WWithout stating the obvious, something strange is happening in fashion: it’s going out the window. I saw it for the first time last September at the catwalk shows. Most of the clothes – for spring 2023 – were works of art. But most of them seem to be broken. Hole-filled dresses by Chloe, bright crocheted tops at Marni, baggy bras at Givenchy and almost everywhere, pants that look too wide to swallow shoes. It wasn’t messy, but it was messy.
It’s safe to question the idea that fashion trends predict the future. All of them can get a very “hemline index” – that is, the concept that short skirts are in fashion in times of economic growth, and the longer you get, the more miserable the attitude becomes. Sometimes a coat is just a coat. The amount of men’s underwear sold is not indicative of the direction of the economy. But one particular model, dressed impossibly tall, sunflower-colored, and carefully strapped to her heels, seemed to say earnestly — in broken French — that the economy, like the model, would not hold back. But he has to fight to get back up quickly.
Trends come and go, but clothes, like sports or music or art, reflect the societies they come from – and if the world is falling apart, at some point it will be reflected in what people wear. Take Portia, the icon of chaos from the second series, a sort of Annie Hall imagined by Tik Tok. Take a look at Katie Holmes rocking jeans on the red carpet in the Y2K days of Dawson’s Creek. Michelle Obama was on a book tour wearing a high-cut navy silk dress; Julia Fox wearing a leaf! And self-proclaimed “ugly hot fashion girl” Meg Superstar Princess wears trucker hats and does whatever she wants. Just this morning, I walked past a girl in a red dress with barely visible teal stripes on her jeans. Whether she wore designer clothes or simply dressed in the dark, I have no idea. But maybe that’s the point.
Of course, it helps to name the beast, and that’s what “schlumpy” is, Alex Beauvoir, the designer of the white Lotus dress, described Portia as the poster girl for this movement. Caught somewhere between “haphazard California” and “a Coachellan hangover,” it’s a state that drives much of her character—and this trend. Portia doesn’t have a look, she simply has a different set of emotions, clothing that fits the human condition. From the iconic slogan sweater she wore, inexplicably, to the skimpy cardigan and clashing bikini top to the beach bar, strapless bra and matching flys combo she wore out on the town with her Essex son Lothario Jack, “Sometimes you don’t.” Care… But sometimes she definitely is [does]” Bovird told me. She is also skinny. All in all, she is someone most of us can relate to.
This hodge-podge view is also what Sean Monaghan pointed out in his June 2021 subtext essay Vibe Shift. Monahan, a trend forecaster who is part of the Coalition to Accurately Predict Normal Course 10 years ago, says they are the cause of a new cultural movement. We had the hipsters, then we had the hypebeasts, and now we have them. Whatever this is. Although the term “vibe shift” started when New York magazine decided to release it, it was analyzed by every media outlet imaginable. For Monahan, it could be a “return to fragmented culture,” a return to “rude nostalgia,” a return to rock music, and a return to irony. He admits he hasn’t quite nailed down what that means for the outfit yet, but one thing’s for sure: we’re no longer lining up for trainers.
Of course, no trend happens in a vacuum, and for many of us, a return to early 2000s nostalgia — whether that’s indie sleaze or late grunge or just plain old schlumpy — can’t come soon enough. Fashion has spent the last few years embracing a highly tailored, flat-pack, risk-free millennial aesthetic. Bodycon dresses, Skims underwear and matching co-ords in shades of powdery lilac and green; Without fringes or at least with botox-corrected clothes.
This form, designed by algorithms and driven by the Internet, seems to have come with a natural bias to give people what is available to everyone. The clothes don’t always cost the earth (much of this beauty is fast fashion driven) and they don’t always look clean. But somehow, scrolling through your feed, you’ll feel like you’re part of a magically cool and delicious tribe you couldn’t join.
Fast forward and, From the point of view of the economy and the climate, it is not only difficult to simulate this; It’s amazing. Enter schlumpiness, which isn’t just about trends and fast fashion and high consumerism, it’s full-on — and healthy. (Also, it helps that the best way to “get the wrong look” is by trawling second-hand and charity shop rails rather than online at Shane.)
Plus, it just so happens that this whole vibe ties in nicely with the Oxford word of the year: “Goblin Mode.” This is, among many things, a conscious “rejection of social norms or expectations” – which, clothing-wise, means using the likes of violence. This may sound bad. But as the word “mod” implies, it’s very deliberate. After spending the last five years staring at Emily Ratajkowski’s stomach and Kim Kardashian’s waist, are we tired of trying to look the part?
Like most prevalent trends, this one is a fad, but it’s slowly but surely happening. In the same way that when we all suddenly start walking and Birkenstock closes in July 2020 – the pandemic is minimal – I feel the irony that come spring 2023, we’ll all wake up. Designed by crypto-bro Sam Bankman-Fried, we’re less about working from home and more about wearing shlubby tees and shorts and more about defiance.
Of course, a lot of this style comes down to taste. When my mom used to say to the cobblestone-dragging flame in the mid-’90s, “They’re not going to do anything for you,” I’d reply, “Yeah, mom, that’s the point.”
Morwenna Ferrier is The Guardian’s fashion and lifestyle editor.
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