Oh god, is twee back?
Dig out your cardigans and ballet flats!
Welcome to 2022! The hellfire that was 2021 is finally behind us and we’re now looking forward… er, kind of. Technically, we’re beginning the year looking back, at least that’s the case on TikTok. If last year was the final nail in the coffin for the era of the Kardashian-inspired BBL pandemic, then the antidote to the Insta baddie we’re all seeking is, apparently, the revival of mid-2010s twee fashion.
The twee aesthetic – think Tumblr girlies, Zooey Deschanel, cardigans, ukeleles, ballet flats and colourful tights, Morrissey before he was Morrissey, a weird obsession with moustaches, bicycles, Williamsburg, Shoreditch, the movie Amelie, pastels, Mary-Janes, and everything Wes Anderson has ever touched – reached its peak in the mid-2010s. Inspired by mid-century modernism (the real twee heads among us will remember a shameful obsession with the overpriced clothes at ModCloth), a 2014 piece from The Atlantic on the twee revolution described it as follows: “You’re Twee if you like artisanal hot sauce. You’re Twee if you hate bullies […] Twee’s core values include ‘a healthy suspicion of adulthood’; ‘a steadfast focus on our essential goodness’; ‘the cultivation of a passion project’ (T-shirt company, organic food truck); and “the utter dispensing with of ‘cool’ as it’s conventionally known, often in [favour] of a kind of fetishization of the nerd, the geek, the dork, the virgin.” We all remember those GEEK tees everyone wore with their black frame, lens-popped-out cinema glasses.
Twee was a simpler time. An era when to be cool was to be anti-cool, and being a hipster meant telling everyone you were not a hipster. Of course, as the aesthetic became more and more popular, we began to get sick of it quickly. Once it had reached the dizzying mass consumption levels of the Topman cardigan era, we fell out of love with twee.
You would think that given we’re only in 2022, twee would have stayed in the near-distant past as a sartorial ick for at least another decade. But as TikTok trends have illustrated in the past twelve months alone (remember the House of Sunny dress everyone had to have? No? Remember hibiscus print? Avant-basic? Crochet outfits? Thought not) the trend cycle has grown more frenetic than we’d ever thought possible. Micro-trends beget micro-trends so quickly that even Shein struggles to keep up. Fashion always looks to the past to inspire the future, but when the past is no longer multiple decades ago but instead 2014, you have to wonder whether we’ve gone too far with our aesthetic navel gazing. The pandemic hasn’t helped either; long periods of being stuck inside has forced us to look for comfort in the familiar and nostalgic. For a while this merely meant bingewatching Buffy The Vampire Slayer, moving back in with our parents or buying a flip phone. Now, it means a return to twee.
On TikTok (where all microtrends live and die), twee has emerged as both the antithesis and antidote of the last nostalgic microtrend we briefly enjoyed, indie sleaze. The hashtag #twee currently has nearly 26 million views on the app at the time of writing, with creators breaking the aesthetic’s historic popularity down while others herald its glorious return. Not everyone is so convinced though.
On Twitter over the New Year, people old enough to remember twee’s first reign are lamenting that they’re not ready to return to some of its more problematic aspects. For some, it’s the fact those ballet flats offered absolutely no support, and smelled really bad. For others, it’s a little deeper.
The twee trend at its inception was dominated by thin, white, cis female bodies. The childlike, gamine aesthetic, popularised by celebrities with those same body types, is not exactly a bastion of the same inclusivity the fashion industry and social media celebrates (or at least likes to claim it celebrates) today. Reporting on the end of the BBL era last month, i-D writer Banseka Kayembe touched on how its demise, despite being a problematic body ideal in itself, is not necessarily a fully positive development. “For many women, the idea the BBL era might be ending is cause for both celebration and anxiety,” Kayembe says.
“For those of us with curvier bodies, the rise of the BBL aesthetic initially came with a relief at not having to live up to the stick-thin body championed in the 2000s. A trend that for many created a dysmorphic view of teen girls bodies and a perpetual drive to lose weight that continued into adulthood. While the BBL style was in itself still out of reach, it paved the way for a self-acceptance of natural curves, no doubt at the expense of other women then feeling more inadequate about their bodies. Ultimately, liberation from these trends requires a dismantling of the notion of body standards completely.” While yes, of course twee is itself a fashion, not a body aesthetic, we can’t ignore that one doesn’t come without the other, particularly when it comes to the stick thin physicality that was championed in the early 00s and still throughout the dark, triggering Tumblr days of the 10s.
We can hope for two things then: firstly, that if twee does make its fabled return in 2022, it’s an updated version on the archetype (much like the recent, more diverse relaunch of Juicy Couture). A kind of nu-twee that’s more inclusive and has more podiatric support. A happy go lucky return to nicety that we are clearly yearning for after the dark days of the pandemic, without the annoying underbelly. Secondly, we can hope that if twee returns, as annoying as ever, that the endless churn of the microtrend cycle swallows it up by February anyway. Next up, a nu-rave revival! Or something.