Let’s end the tyranny of 2023’s “girl” trends

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The domination of girl trends across the fashion landscape has been a bit bizarre. Girls, I think, existed before the internet. Louisa May Alcott called them “Little Women” and 18th-century painters depicted them as elderly children. The ’80s had the geriatric Golden Girls and the ’90s had the 20-year-old Spice Girls, which is to say: some of our most famous “girls” were never girls at all. These were women who decided – with all their adult knowledge – to revisit the camaraderie of girlhood. Because a girl is never a woman, but a woman can, of course, be both. And over the past 12 months, it feels like a similar sense of yearning has permeated culture. There was the resurgence of Barbie as a popular protagonist; there were Taylor Swift friendship bracelets; there was a Sofia Coppola film; and there was the rise of Sandy Liang and all her bow-festooned designs, dovetailing with a mainstreaming of school shoes and the omnipresence of TikTok’s girl trends.

Here is a non-exhaustive list of those trends: Vanilla Girls and Rat Girls, Girl Math and Girl Dinners, Tomato Girl Summers and Babygirls, Lalala Girls and OKOKOK Girls. There were Coconut Girls and Hot Girl Walks, Lazy Girls and Coquette Girls, Sad Autumn Girls and Snail Girls, Blueberry Girls and Pickled Red Onion Girls. The trends themselves were unremarkable – going on walks with friends, eating tomatoes in Europe, bar hopping like an excitable rodent – but the added suffix of “girl” gave these innocuous, hyper specific experiences a sense of outsized import. The phrase, “I’m such a chair” does not make sense, but “I’m such a chair girl” feels like a genuine assertion of someone’s lifestyle. Much like 2021’s “-core”, “girl” is a rubric to transform life into digital content, a hashtag for anyone to participate in. It helps, too, that The Girl is one of culture’s most consumable, ubiquitous archetypes.

All of this reached a psychic break when people started tying pale pink ribbons around inanimate objects – croissants, cacti, bottles of kombucha – on TikTok. It was fun and it was guileless – because girls are fun and guileless, right? – and it meant that all of us – even old, cisgendered men – could momentarily access the sweet naïveté of a shared girlhood. It’s kind of neat: to be a light-hearted schoolgirl in a serious world is to pirouette when you’ve been told to push your shoulders back and stand up straight. Yes, women can have it all, but it’s the girls that have the freedom to make childish decisions, like eating a plate of olives and crisps as a meal. Millennials know this – that “adulting sucks” – but when so many of the traditional mantles of adulthood are systematically delayed and denied (like buying a one-bedroom flat within an hour’s commuting distance to the workplace), it can be tempting to stick your fingers in your ears and retreat into to the Malibu Beach House in your mind.

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