August 29, 2022

Now trending: just about everything

Anna Wilhelm

Strategy Director

Our current moment is a bit of an awkward time to write about trends. Vox thinks trends are dead. The Cut says we’re in a “vibe shift.” And like Brenna and I outlined, fashion right now is way less about what’s in or out — style of the moment hinges on whether a person is self-expressive.

If everything is in, and it’s about the why more than the what of style, then we are in the middle of a design vortex. This is the trend collapse: breaking of the decades-driven fashion cycle, compounding everything from every era all at once — and yet, encountering wildly niche and new microtrends at the same time.

Ancient wisdom tells us there has never been anything new under the sun. As a trends researcher, I agree. Historically, dawning awareness of nothing-newness has caused angst, often birthing rebellion in the form of headstrong pioneers dead-set on finding an overgrown trail to blaze. But in our current moment, Gen Z’s acceptance of nothing-newness emboldens a gleeful, impish approach to design that is unapologetically iterative and pastiche.

So in this time of alleged trend death, the speed of TikTok, and ultra-fast fashion, is there something for marketers to learn? Absolutely. While things will be different by the time you finish reading this article than when you started, many principles hold true and will likely remain as effective three months or years from now as they are today.

1. Knowing your audience means cherishing their weirdness.

Gen Z called out Millennials for skinny jeans and side parts and being basic because they see ubiquity as indicative of lacking self-knowledge and self-expression. Gen Z’s cool kids don’t have a uniform the way they did in high school halls in and before the 2000s. There are no letterman jackets or cheerleader uniform equivalents here because being egalitarian and inclusive is cool.

All is permitted unless otherwise stated, given it serves as a means to the end of free expression. As a millennial attempting to summarize trends I’m observing and passively engaging in, I’ll put it this way: right now, it’s better to be a weirdo than a lemming.

From a brand and marketing perspective, this means products, services, creative, and campaigns should not be designed for the masses but rather for the specifics. Sure, we’ve known this for a long time, but to think in the binary of lemming vs. weirdo helps us get a better grip on what it means to know our audience. It doesn’t mean topline demographics, money spent on a category, and favorite brands. It means the things that make them tick that have nothing to do with your category at all.

2. Democratization is a vibe.

The TikTok crowd are haircare ingredients snobs (sulfates are the devil, in case you missed it), yet they never buy salon-grade haircare (unless it’s Olaplex). They rarely use luxury skincare and instead opt to “slug” with Vaseline. Their makeup bags are full of Fenty and L’Oreal, Charlotte Tilbury, and e.l.f.. If they can’t find the rug they want at a reasonable price, they literally make one.

These examples illustrate that right now, everything is about function, access, and creativity. People are more charmed by what works than they are by the label-- unless, of course, the label represents the overall vibe they are looking for. (More on vibes later.)

Things that seem at odds now coexist in peace. Look at the contrast of what’s trending: impulse buys aligning with Coastal Grandmother and Fetishcore trends often coexist in a closet. Or even better, look at the weird girl aesthetic, launched when a person asked Twitter whether celebrities like Bella Hadid were “trying too hard just to look ugly.”

If you squint a little, you’ll see #weirdgirl aesthetic is the new version of the 2010’s Man Repeller. And rubbing Vaseline on your face at night and a Flawless Filter dupe in the morning is the new Glossier. And ironic monogrammed totes are the new $2,145 IKEA tote from Balenciaga.

Privileged white founders are canceled, expensive expressions of irony are dead, and demand for fashion, style, and coolness are now instigated by individuals and followed by brands. So from a product and pricing perspective, brands need to plan for inclusivity and accessibility. 

If your brands need an awareness lift, be a brand people want to hang out with-- aka, a brand that talks like them (tone of voice), dresses like an individualist (visual ID), and vibes at their same level (brand positioning). If your brands are well-established and affordable, though, skip traditional marketing to get the product in young people’s hands. For example, I can only imagine what a TikToker would do with a blue 10z tin of Nivea Creme-- use it as a face mask, hair styling cream, cuticle training, and more.

3. TikTok core-du-jour is brand identity inspiration.

The speed of TikTok is real, but trends don’t die when Shein products sell out, TV seasons wrap, or Hailey Bieber moves on from the glazed donut manicure. TikTok’s microtrend language of cores and eras only has power because it either resonates on a personal level, or it represents something we’ve seen, but not pinned down.

Take for example HBO’s Euphoria. The show’s wardrobe spawned massive amounts of style dupes from ultrafast fashion brands like Shein. The product sellouts seemed like a flash in the pan-- someone may think that they’d come across as passe by trying to buy a piece even 2 months after the season finale. And yet the styles seen in Euphoria season 1 (2019) would be the envy of any 23-year-old today. Specific demand may feel ephemeral, but the overarching impact has lasting power. 

Let’s be real: Coastal Grandmother style existed before TikTok coined it. I certainly had linen button-ups and flowy pants in my wardrobe long before it debuted earlier this year. But calling it Coastal Grandmother made it a thing. It meant I sent TikToks about it to a friend or two, saying, “This is just so us, isn’t it?”

Marketers shouldn’t let the speed of TikTok or the intensity of its trends scare them. Trust me: the intensity is our friend. Brands can bottle this. Hone a potent, clear identity that is inherently inclusive while remaining specific. Don’t change to follow others’ leads. This boldness and resolve will yield something strong enough to hold up when the opportunity arises to intersect with relevant TikTok trends, cores, and eras down the road.

4. Space + emotion = aesthetic.

As you can see, within the trend collapse, fashion trends are never just about fashion. But it’s also not just about philosophies, politics, or ideals. It’s about material space and emotion. As the kids say, it’s about aesthetic.

Cottagecore has been an ongoing TikTok trend. It arose as an aesthetic post-pandemic enabling people to feel cozy and nest in their homes while quarantining. It led to the creation of nap dresses, a penchant for interior decor that looks like a grandma’s lakeside cottage, and made sourdough starters, homemade floral cocktails, and crocheting outrageously cool. Now, when new trends arise-- take the current “weird girl” as an example-- interior designers start wondering where a weird girl lives. What types of pans she buys, what colors she paints her walls, whether she buys rugs new or goes for vintage ones or both.

Per the previous tip, if your brand has a potent identity, you’ll know if it fits naturally into Cottagecore, Weird Girl, and more. These ephemeral TikTok trends are essentially crowdsourced archetypes for marketers’ brands. Whether your brand is normcore, weird girl, or Coastal Grandmother, think about it like a person instead of a fashion trend: what does Weird Girl snack on? Does Coastal Grandmother prefer shopping in-store or online? Does Normcore like their customer care to be personalized or undetectable? This can impact new product development, organic social content, unusual paid media targeting, innovative search marketing approaches, and more.

When everything is happening at the same time, it can feel like nothing is happening at all, or nothing has meaning. But what we’re actually seeing is clusters of meaning in the massive melting pot of modern culture, and the beauty arising from these clusters is abstract but beautiful. It’s political. It’s material. It’s a return and a progression. It’s not the beginning or end of anything. It’s just something we can choose to either ignore or learn from. 

I hope you can see the trend collapse is not a black hole or the end of brand marketing as we know it. It’s an invitation for marketers to shore up brand identities-- or, as I like to say, take their brands to therapy. So happy therapy, fellow marketers, and if you have any specific questions, always feel free to kick it old school and slide into our DMs on Instagram.

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