Opinions, Column

Self-Discovery in the Microtrend Era

Many things will define this generation. Our commitment to climate change, our consistent political action, and—according to the latest TikTok microtrend—our “mob wife” era. 

Every other month there’s something new. Some new trend with a catchy name causing girls around the world to go hunting for the new uniform. There was coastal grandma, tomato girl, clean girl, and now mob wife. 

As trend cycles become shorter, there’s increased pressure to keep up with them—to be on trend. Everyone is on the lookout for the newest thing and no one wants to be caught in last month’s SHEIN top.

Fast fashion companies like SHEIN are permanently intertwined with microtrends. There is no way to engage with microtrends without either being incredibly wealthy or using fast fashion to achieve a new look every other month. The price point of fast fashion allows people to live in excess. The average person can buy an absurd amount of clothes, post a flashy TikTok haul, and cosplay as their favorite rich influencer.

And, of course, you can’t mention fast fashion without also discussing its impact on the environment. Fast fashion is responsible for somewhere between two and eight percent of global carbon emissions, per the United Nations Environment Programme

Clothing has become disposable. Every second, a garbage truck’s worth of clothing is thrown into a landfill. Not only that, but these companies have been accused of almost every terrible labor practice you can think of. Almost none of their workers make a living wage and child labor issues run rampant. 

Microtrends and fast fashion clearly have negative consequences, so why can’t Gen Z escape their appeal? More often than not, it seems to be women falling victim to these microtrends. They find a new title or aesthetic that they let define them for the next month, and then they move on.

This desire to adopt—or more accurately, to be—an aesthetic is almost certainly a symptom of Gen Z’s internet usage. People want to live out their highly cultivated Instagram and social media presences. They want their daily outward presentation to match whatever aesthetic the internet is currently obsessing over.

More often than not, these aesthetics are heavily tied to the past. People want to emulate the style of ’90s grunge artists or hippies from the ’60s. But these weren’t simply aesthetics—they were entire subcultures. 

To simply copy their fashion does a disservice to the impact of these subcultures. They brought people with mutual interests, beliefs, and ideas together during critical moments throughout history. People found sanctuary and connection through subculture. 

That’s what Gen Z is missing. Clothing and fashion are often a way for people to connect with those of like mind or experience, but that kind of connection can’t be fostered when our trends change every other month.

The never-ending appropriation of new aesthetics and styles is Gen Z’s desperate attempt to find itself.

Fashion and self presentation can be avenues to self-discovery, but self-discovery can never truly happen if people are only searching on the surface. When young girls get pressured by the internet to buy the newest, hottest item, they’re not actually learning anything about themselves or their personal style. They might get a short-term feeling of belonging, but they miss out on the long-term benefits of better understanding themselves. 

Gen Z is a generation defined by its desire to feel connection. While the internet has streamlined our ability to communicate, it’s only furthered our feelings of isolation. Microtrends are a defining symptom of this isolation.

February 11, 2024

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