Welcome to Fashionating, a column with scathing fashion truths you may not be ready to hear.
The time of the beautiful few has come to its brutal conclusion. In 2018, fashion trends celebrated the luxury of ugliness, glorifying anti-style in the midst of political and cultural chaos: Dad shoes and Birkenstocks; tiny bags, tacky bags emblazoned with designer labels; cargo pants, bootcut jeans, tube tops, and fucking glitter—practically anything that has been considered uncool became popular. By glorifying the grotesque, we have culturally advanced back to where we were in the 1990s, or perhaps more distinctly, to the winter of 1999, preparing for the Y2K digital doomsday while failing to anticipate the political horrors that would befall the United States in the 21st century.
One of my style rules: Never try to be beautiful. That’s based on my experience with trying and failing to conform to whatever stupid idea of beauty society burned into my subconscious. I still feel ugly every day, even though I’ve done lots of things to make myself feel less ugly. That’s why I care more about owning my own style than making my body desirable to other people; there are concrete limits to how much I can alter my body, but I have complete control over what I wear. So I reject popular notions of beauty, celebrating the oily slick of Severus Snape’s lob and disappearing my body (which I may never find pretty) underneath massively oversized, rare, vintage Silence of The Lambs T-shirts.
The nation has fallen to darkness. This is made clearer every day as new political nightmares are exposed and deliberated over constantly online, on television, in articles, and real life. That fall is what influenced me to dyed my hair black last spring, even though I knew I’d regret it and damage it trying to go back: I was so buried within existential darkness that I needed to disappear behind a blanket of shadows. Last week, I lightened it back to my natural color. My once-soft and -natural hair is now dead and matted. It will never recover; I’ll have to cut it away.
The fashion industry will always be stupid and disgusting—but the shifts that are occurring within it, the popularization of previously abhorred garments, is a representation of a cultural flight from the illusion of sanity. We know we’re not OK; we know we’re not attractive; we know that if we are to survive we this cultural chaos, we must finally make the most damaged pieces of ourselves resplendent in brokenness, without trying to become beautiful.
In 2018, chunky dad sneakers were popular beyond imagination—from this creation of legendary deconstructionist label Maison Margiela that is almost too beautiful to look at, to a new American classic, the more moderately priced Nike M2K Tekno. Similarly, the UGG, an ugly shearling boot, is back in style. These shoes are comfortable, disgusting in many ways, and a fabulous rejection of the social demand to look good.
Even people who do look good have opted for obscurity. Ariana Grande—one of the most beautiful people ever created by the female God—continued to enculture the country with good taste as she vanished beneath massive hoodies. As someone who has spoken many times about living with anxiety, Grande’s disappearing act within clothing demonstrates the power of making yourself less visible while refusing to disappear completely. You don’t need to look like a sexy mouse to wear big sweaters. I have nine giant hoodies in my wardrobe—one of them is so big, it falls at my ankles. This category of clothing teaches us that it is better to prioritize your comfort, and that when you do, you become way cooler.
An especially boring American staple has become very popular: the fleece. Popularized by the 90s-era mall staple L.L. Bean, this fake shearling crap is bigger than ever, with cult brands like Sandy Liang selling blown-up versions of this anti-fashion pullover, as the best Japanese outlet, Uniqlo, has gone fleece-wild with more teddy-bear outerwear than anyone could ever want. It’s another extension of the parental-inspired aesthetic: Our parents wore fleece back in the golden age at the end of the 20th century; today, the stuffed-animal-style fabric roots electronically ruined young people in a simpler time.
We must finally make the most damaged pieces of ourselves resplendent in brokenness, without trying to become beautiful.
Birkenstock, considered to be a very ugly shoe, is at the apex of its own renaissance, allying in 2018 with the single greatest producer of antisocial outfits ever made: the one and only Rick Owens. The Birkenstock x Rick Owens collaboration marked the first time that Birkenstock ever partnered with another brand—it was the greatest fashion moment in 20 years. Every stupid article proclaiming how weird it is that Birkenstocks are now considered cool is stupid; they have been chic for decades. But there are certain mainstream narratives that the style sheep of the world blindly bleat ad nauseum: Birkenstocks are ugly—just like cargo shorts.
If you had any style sense, you’d see the stylistic superiority of both these garments. Cargo shorts and pants, like Birkenstocks, have recently gained a new notoriety, but they were popular among Abercrombie & Fitch and Hollister shoppers so many years ago for a reason: Cargos are utilitarian and comfortable within a supernatural pattern. A cargo pocket never really looks like it belongs, especially on modern, exaggerated renditions. They’re not normal, but neither are you. You will always be carrying the cavernous emotional baggage that comes with a complicated human existence—cargo pants recognize that, and rather than trying to make it a secret, or tuck it away, they boldly expose their oddest quality, while insisting that it has a purpose.
Other notable ugly trends include the tiny glasses craze—they are impossible to separate from The Matrix, a film that ushered in the new millenium and continues, 20 years later, to inform culture. That The Matrix is a transgender work only amplifies the idea that fashion’s bend away from traditional beauty is empowered by culturally divergent forces—social outliers that produce meaning in a world that often rejects them. Tiny glasses may just seem trendy to you, but they’re a direct descendent of trans culture—the ultimate site of self-construction.
Finally, ugliness has been worshipped in fashion through one of the stupidest and most deranged garments ever worn: the prairie dress. This long-sleeved, lacy, floral costume has essentially no place in living memory—it belongs only to historic television dramas and modern fantasies about back when. That’s why we’re so drawn to them today: In a world devoid of personal intimacy, where political chaos and the corporate maw have drained mankind of value beyond production, and identity apart from groupthink, a garment that cannot be parsed from its origin in another century can return a sense of humanity back to a dying world. The prairie dress is as much a cry for help as it is a rebuke against the desire to be beautiful and normal.
The broadest truth of fashion in 2018 must only be this: In a pair of dad shoes and tiny sunglasses, clutching a bag that only holds a credit card, we are racing as fast as we can to combine all generations of this Earth into one collapsable instant in time, a singularity from which no meaning can be culled.