Back to the Basics: On the Gellenial Fashion Trend Taking Over the Internet
As I scroll up and down my Instagram Explore Page I see a common fashion trend in each post. Whether the identity of the figure ranges from a small-time influencer to paparazzi shots of Bella Hadid, each outfit is a mix and match variation of understated and neutral colored casual office wear. The aesthetic of this style screams clean cut lines and freshly-washed linen. It is a style that is mostly worn by younger Millennials in bigger cities (such as New York, Boston, LA, and Chicago) and older Gen Z-ers, those whose birth years fall in between 1997 and 2003.
If one takes a look at the fashion brands popular among said age group, brands such as Zara, Abercrombie and Fitch, and H&M, one can see that a specific garb and a certain genre pervades the market. Think smart trousers, cropped blazers, neutral colored undershirts and tank tops, and clean cut dresses. The style mimics clothes worn in a corporate office environment but with a lighter, more casual touch. Think a cross between light academia and Cape Cod granny. So why are consumers dressing to go to the office on a Tuesday when they are, in fact, going to brunch on a Saturday? Why is business casual (chic) taking the fashion industry by storm and what does it say about consumers and larger society?
Fashion trends always come and go. My mother has always cautioned me against throwing something out of my closet, saying I will never know when it will come back in style. But this trend is especially interesting. At a time when advanced technology allows designers to mass produce elaborate clothing at low cost, why is this trend for more formal, intentionally understated, and deliberately minimal pieces so popular? To get a full picture, the demographics of trend consumers should be examined.
Most often, the consumer identifies as female and most likely white and upper-middle to upper-class (though not always). Additionally, the consumer is usually college educated, and entering the job market in a white collar profession. They usually come from a middle to upper class economic background, a fact that explains why stores such as Abercrombie and Fitch, Zara, and Aritzia (stores that cater to the upper/middle class) have all bought into this trend with gusto. These are individuals who are currently entering the job market and carving a niche for themselves, while also earning a significant level of disposable income for the first time. So why are they following this trend with gusto? I have several theories.
No More Sweatpants
For those of us who spent half or more of our college and high school years at home, wearing nothing but a ratty t-shirt and baggy sweatpants, the chance to dress with an elevated appearance for the most simple of tasks, such as grocery shopping, is an opportunity to salivate at. Tired of the endless iterations on zippered hoodies and fleece-lined sweatpants, we seek out dignified attire with the goal of elevating our style and romanticizing our life. Additionally, wearing neutral-toned business casual to settings that are clearly not the office offers a subversive take and cultural critique on the girl boss generation before us.
For the Aesthetic
Although girl bossing is no longer in vogue, corporate casual is. For consumers, this trend offers a connotation of sophistication and allows ourselves to play the put-together adult we all fantasize to be. The understated, classy style shown in the pictures above offers a transferability of aesthetic. The trend strips fashion down to its main elements, offering vestments that enhance the general impression of the wearer, no matter who or what they look like. It signals to viewers a dimension of upper-class aspiration, much like the general perception of a Ferrari or a Hamptons beach house.
It’s the Environment, Stupid
The consumer base as a whole is demanding more accountability and sustainability from fashion manufacturers. Once highly popularized, fast fashion outlets such as Forever 21 are now struggling, as their negative impact on the environment causes concern among the more social-justice oriented market demographic. Consumers are choosing to be more intentional about the wardrobe they curate, opting for higher quality, reusable, and classic garments that have a longer lifeline than fast fashion, trendy outfits that are thrown out after one season. Additionally, the individual pieces are often monochrome, neutral in tone, and more versatile. Their presence in your closet renders the act of buying more apparel less necessary.
Do we think this trend will stay within mainstream fashion culture? Or will the polka dots of the 1950’s come back to storefront windows yet again?