Quarter-life Crisis Trend Report

Last night, I ate weed gummies and proceeded to have a two hour long deepthink about the way my style both reflects and rejects many trends and what these interactions might mean. In this post, I’ll use a handful of trends from the past year/in forecasts for the rest of 2022 by various mainstream fashion publications as case studies, trying to parse out what my reaction to each trend might mean about my style.

Maybe I’ll even learn something about style *in general* from this endeavor. Julia Morgans, an Instagram friend of HR, saw my stoned musings on my story and recommended the book “Fashioning Identity: Status Ambivalence in Contemporary Fashion” which I will try to read soon, as I’d love a more solid theoretical basis off of which to work in these analyses. Right now I’m just kind of going off of vibes.

One thing that strikes me right off the bat as interesting is the difference in trend patterns between “menswear” and “womenswear” and how they sometimes reach points of cohesion but other times seem completely divorced from each other. As a nonbinary person who was indoctrinated into teen girl fashion sensibilities but now mainly gets fashion reportage from menswear-oriented publications like Blackbird Spyplane and Throwing Fits, this schism is an interesting place to exist within.

I pay a LOT of attention to independent designers and fashion publications such as those mentioned above, and yet I always feel at least one step behind when it comes to trends. I’ll notice them before they’re written up in GQ or, god forbid, B*zzfeed, but I’m really interested in what it takes to position one’s self to be in the beta wave of a new trend. Money? Connections to influencers? A strict adherence to the 20-year trend cycle?

Since I have none of these at this point in my life, I have accepted always being a little behind the cutting edge, which is also a factor that hugely influences my relationship to trends: I get to them late enough that they’re usually already hurtling towards the passé, so I have to conceptualize (or steal from the more fashionable) ways to freak them enough that they don’t feel completely hollow or mindless.

An advantage to adapting trends when they are stale is that the awkwardness of a garment that’s just past trendy is conducive to a kind of nerdy earnestness that I find really compelling in outfits. If I’m wearing something that I know to be overripe, it’s because I just genuinely like the features of the garment, its shape or color or utilitarian function. The passage of time divests trends from their symbolic attachments and allows the physical realities of a garment to come back to center stage in my conception of them and the ways I imagine them being styled. Abstraction is important in style, but at the end of the day, fashion is an exercise in materiality, and being brought back to that at the expense of being a little uncool is a generative process in my experience.

Sweater Vests

I balked at the initial boyfriendification of this look, as someone who often resists trends that seem based in a facile conception of gender as a binary: wearing “men’s clothes” strictly to emphasize inherent femininity or being seen as a “girl in boyfriend’s clothing” is antithetical to my self-conception and how I want to be received by the world. This is a case in which, as I suggested above, waiting for a trend to be absorbed into the mainstream actually worked in my favor.

Though sweater vests are now a bit passé, they have also been androgynized and universalized in such a way that they feel less tied to this gendered symbology and more just like another layer to work with. The sweater vest, before the recent trend wave, was a distinctly nerdy garment, and as I mentioned, the re-nerding that came with a loss of relevance only added to my attraction. I am an inescapably nerdy, earnest person and I try not to eschew that reality even as I try to be innovative with my style.

To me, the ideal sweater vest is a pull-over (though sometimes I fuck with a button-down), v-necked (I typically like a relatively shallow V), barely or not at all cropped, and boxy but with a relaxed drape. I gravitate towards solid colors but have found some patterned vests compelling, especially with thin, horizontal stripes. I like them styled over boxy t-shirts, button-downs (though the slope here is truly slippery into the neutered, business-casual chasm–going oversized with the button-down or cutting off its sleeves seems to be a way to avoid the descent), long dresses, or worn alone as a top.

These ideal vests are hardly ever marketed as womenswear, so I suggest, depending on your size, either looking for a large vest meant for boys or one marketed towards men. Another happy effect of waiting on a trend is its affordability–secondhand, not in its fast fashion manifestations which are often lacking the structure, integrity of material, and “aura” as per Benjamin that make them appealing.

Here are some secondhand vests that mostly meet my spec ideals, though I haven’t checked all the sizing so there could easily be a tight, cropped imposter in there but don’t hold me accountable for it!

Red Sweater Vest
Light Blue Vest
Striped Vest
Striped Vest
Stripe Vest
90’s Vest
Houndstooth Vest
Green Vest
Striped Vest

Chains

Most trends I end up adapting in their awkward, just-past-ripe phase have a baseline of timeless, contextless cool that mitigates any buyer’s apprehension I might have. Chains (of all manifestations, but I’ll focus on neck chains here) are never not going to add an air of toughness + luxury to any outfit they grace. Of course, this look was first popularized by Black people, mainly hip-hop and rap artists, to whom I personally owe a huge chunk of my aesthetic sensibilities and white people as a bloc owe like 90% of our most salient trends.

The act of wearing a chain itself is inescapably appropriative, but I think that the term “cultural appropriation” has been narrowed to a connotation that is solely negative. Cultural appropriation without recognition of the culture being pulled from, or without humility, or with a sense of entitlement is of course bad. Allowing oneself to be influenced by the masterful fits of people from different cultures, as long as one is careful not to subvert/coopt symbols that are sacred or meaningful to those cultures is cool and creates potential for sartorial intersections that our society would be bereft without (i.e. butch lesbians/transmascs appropriating the chain look).

As a transmasc, I started wearing chains mostly in the context of that tradition, and also largely because I saw Kristen Stewart on Hot Ones and immediately was overwrought by a new wave of a longstanding crush. Before the video ended, I was googling “padlock necklace.” I especially like a padlock necklace because of the cheeky design choice to have the padlock itself be the necklace’s closure. Extremely cute that they typically come with a few keys that you can disperse to your friends and lovers as an act of intimacy.

I tend towards chains that are silver, on the thicker/sturdier side, hit around the clavicle, and have links that lay in an interesting or graceful way (this last feature being the most important, some chain link designs stick up awkwardly or won’t lie flat around the neck). I like mixed metals, interesting closures, varying link sizes/styles, and intertwined or tangential chains.

Padlock Necklace
Chain Necklace
Entangled Hearts
Vicky Necklace
Linda Link Chain

Long Hemlines + Voluminous Pants

This trend I initially balked at because I am 5’1″ and my entire life have been instructed pants-wise as follows: No hemlines that go further than the bottom of the ankle or bunch up at all, minimum horizontal volume possible in the legs. In the mid-2010s, the cropped straight-legged pants norm was a godsend, as I could finally buy pants from pretty much any store without having to fuck with getting them altered.

Now that the pendulum has swung the other way, as is its wont, I am reckoning with Big Pants again but with a more optimistic attitude. The thing is–”flattering” is not even in the top 5 of my considerations when it comes to most garments. Off the top of my head, more important qualities to me than “flattering” in a piece include: utilitarian, interesting, modular, comfortable, and exciting. Since I am not in middle school and my sense of style is not predicated upon looking as normatively Good as possible, this time around I have been able to appreciate the Big Pant for its inspiring qualities: they add movement to an outfit, they can drape in interesting ways, the scrunchy hem can be, if styled with a good eye, a feature instead of a bug.

I tend to go for pants with more volume in the top/center rather than flared at the bottom. If I’m going billowy, I either keep pants at ankle length or let them just touch the ground and fold up the cuff ONE SINGLE TIME (important). I have been getting braver and hope soon to start dipping my toe into wearing floor-length pants with volume. If the legs are less billowy and more straight, I have begun to experiment with letting them puddle over my shoe or bunch around my ankle (a huge step for me) but make sure there are not more than one or two bunches/folds in the puddle. I am NEVER trying to go back to how it looked when I tried to wear American Apparel skinny jeans with a 32″ inseam (my inseam is generally about 26″) without getting them hemmed because the tailor near my childhood home didn’t know how to do an “original” hem, which is essential if you want the hem of jeans to not look wack.

Trousers (many colors)
Chamwoe Jeans
Twisted Belted Pants
Piping Jogger
Brown Polyester Trousers
Green Linen Trousers
Wide Pants

Cut-outs

As someone who has dysphoria and plans to get top surgery in the near future, cut-outs sometimes emphasize the feminine-coded facets of my body in a way I don’t like. However, when used in a garment that could be defined as “casual wear” or “masculine,” or when placed in nontraditional locations (i.e. inner thighs, ankles, under the chest) sometimes cut-outs can add levity and unabashed sexiness to a look. They are usually modeled only on skinny body types and shown only when the body is ramrod-straight, but I LOVE the look of skin folding and protruding through cut-outs. The indie brand UNITS is genius at this. Some inspiration gleaned from my now-defunct are.na page:

Not sure where this is from but boy do I love it
Thigh Burners
Riblet Tank in Noir
Riblet Tank
Blue Denim Cut-Out Jacket
Bronze Viscose Polo
Bodysuit

Skirts/Dresses Over Pants

The overarching “Y2K” trend’s biggest gauntlet. I have not yet tried this strategy myself. When I think of this look, my mind immediately goes

Though I worship at the altars of both ladies, there is something hauntingly bad about these looks. I’m trying to parse out what it is. Maybe the overcompensation for the jeans with ultrafeminine details like florals and sequins? Maybe the boot-cut of the jeans (It can’t just be that, because I just imagined the looks with straight leg jeans and they only got a few measly degrees less offensive). Maybe it’s that the looks are both already incredibly sterile and the jeans feel like just another layer of neutering? There’s something childish about these looks, but whereas childish can be good if it connotes “playful” and “whimsical,” in this case it reads “awkward” and the concept itself seems underdeveloped.

Jeans are an especially difficult medium for this look, with non-jean pants acting way more forgiving under a skirt. It can be done, though, usually with loose, straight jeans and a midi-to-long skirt, so the downward trajectory of the look is emphasized and the jeans are kind of absorbed into the directionality of the dress/skirt. Boxy/columnar dresses and skirts work best. Examples below.

’90s Low
’90s Original
Pleats Please Bordeaux Dress
Gathered Long-Sleeve Dress
Linen-Blend Belted Sleeveless Lapel Dress
Vintage Paisley Skirt
Pleated Skirt

With non-jeans pants, options open up a little more–it doesn’t look quite as awkward to pair them with a knee-length skirt or a skirt with a little more flare. This is best achieved by using neutral or similar hues + contrasting textures and still keeping the pants fairly loose. This will always look wack with tapered pants, and can only be pulled off with true flares by a sartorial genius. If I ever manage to do it, I’ll let you know and will expect epic displays of shock and awe.

’80s Wool Skirt
’70s Pleated skirt
Flannel Skirt
’70s Vintage Skirt
’50s Gurkha Pants
Vintage Wool Trousers
’60s Japanese Chore Pants

This look can also be translated/cheated (cheating, done well, is its own valid form of ingenuity) with a skort or para-skort situation, which can range from cheeky and begging for a vacation:

Swell Micro Skort

To stern but sexy, like something Vivian from Legally Blonde would wear under Elle’s tutelage:

Black Buckle Wrapped Trousers

From this endeavor, I have learned that I actually appreciate when trends get overripe, my gender identity has a huge affect on how I internalize and interpret trends, I gravitate towards cheekiness, classics, and nerdiness in trends, and if someone wants to get me to blindly follow a trend they just have to get Kristen Stewart to wear it. Not exactly mind-blowing revelations, but I am enjoying this way of parsing my style and my relationship to the style of the collective consciousness.

If this inspired any thoughts on past, present, or upcoming trends or inspired you to freak a trend in a compelling way, please let me know in the comments or @humanrepeller on Instagram. Thank you for making it through this monolith of a post (I worked on it for exactly a week!) and thank you, as always, for being here. A message of support, a like, or a follow makes my day and I so appreciate everyone who has hollered at me o say the fuck with my visions. Enthusiasm never goes out of style, haha, ok it’s time for me to stop writing now this is going south.

❤ HR

Published by ESK

communist fashion-loving sicko

One thought on “Quarter-life Crisis Trend Report

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