Social Media and Misogyny Drive the Trend Industry
VSCO girl, Alt-girl, coconut girl, girlboss—all these style trends have circulated through social media and into the closets of Gen-Z girls. It is almost as if we cannot keep up with the trends and how fast they go in and out. As trends have risen and fallen, we are able to see that these trends are more than just clothes, but also raise questions about the ethicality of the fashion industry and how misogyny may contribute to the cycle.
Fashion trends have always been around throughout the decades. Each decade has several iconic trends that define that moment in fashion history. However, it seems that as fashion has circulated widely through the internet and social media, these trends become more amplified and therefore trend cycles move a lot faster than ever. Clothing brands have taken advantage of trending subcultures and styles, and begun to knowingly utilize numerous micro-influencers by sending them PR clothing packages in exchange for a post to be made. You may have seen women on Instagram promoting clothing from Fashion Nova, or women on Tik Tok promoting Princess Polly or Motel Rocks. This is in hopes that as the audience (potential consumers) scrolls through their social media feeds, they repeatedly see the same clothing pieces, making them think that these are currently trending pieces. These brands produce clothing that fit in with the current trending aesthetics, whether it be VSCO girls in 2019, or coconut girls of summer 2021.
A lot of popular clothing pieces we see throughout the seasons are considered micro-trends because many of these are not timeless pieces that can be worn into the next season. Timeless pieces are clothing pieces that are considered classic items that can be worn throughout any year and are implemented as staple’s in one’s wardrobe. Everyone’s opinion of a timeless piece is different, but some examples include a plain white t-shirt, blue jeans, a little black dress, etc. Essentially, they are clothing pieces that have survived the trend cycle and are considered staples to one’s wardrobe. In contrast, microtrends often go out of style within the season. Because micro-trends are rapidly coming and going, this has fueled the fast fashion industry like never before by driving the production of new clothing styles faster.
Ithaca College senior Makayla Carozzolo is a journalism student who has researched the impacts of fast fashion and the current trend cycle and became conscious of how it influenced the industry and her own consumer habits.
“I’ve always bought things that I personally like and I refuse to buy things unless I love it,” said Carozzolo. “I definitely notice advertizing that push certain styles but if I don’t give into microtrends if I don’t love them.”
The fascinating thing about this generation’s fashion trends is that many of them coincide with different viral youth subcultures. As expected in this generation, many of these subcultures are influenced by social media and young people often strive to achieve a certain aesthetic of their liking. The variety of subcultures seem to come and go as the fashion trends do, but there seems to be another invisible force influencing the cycle even further—internalized misogyny.
We often witness an interesting phenomenon both online and in real life of hating and making fun of things teenage girls and young women like. In many cases, many of the perpetrators are women and girls themselves. When a trend is over popularized, it is then somehow considered out of style and “basic”, which pressures consumers into buying new clothes that are considered currently in style. The pressure to keep up with these trends and aesthetics are not only put on influencers who showcase them, but also to consumers as well. An influencer who is sponsored and has partnerships with clothing brands may be able to keep up easily because they are being sent free clothes, but this isn’t viable to many young women who are on a budget, even if they are buying from cheap fast fashion brands.
Philosopher Kate Manne, who is a professor at Cornell University, wrote in the Boston Review of the different types of misogyny that manifests in the political climate that we have today. Manne says that women can display misogynistic behaviors without being self-hating, which is a common misconception of women who have tendencies of internalized misogyny.
“But women may also be prone to police other women’s bodies and behavior, elevating themselves in the terms of patriarchal values or signaling their loyalty to patriarchal figures.” Manne wrote.
We see this type of policing especially on social media regarding style trends and fashion. Women and girls are put down by both men and women for being “basic”, or adhering to mainstream trends, products, and music.
“Whoever the enforcers are, women who transgress are liable to be punished for any number of spurious reasons,” Manne wrote. “Or they may simply be subject to crude insults, mockery, and derision.”
The case of the VSCO girl trend is the prime example of how a style trend rose and fell due to the trend cycle and misogyny. Countless articles, YouTube videos, and posts on social media mocked girls who dressed like VSCO girls and bought products that were popularized by the trend.
Another internet-popularized term for someone who displays internalized misogyny is the “pick-me” girl. The “pick-me” girl puts down other girls for the things they do and like for male validation, showing that they are “not like other girls.”
This behavior is not only harmful to young women and their self-esteem, but also to the environment because of how this misogyny contributes to fueling the fast fashion industry. Overconsumption of clothing was always an environmental issue, but has been put in the spotlight in recent years due to social media. Brands like Shein that sell microtrend pieces for a cheap and affordable price are often subjects of haul videos, videos where someone shows off what they’ve bought. Large Shein hauls are attainable to both influencers and young consumers, promoting overconsumption even more.
Is there a way to end the cycle? Some say that until sustainable fashion is accessible to all, it is not right to demonize consumers of fast-fashion and microtrends. A better way to promote ethical fashion is to educate consumers about the harms of overconsumption and encourage buying and wearing timeless pieces that they can wear for years throughout multiple seasons. There is nothing wrong with following trends, but when mounds of clothing are being worn once and thrown away, it is a huge environmental issue.
Carozollo said one way she keeps her shopping in check is by evaluating whether she’d wear a piece multiple times.
“I ask myself, ‘can I wear it hanging out with my friends, going to school, and going out?’” said Carozzolo. “If I can do that, then I know a piece is worth it.”
Another way to slow the pace of the cycle would be to stop policing women for their clothing choices when their personal style isn’t considered trendy or up-to-date. Without the pressure to constantly keep up with trends, this will allow individuals to find their own personal style that they might’ve not discovered yet, or to stick to an aesthetic that they love without ever feeling like it may go out of style.
Without having the pressure to conform, this would minimize the misogyny that also contributes to the trend cycle, which benefits both young consumer wallets and their personal wellbeing. It is becoming harder to keep up with fashion and style trends, and once this consumer mindset shift occurs, it is possible that fashion will be more inclusive and diverse.
Erin Terada is a senior journalism major that is tired of fast fashion. They can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.