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Once upon a time, fashion subcultures were simple: you could see skaters, ravers and goths all milling around your local branch of Woolworths of a Saturday afternoon. But now the style tribes have moved online, and are more likely to be dressing up for TikTok and Instagram than the shops.
There has also been a bigger change: a splintering and multiplying, with fantasy and dress-up coming to the fore. It used to be easy to recognise a punk, for example, but now there are forestpunks, icepunks and even lunarpunks. If all this has your head spinning, let us cut through the confusion.
Here are the biggest style tribes around at the moment and they are anything but cheugy…
What it is This look is body-con, retro-sexy, a bit Kardashian and probably for devotees of fast fashion. Think Regina George from the high-school movie Mean Girls. Or channelling Hot Girl Summer, but for the whole year.
What it tells us Fashion is experiencing its own Love Island effect: necklines have lowered, skirt slits have got higher. Sex-positive dressing is a thing – see the “pin-top”. Baddie also proves that Mean Girls has not died.
What it is A “less is less” aesthetic that favours composed simplicity and mono-colour dressing. Keeping a capsule wardrobe or shopping for bespoke secondhand pieces.
What it tells us The pandemic has focused our minds on sustainable living and dressing, with an increase in people creating their curated capsule wardrobes to escape from over-consumption.
What it is Although it sounds as if it could be the name of Microsoft Clippy’s girlfriend, E-girl is less cutesy than that. Influenced by anime, it is a computer-generated, filtered schoolgirl aesthetic. It is a hard one to maintain, especially offline, but we don’t think that’s the point. Grimes is the poster girl.
What it tells us Filters on selfies have become so normalised they are now how young women want to look in real life.
What it is Not really connected (at least in terms of fashion) to the E-girl. The E-boy is what would happen if you meshed skater style with a goth look and added Jack Grealish’s curtains, plus some jewellery.
What it tells us Dressing like a rebel is a difficult thing to pull off. Certain clothes may go in and out of style (the leather jacket, for example), but the surly, gangly teen boy is a surefire fashion staple.
What it is A 90s throwback (scrunchies, shell necklaces, pastel T-shirts), heavily influenced by the surfer aesthetic (hi, Kate Bosworth in Blue Crush) and anything to do with a Californian beach.
What it tells us Young people care about the planet (very gen Z) and the 90s/00s are now so historic they are considered vintage.
What it is A romantic, metropolitan idea of the lush outdoors look: Anne of Green Gables or Laura Ashley. Cottagecore might be what happens when you’ve spent lockdown squirrelled away in a countryside bolthole or watched one too many episodes of ITV’s Love Your Garden. In reality, it often looks like wearing clothes with dirt on them while trying to avoid cooking poisonous mushrooms.
What it tells us With many of us crammed inside through the pandemic, the great outdoors became like an idyllic Eden.
What it is Bucolic, acid-aided and based in fantasy novels, it’s nature cosplay in Arran jumpers and stick-on pixie ears.
What it tells us The past few years have been stressful enough to mean some of us are dreaming of running away from reality to live inside a Terry Pratchett novel.
What it is Fashion’s biggest retro aesthetic draws heavily from the late 90s and early 00s era of crop tops, bandage dresses and denim skirts. The holy trinity of Paris Hilton, Lindsay Lohan and Britney Spears are key here.
What it tells us #FreeBritney and This Is Paris made us reassess our 00s attitudes. So why not the clothes, too?
What it is Old Hollywood wasn’t exactly the most progressive place, but damn it was glamorous. This aesthetic is not – as the name sounds – about Werther’s Originals and baggy tights, but instead pairs ballgowns and autumnal knits with a hefty dose of gee-shucks-Doris-Day wholesomeness and a soupcon of Disney twee.
What it tells us Last year, designers from immigrant backgrounds started making clothes in tribute to the pioneering older generation, prompting a trend for so-called “granddad dressing” that, similarly, plays tribute to the styles of a bygone age.
What it is The niche musical genre of chillwave, but with sweatshirts. Lots of neon and violet in this look – a reference to when the 00s did the 80s.
What it tells us We all needed visual comfort blankets in the pandemic and fashion provided this by speeding up the nostalgic land grab with revivals of the 70s and 00s
What it is School-uniform chic (more Dead Poets Society or original Gossip Girl than Hogwarts), with an added dose of dramatic mood lighting. Picture someone puffing on a fake cigarette, behind the bike shed, while leafing through The Secret History.
What it tells us Much like the revival of the 80s “yuppie” look, scholastic style is back thanks, in part, to fashion’s penchant for irony – and also because of its idealisation of all things bookish. Also we will always, always love a blazer.
What it is Wearing all the brightly coloured summer tops and dresses you panic-bought from the only shop at your holiday resort, but all year round. Lots of tangerine oranges, azure blues and swirly patterns.
What it tells us Before the amber list was scrapped, many of our holiday plans were pure fantasy. And shows like The White Lotus made us crave an azure ocean.
What it is Forget the Cure and Siouxsie Sioux, this is a totally different thing. There are touches of trad goth here, in the makeup and some of the clothes, but this look is more in debt to the cute, pink-centric Japanese aesthetic of kawaii.
What it tells us Goth has always stood out as an original lifestyle and style statement, as have its many sub-divisions (including romantic goth). Pastel goth throws Hello Kitty into the mix.
Sad girl autumn
What it is Dreamy, romantic and hopelessly melancholic. Think Taylor Swift’s big coat look on the cover of her album Evermore.
What it tells us The past 18 months saw many of us trade in our cool clothes for comfortable alternatives. Who needed to look cool when we spent the days working from our beds? Sad girl autumn suggests that we never quite got over living in our comfiest duvets.
What it is A portmanteau of “morbid” and “cute”, featuring Hole-era Courtney Love-style slip dresses and baby doll styles, served with a dollop of grrrr.
What it tells us As more women and minorities claim their right to rage in a society that doesn’t allow it, it’s nice to see that the kinderwhore look of the 90s is still with us.
What it is Lots of these trends have a creepy side (see above), and this is no exception. More than just cherubim and feathered wings, this look is like David Lynch costume-directing Madonna’s Like a Virgin video. Lots of menace, silk and white lace.
What it tells us This aesthetic could be saying so many things. Are those wearing it hoping to mesmerise everyone with their virtual halo? Could it be a comment on the fall of Victoria’s Secret and their angels? Or simply that behind every angel dressed in lace, there is also a devil (also probably wearing lace).
What it is Cottagecore’s more serious cousin. It is extreme-weather dressing (wellies, utility jackets, rainproof trousers) for, probably, largely indoor living.
What it tells us During lockdown, government-sanctioned daily walks revealed our musty leather jackets to not really be cut out for one’s morning constitutional.
What it is It may have existed before, but Bridgerton really put the wheels on this one. There are no tiaras, but plenty of lace corsets, cinched waistcoats and square-collar dresses. Apparently a whole bunch of us want to dress like Jane Austen now.
What it tells us Historical cosplay fashion is nothing new. Aligning ourselves with a historical era of dressing is a statement about our own values and, in this case, our utter love of historical Shondaland.
What it is The only look on this list where the mood board features a riot police officer. Black balaclavas, big boots and the unfortunately named “stab vests” together create a purposefully intimidating aesthetic.
What it tells us This is a sartorial response to the geopolitical situation: wars, the climate crisis and the rise of the “alt-right”. In other words, scary clothes for a scary time.
What it is Singer Halle Bailey (from Chloe x Halle) is starring in a live action remake of The Little Mermaid, but this is not the only reason that the mermaid trend refuses to jump back into the water and, like Darryl Hannah at the end of Splash, swim away. Mermaidcore is one iteration of the style, with a focus on long, aquamarine or bubblepink hair. Accessorise with lots of sea-related jewellery in your piercings (the bigger the better).
What it tells us Like VSCO, Mermania is a reaction to ocean conservation and a kooky way for fans to feel closer to our finned friends. Also, for some, Under the Sea is the earworm that we cannot shake.
What it is A pivot to dressing as a 1%-er and, specifically, as if you are in a Nancy Meyers film. Lots of loose-fitting white tops, big gold jewellery and trousers so wide that you can fit your body into each leg.
What it tells us Dressing like the 1% is a classic power move. It also suggests that Annie Hall is now an influencer.