Google has just released its Year in Search data which tracks terms with the highest growth year over year. After 2020’s top trending search of “Indie Style,” Google’s 2021 data delves deeper into the world of niche trends, no doubt spurred on by the ongoing popularity of TikTok. Among the top 10 types of outfits Google tracked this year are “rave outfits,” “preppy outfits,” “cottagecore outfits,” “90s outfits,” and “festival outfits,” suggesting that people searching for fashion advice are looking to take part in indie aesthetics or trends.
But if a renewed interest in raving or prep signals that subcultures are back, the way these words are used online, especially on platforms like TikTok and Instagram, point in another direction. Rather than actually raving in Bushwick or actually brunching at the country club, many young Millennial and Gen Z fashion lovers see these subcultures less as ideological movements than as aesthetic ones. Wanting to dress like a raver has little to do with being a raver—and that’s a mentality that will be hard for older Millennials, Gen Xers, and Boomers to understand. Back in the day, dressing like a group you were not a part of was a cardinal sin against coolness, and the punishment was hard: You were either a “poser” or a “sell-out.”
In 2016, stylist and fashion lightning rod Lotta Volkova predicted this shift in an interview with Business of Fashion. “Obviously, there are no subcultures to be discovered anymore, at least not in the Western world. It’s more about the remix of information,” she said. “Kids today—the new generation—they think in different ways. They don’t even have the knowledge of what a subculture is. It is not relevant to them.”
Google’s trending data furthers her point. Whereas in the past, garments and aesthetics signified something about their wearer—only true punks wore tartan trousers and safety pins while true preps shopped at Ralph Lauren—today, shoppers can dip in and out of fashion movements without acknowledging the broader implications and historical connotations of their looks.
TikTok’s endless feed of fashion videos plays both sides: Some use the platform as their runway, testing out new aesthetics by the hour, while others use it as an educational platform to delve into new Gen Z trends like “Subversive Basics”—coined by forecaster Agustina Panzoni on her TikTok feed @thealgorhythm as a catch-all for post-Helmut Lang sexy essentials—and “Avant Basic”—a look defined by fashion editor Emma Hope Allwood on Twitter to include cute swirly patterns, Holiday checkerboard jeans, and that omnipresent Ettore Stottsass pink mirror.
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