When Sarah Ali goes for nursing attachments in the hospital, she is dressed in her neatly-ironed blue scrubs. She’s bare-faced and her hair is a shade of reddish-brown tied back in a bun. She wears no accessories except for her glasses.
But when the 19-year-old appears on TikTok, she’s at times a gothic queen, at times a punk babe. Nothing that she wears is ordinary looking.
“My mom would always [ask]: ‘If your patient sees you like this, what would they think of you?’ Then I would think to myself why would I dress up like that while working in a hospital?” Sarah said, laughing.
In Jun 2020, Sarah started spending more time on TikTok. That’s when she stumbled upon “alternative” fashion, which is mostly inspired by subcultures like Goth, Emo and Punk.
“When I saw alternative fashion on TikTok, I really liked how it is very artistic and gives everyone the freedom to express themselves, something different from mainstream fashion,” she said.
She decided to make small changes to slowly incorporate different styles of alternative fashion into her own fashion style. She also shares her transformations on her TikTok account, which has over 2,000 followers.
Her videos have clocked as high as 700,000 views.
“I would say more youngsters are open towards the way I dress because I think they are exposed to alternative fashion on TikTok,” she said.
Sarah likes exploring the music-inspired fashion subcultures, especially Goth.
“The fashion statements [inspired by the musical genre] send out messages and different ideologies of how they perceive the world,” Sarah explained.
She also makes her own outfits.
“I actually DIY-ed a couple of clothes before I ventured into alternative fashion. So seeing how DIY was actually a big part in the alternative fashion made me inclined to start it as well,” she explained.
Making her outfits using her siblings’ old clothes and those from her thrift hauls has helped Sarah save money.
“Thrifting has also allowed me to find some hidden gems to put my outfits together. If not, I look for things online like on AliExpress and Shopee,” she said.
She does her makeup herself and isn’t afraid to go for the most dramatic and eye-catching look.
“The trend for alternative fashion at that time was to have those big eyeliners with spikes. So I started doing bigger eyeliner than my usual eyeliner,” she explained.
Many who know Sarah have asked how she reconciles between having to follow a very strict dress code at work and her desire to dress to turn heads.
“A lot of my classmates would always comment that I look so different on my Instagram and how I look in school or in my nursing uniform,” she said.
“I obviously know the time and place on how to dress. I know myself and how passionate I am about my nursing career so I definitely will not do anything to make my outside life clash with my profession,” she added.
For Sarah, alternative fashion is a form of “fashion therapy”, a way for her to unwind from the hustle and bustle of her job.
“When I am in my nursing profession, I tend to be swamped. When I actually put time into dressing up this way, I feel like I am giving myself time with myself to just breathe and do what I love. It’s a fashion therapy,” she explained.
She also shared how alternative fashion has helped her find herself.
“While your work is obviously very important, it is also important to have your own life and keep a distinct difference,” she added.
“You need to build your identity and not make your work your identity.”
She hopes to continue inspiring others to be comfortable in their own skin.