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Aesthetics: Why the Trend is so NOT Our Friend

Trends are an integral part of fashion. Albeit fleeting, they offer inspiration, a pop of color in a closet, and are always reflective of the societal, cultural, and environmental events. Trends allow the individual to differentiate between likes and dislikes – all while developing a personal style along the way. Yet progressing trends and the desire for identity have drawn an influx of unique styles and niches that have no end in sight. Make way for the coveted aesthetics. One’s fashion choices are synonymous with one style, and stepping out of these boundaries is a no-go.

What is an Aesthetic?

The term aesthetic originated in the 18th century and was first spoken by German philosopher Alexander Baumgarten to describe the “taste, or of the perception of the beautiful”. Any aspect of perfection in observing work with the arts maintains an aesthetic. Later emphasized by way of Immanuel Kant’s 1790 Critique of Judgement, an aesthetic was believed to be subjective and universal. Any individual outside of philosophy adopted the word for personal preference. What one deems as beauty holds purpose, whether it be art, decor, film, architecture, or in this case fashion.

(Image of Charlotte Beatrix Strick van Linschoten, ca. 1755 who was a contemporary of Baumgarten and clearly on trend for her period)

A fashion aesthetic speaks to pleasing clothing and accessories dictated by color palettes, textures, prints, patterns, and silhouettes. Aesthetics give the wearer a complete, cohesive outfit of the day; each one is digestible and easily categorized. According to Google Trends, the search for the term saw peak engagement in the U.S. during the fall season of 2020.

Yet the term’s popularity fails to address one thing. An aesthetic isn’t simply the way one dresses, but a way of existing. What to wear, how to act, what media to enjoy, and even what meals to consume, are all dictated by an aesthetic of your choosing.

The Pitfalls of Being Trendy

In exploring any aesthetic trend it’s only natural to gravitate toward TikTok. The fast-paced, algorithm-specific app is the source of an array of aesthetics both new and old. Last year alone there was fairy grunge, cottagecore, the Y2K revival, and peaked interest in subversive basics. Tumblr gave us dark academia, Gen Z taught us how to be e-girls, and this summer birthed the coastal grandmother.

Beyond the haze of aesthetics is the race for the “next best thing”. New York fashion students and small-town TikTok creatives alike are furthering the trend cycle, hoping to go viral and influence the generation before them. The list is endless and aesthetics come and go as quickly as they are discovered.

In the end, a large part of the responsibility falls in the hands of the industry –most notably fast fashion brands taking note of the ongoing aesthetics and looking to capitalize on them. According to The Good Trade, 52 micro-seasons or a collection a week have replaced traditional seasonal collections, making way for overproduction and over consumption. Every purse, headband, and piece of jewelry is consumed and then forgotten.

While capitalistic endeavors push the trends forward, exclusionary practices assure only a select few are worthy of participating. Take this year’s clean girl aesthetic, where many participants opted for minimalist pieces, gold dainty jewelry, and a solid skincare routine. When scrolling through the clean girl hashtag on social media, the image of thin, white, and affluent women appears. Swipe and behold blonde hair being placed into colorful claw clips. A few more clicks reveal one-size-only matching sets. Multiple photos, videos, and mood boards projecting aesthetics have founded exclusive communities, rejecting plus-sized individuals and women of color and only furthering the narrative that they will remain outside of popular discourse.

The clean girl aesthetic went viral twice: first for the look, second for the exclusionary nature of the look.

When it comes down to it crafting an aesthetic is easier said than done. While it may benefit the online influencer’s marketability and Instagram feeds, the everyday individual is left in the confines of a singular category. Maintaining one look can be impractical, unattainable, and leaves a wardrobe feeling obsolete once the aesthetically pleasing trend has passed.

Staying Afloat –How to really Find Your Style

No Kill Mag Community rocking their own style – no ‘aesthetic’ trends needed!

Finding a sense of style is about self-discovery. We go through our childhood, adolescence, and adult years, and beyond trying on clothes and varying outfits that speak to our identity. It’s a trial and error process, that has room to evolve and grow.

Rather than picking an aesthetic, create your own. Develop an awareness of specific interests, personality traits, and facets that are uniquely you. Allow trends to inspire but work through your closet to dictate what style should and can represent. Above all remember the playful, fun nature fashion is meant to be. Get creative and value individuality.

Check out our 3 days / 3 ways feature for ‘real life’ inspiration! Readers show us how they style one item 3 different ways –or contact us to share your own 3/3!

–Kennedy Smith


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