Fashion has reached peak trendcore, and we're all tired

Can’t keep up with the endless trends being forecasted on TikTok? Here's a case for ditching all of them in favour of personal style.

by José Criales-Unzueta
12 April 2022, 12:32pm

Every other day of late, it feels like TikTok users and fashion writers (yours truly included) are scrambling over themselves to coin a new *something*-core, a new aesthetic or micro-trend that’s sweeping across IRL and URL platforms alike. Auntiecore, gorpcore, clowncore, bikercore, to name a few, are aesthetics that have emerged over the last couple of seasons and taken over our feeds. While they can often provide much needed entertainment, they often fall prey to a short life-cycle that is as faddish as the ever-increasing pace of TikTok’s quick-cut algorithm. How do you sort the wheat from the chaff? How do you know if a harmless trend is actually worth investing in, or simply a product of the merciless swinging of fashion’s age-old pendulum?

Micro-trends, some of which have grown to become stylistic subcultures on their own — think of cottagecore or normcore — are like paint-by-number colouring books. They offer a set of guidelines that one can choose to follow or not, a set of style elements and a defined range of brands one can play into, and a gateway to certain communities. You don’t have to colour inside the lines, or even use the suggested colours, but there’s something comforting about knowing that you can always revert back to the standard if you’re at a loss on what to do next. And while they may make some folks look the same, does it really matter as long as they feel like themselves? Not everyone has to reinvent fashion with every outfit (and, most importantly, not everybody wants to).

While these often fleeting trends are certainly full-blown aesthetics in their own right (even if they often sound completely made up), it’s worth wondering why it is that we’re so keen to play dress-up as whatever these trends are based on these days. This isn’t anything new — as far back as the 18th century, Marie Antoinette may have had a cottagecore phase when she dressed up as a rural shepherdess at Petit Trianon. Okay probably not, but aristocrats known as the Merveilleuses definitely did scandalise Paris by wearing dresses and tunics modelled after the ancient Greek and Romans (greekcore?). Just like then, today many of these trends feel like a costume, plucked from a mood board of subculture and pop culture moments of the not-so-distant past. Think of Y2K, for instance, one of today’s macro-trends fuelled by nostalgia and fashion resale platforms and endless inspo available on Instagram archive accounts.

The same could be said of many of the something-core trends floating around today. Think of menswear’s fascination with workwear, and how many of the men walking around in Carhartt jackets and Dickie’s cargo pants have probably never performed manual labour once in their lives, or how many bikercore-heads have never touched a Harley-Davidson, let alone rode one. Ultimately, all fashion is a form of drag or cosplay. Fashion, at its core — pun intended, sorry — is meant to be this way.

But what does it mean for personal style? And what, if anything, does dressing up in full-on cosplay say about who you are right now, rather than who you want to be? Much of the ‘personal’ style we see these days is filtered through the lens of platforms like TikTok and Instagram, where the loudest looks tend to draw the most attention. The almighty algorithm tends to group together content that is similar, so it makes sense that once you see one cottagecore or gorpcore fit, you start seeing them all. What perhaps really did start as someone’s personal style eventually falls into the algorithmic tornado that turns it into a sort of URL uniform. Writers, TikTok trend forecasters, and Instagram fashion commentators then feel compelled to baptise this trending wave of same-ness as something-core. And before you know it, fast-fashion giants make the latest runway it-look or viral trend available for purchase in the blink of an eye. Creative ideas are then ripped off, unsustainable materials are overproduced, and more clothes are created to be destined for landfills.

The irony is that the more people partake in a trend, the more people want to move on to the next one, creating a vicious cycle of newness and content about said newness. It’s easy to fall prey to it all, especially when FOMO comes into the equation. Do you actually love any of these things? Or do you just feel like they’re what’s ‘in’ right now? While it may seem that personal style has gone missing in action, perhaps it’s worth considering that individual style — no matter how great it might be — might be either too boring to resonate on social media or that it might be too personal to be picked up by the algorithm for thousands to see.

It all goes back to the runway, as Miranda Priestly so eloquently put it. These micro-trends are a way for writers and commentators to make new collections and designers’ ideas more digestible or understandable for a broader audience. Within moments of the shows in Paris and New York finishing, collections are categorised under the core categories du jour. And that’s because not everyone is looking for an in-depth analysis of the motocross motifs seen at Dior and Balmain during the AW22 shows, but a recap of the collections in the shape of bikercore feels more accessible. Miu Miu and Blumarine, amongst others, make more headlines when lumped into into Y2K-core. Elsewhere, Willy Chavarria’s latest collection landed into workcore by teasing his upcoming Dickie’s collaboration, Christopher John Rogers fell into clowncore with his colourful and buoyant pieces, and Bluemarble waved the flag for the perplexing kidcore phenomenon.

In real life, however, things can get murky when cosplay goes from something as extreme as clowncore to something as mundane as gorpcore, though. Say you’re out and about wearing a full Patagonia fit, or enjoying a stroll around the park in your favourite Arc’teryx jacket, prAna climbing pants, and Salomon sneakers; any fashion-minded person would assume that you’re simply in tune with the way cool kids and hypebeasts are dressing these days, but what happens if someone simply assumes that you’re just really into rock climbing?

Therein lies the fun and thrill of it all. What this actually speaks to is a fascinating amalgamation of aesthetics that is blurring the lines of set style guidelines and expectations, which shouldn’t be taken too seriously. And while some folks might take offence at their precious subcultural symbols being co-opted by people outside of their cliques, most people truly don’t care (as long as prices don’t get too steep thanks to hypebeasts and resellers). What matters, after all, is that the clothes you put on your body are a representation of the person you are, who you want to be, or simply what you want to look like on that very day. One day, that could be a clown in kidswear. The next, it could be a leathered-up biker, or bucolic cottagecore shepherdess à la Marie Antoinette. The point is, the possibilities are endless!

Sometimes, personal style is overrated and over-mystified — as chic as it may be. The fragmented world we’re living in requires wardrobes to match, and with the plethora of pre-loved clothing to choose from, it needn’t be guilty pleasure.

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