If you look around social media, open a trendy magazine, or even manage to nab a seat at a New York Fashion Week show, prepare to be surprised. Venues that once boasted high-end looks are now launch pads for the tacky places where novelty clothing is more valuable than elegance or edginess. What happened to fashion?
The simple answer: the internet happened. As more people shop online and show off their styles on social media, meme-worthy clothing has taken over. And while some of those looks are cost prohibitive for the average wearer – think Balenciaga’s $1,290 “T-shirt Shirt,” which is basically a button down stapled to a t-shirt, much of this clothing is targeted to the general public. It’s a strange reversal, but it’s certainly grabbed the media’s attention.
From Understated To Ugly
In order to understand how the world arrived at wearing unflattering pants, ugly sweaters, and shoes that are just bad, we need to look back at what the big names in fashion were crafting a few years ago. Back when fashion aimed to be beautiful, the resultant garments also tended to be boring. As designer Dries Van Notten told Elle in 2012, “nothing is so boring as something beautiful. I prefer ugly things, I prefer things which are surprising.” Today’s fashion certainly does that – and the internet is helping get these new, peculiar garments into the hands of the average ‘man on the street.’”
Of course, if only the expensive fashion houses were making today’s tacky chic garments, the items wouldn’t be that important – and this is where online shopping comes into the picture. Online shopping offers countless ways to save money, from using secret sales to abandoning your shopping cart to lure a special deal, and it also means buyers can source their clothes from a wider variety of places and seek out the best deal. In fact, rather than being constrained by what’s available in local shops, consumers can head to online stores that sell only the most awkward, ‘normcore’ clothing available.
Marketing Via Meme
Ugly clothing makes itself known to consumers through routes more familiar to meme culture. Instagram is packed with fashion show images, including countless iterations of the tiny bag trend, shots of Vetements’ ugly Reebok sneakers, and the witchy crystals and clear gear that are showing up everywhere. And for the average buyer at home, these shots fuel a search for their own novelty gear, whether that’s goofing around at the next holiday party in a festively tacky outfit from Opposuits or going all out in a light up skirt. As highlighted by the ugly sweater trend, dressing up shouldn’t be restricted to Halloween. Clothing can be fun all year round.
Normcore’s Not Basic
At the end of the day, the pressure to dress in ugly, kitschy garments is just a rejection of another pressure – the need to avoid being basic. Being basic, or being just like everyone else, has been heightened to the ultimate fashion no-no, and for influencers and celebrities, that’s a lot of pressure because what’s considered basic is often also what’s considered cool or flattering. On the other hand, normcore, built on mom and dad fashion like sandals with socks and high-waisted, badly fitted jeans, rejects both of those fashion standards. And somehow that emphasis on avoiding the trend became a trend of its own.
Tacky may be trending right now, but then again, we almost always look back on decades past and consider those looks to be fashion disasters. At least when we look back at 2018, we’ll know that ugly was the goal in the first place.