose in her style’s popularity.
“Being Black is what people see, obviously, whenever I wear anything,” Ms. Bah said, referring to how her style subverts expectations of how Black women are supposed to dress. “When I see a lot of dark skinned girls dressed up in Aliyahcore, it makes me really happy because I never saw it growing up. I love that because for the longest time ever we were never really given the space to be alternative just because it was always seen as something that white people did.”
Anyer Akot, 20, who met Ms. Bah on the Georgia State campus two years ago, has witnessed her peers’ reaction to Ms. Bah’s outfits go from shock to awe.
“Now, when you go outside and you’re dressed up that type of way, people are super-accepting,” Ms. Akot said. “They come up to you like, ‘I love those boots, you look so cute, your outfit looks so good, it’s like a doll.’ It’s just amazing to see how Aliyahcore has really brought alternative fashion to the spotlight, especially for Black women. We don’t really see Black girls dress like that. but now it’s like, basically normal. We normalized it.”
Ms. Bah has been working on her own style since she was in elementary school. “I used to make bows for my classmates,” she said. “I would sell them at school and I would decorate people’s notebooks.”
When she got her first job at 15 at McDonald’s, she started shopping at thrift stores, reveling in finding pieces not in mass production and styling them herself. When she was bullied in high school, she found that her clothes could be her armor.
Her mother, Zainab Kadie Bah, 55, would often tell her creative daughter not to worry about what other people thought about her.
Ms. Bah said that her daughter was concerned back then. “I said, ‘Just be patient. Everything’s going to be OK,’” Ms. Bah said from her home in Fayette County, Ga. “But I was always at the school with her to make sure that I defend her.”
Aliyah Bah’s cousin Amanda Diallo, 21, who dresses in Aliyahcore, remembered how strong Ms. Bah was when she was bullied “for anything and everything,” but mostly she recalled how stylish her cousin has always been, and isn’t surprised at how her style has caught on.
“If you wear Aliyahcore, everybody outside, even in Maryland, where I live at, when I wear they’re like, ‘Oh my God, it’s like Aliyahcore,’” Ms. Diallo said. “Aliyahcore is something she made up, but it’s something that you could come up with, too. You can add your own style while wearing Aliyahcore.”
That is also what one of her followers, Symphoni Bordenave, 20, likes about the aesthetic.
“Her style kind of corresponded with mine and that’s why I was interested,” said Ms. Bordenave, a student at Santa Monica College who has been dressing in Aliyahcore for close to a year. “It is so expressive and so creative and unique, and that captivated me. You can incorporate all colors and patterns with Aliyahcore, it’s more of a broad range of different ideas and styles.”
Bringing all of those styles together requires an understanding of the fashion trends that came before Gen Z and a confidence and self-awareness that can turn those trends into a new style.
“I feel like we are trying to mash up everything,” Ms. Bordenave said. “I take the best parts of every era and put them all in one. You got the Y2K, and then you’ll have the ’70s or the late ’60s with the longer skirts or even like a really, really short skirt. Then the ’90s with the really oversized shoes, the big bags, that sort of thing.”
Ms. Bah’s mother grew up in Sierra Leone and owns a clothing recycling business in Atlanta, which buys garments from nonprofits and sells them overseas. She does not always agree with her daughter’s fashion choices, she said.
She typically stays off social media but often wondered what Aliyah was up to and why she was taking so many photos of herself.
“There is a huge difference in what I was doing at her age and what she is doing now,” Ms. Bah said about her daughter. “In the beginning, it was kind of tough for me to accept. Now I realize that this is something that she really wants to do. So I don’t have a choice. I just have to support her.”
Aliyah Bah remembered the reactions of people in her rural town when she walked past their farms.
“They didn’t really care,” Ms. Bah said of her immediate neighbors. “But when I would go out in the county, I would definitely get a lot of stares. People look at you so crazy but I think that that’s kind of just a Georgia thing or a thing in the South, because even though I live in the city now, I still get stares all the time.”
Ms. Bah has acclimated to being the focus of attention. Earlier this month, she walked the runway at the Dominnico spring 2023 fashion show after she criticized the brand for styling the models in their fall show in Aliyahcore-like looks. “They could’ve just asked me to model,” Ms. Bah tweeted at Dominnico, a brand in Barcelona founded by Domingo Rodríguez Lázaro in 2016. The brand slid into her DMs and shortly afterward she was walking in its show.
“We really thought it would be a great idea to have her in the show because, honestly, after seeing her personality and style in general, it was just like, yes, of course!” said Aleix Moyano, the director of graphic design at Dominnico. “She was literally embodying the fierceness in the look and feeling super-sexy and confident. That is what the brand is basically about.” He added that it did not matter who had the aesthetic concept first; what is important is that Aliyahcore is now aligned with the brand.
In March, Ms. Bah was featured in Galore magazine in red and white moon boots and an ostrich leather bikini.
She has also been contacted by the Grammy award winner Kali Uchis, she said, who wants her to model her brand, and is working with the rapper Rico Nasty, styling a few looks for her.
But Ms. Bah sees more room for Aliyahcore to grow and has a distinct vision for its future.
“I see it evolving into a more body-positive movement,” said Ms. Bah, who wants to help her followers feel confident in their bodies, whatever they may look like. “I want Aliyahcore to evolve to where I can put on earmuffs and wear a high fashion dress and it would still be super-cute and camp, more into a lifestyle rather than just a fashion statement.”