A Guide to Gen-Z Fashion Aesthetics

From Cottagecore to Y2K, it’s time to dive deeper into some of Gen-Z’s fashion choices. Spanning from both in-person clothing and metaverse digital purchases, these aesthetics can help provide needed insights into the Zoomer aesthetic and mindset. With a keen eye for sustainable products and a love of fads from earlier eras, the Gen-Z aesthetic is both familiar and unique.

Why does this matter? Gen-Z is now the largest generation in the world. And these aesthetics, covering fashion, music, design, and more are definitely trending. In fact, each of the main gen-Z aesthetics surpassed five million annual views on YouTube by 2021, accounting for over a billion views total. And those aesthetics help determine where Gen-Z is spending. Especially on wear. According to Piper Sandler, Gen-Z spent $350 Billion on clothing in 2021, making up 22% of their total budget.

But it’s not just about throwbacks. To truly get Gen-Z aesthetics, you need to dive into some “core” ideals.

Cottagecore – really old is really in

When Covid first swept the world two years ago, people began fleeing the cities. People were stuck on their own, baking their own bread, in a rustic mindset that seemed a hundred years old. Oh, and don’t forget the costume dramas like Bridgerton and Outlander blowing up the streaming services at the same time. A new aesthetic of clothing started to emerge, tying these ideals together.

Cottagecore, at its heart, is rooted in a desire for a simpler, more sustainable life. It often hearkens back to pastoral England, especially in terms of romantic nostalgia. Think Bridgerton, Jane Austen, and the Brontes. This extends beyond clothing to garden design, house decor, architecture, and even metaverse purchases. In fact, The Hustle predicts Cottagecore as the single biggest design trend of 2022. This is in large part due to influencers spreading the ideals on YouTube and TikTok. 44% of Gen-Z specifically cite influencers as a reason behind their purchases.

Royalcore – Who Doesn’t Want to be a Princess?

While Cottagecore remains a popular trend, including among people of color, it’s spurred countless similar niche aesthetics. One of the closest and newest trends is Cabincore, which is simplicity meets heavy flannel. Or Carnivalcore, because who doesn’t need a disco ball in their cottage? Yet the largest spinoff by far is Royalcore, which hearkens back to English romances in a similar way to Cottagecore, but focuses on the royalty.

In some ways it is the aesthetic opposite of cottagecore. While Cottagecore embraced simplicity, particularly as the pandemic struck, Royalcore celebrates the pandemic’s seeming decline by embracing opulence.  Popular both as a home choice and for fashion (After watching The Crown, don’t you want your home to look like the Queen’s?), this involves sweeping dresses, lavish jewelry, and more.

A specific subset of Royalcore is Princesscore. Combining the success of Bridgerton with fans of Disney, this aesthetic is a growing trend on social media.From puffy dresses to elegance, princesscore is a way of life for some. Emily McCormick went from unemployed and virtually invisible to become a TikTok influencer with over 1.6 million followers by tapping into Princesscore. That’s big when 44% of Gen-Z relies on influencers.

Dark Academia – Brood about School

It isn’t all cottagecore and similar trends. In fact, in 2021 a new aesthetic started to dominate TikTok, Instagram and other social media accounts: Dark Academia. When schools began to close in the early pandemic, this aesthetic took off, providing a new refuge for all things scholarly. The aesthetic is based on gothic styles especially found at Oxford and Cambridge, and is associated with dark colors, uniforms, and secrets.

Think Harry Potter meets Umbrella Academy. While cottagecore’s palette of colors is often light, and royalcore’s colors are bold or bright, Dark Academia is dark. Browns, tans, deep violets, and blacks. The brooding acadmeic, the tortured souls…the YA hearthrobs.

And, like other trends, this aesthetic is scoring millions of views on social media, especially among Gen-Z. Why? With the pandemic, Gen-Z students in high school and college were forced out of classroom, and the term “Zoomer,” once interchangeable for Gen-Z, took on a new, darker meaning. At the same time, in America, student loans were paused and American students began noticing the burden of student debt. These debts are drastically different in this country than most, and canceling student loans became an active part of political debate. Enter, Dark Academia – an aesthetic of virtual schooling, that remains popular, with Seventeen magazine outlining the top ten Dark Academia outfits for 2022. Many Zoomers long for an idealized version of school, one they can afford and that never ends. In direct answer to dark academia’s brooding vibe, the light academia aesthetic offers a similar focus on schools but with lighter colors and a more hopeful tone.

Y2K – It’s Back

It’s no secret that many Gen-Z aesthetics are throwbacks, and with a pandemic, a racial reckoning, climate change, political unrest, and a massive land war in Europe that may or may not spurn a new cold war or world war- well, let’s just say anxiety is in. And the era Gen-Z hearkens to is one fraught with its own worries: Y2K. The Matrix is back – no, not the lame new movie: the shiny clothes, the bare midriffs, and the bizarre. Vogue credits celebrities including Dua Lipa and Lizzo for helping spur the Y2K revival, alongside social media influencers on TikTok and Instagram.

Yet despite the obvious ties to anxiety, some credit Y2K’s appeal to its inadvertent optimism. Jessica Beresford of the Financial Times claims these aesthetics work at “embracing the same kind of optimism that came with the turn of a new decade.” After all, the big Y2K scare ended up being nothing. Perhaps Gen-Z looks forward to moving past the fear, towards the hope.

Fairycore Grunge – Escape Humanity Altogether

New aesthetics emerge, particularly on TikTok, all the time. TikTok remains Gen-Z’s preferred platform, and they respond to many of these trends. As of this writing, in March, 2022, Fairycore Grunge was just taking off. This surreal blend of Twilight and magic, even includes a dose of horror thrown in. Earth tones, dark colors, flowing skirts, tight corsets, fingerless gloves, and fairy wings or pointed ears can all be enjoyed with this particularly escapist aesthetic.

Teen Vogue notes many similarities between Fairycore Grunge and the Japanese style Mori Girl, or Forest Girl, which involves a call to mysticism and nature. The escapist nature of donning fairy wings plays well especially in these turbulent times, but also ties into broader fandoms. In addition to Twilight and shows like Winx Club, many return to TikTok, taking inspiration from one of BookTok’s most popular series: Sarah J Maas’s Court of Thorns and Roses – a fantasy romance about fae and humans falling in love and escaping. There are several spinoffs including Goblincore, which involves dressing as a full goblin with lots of makeup, and Mermaidcore, which especially focuses on bright mermaid-like hair.  

Coconut Girl – Kick Back on the Beach

Not every Gen-Z aesthetic is dark and surreal. The Coconut Girl aesthetic combines simplicity with the beach. “The Coconut Girl trend is a product of post-COVID dreaming and youthful summer optimism. After all, who doesn’t want to be the girl with the coconut, smiling for pictures on a tropical vacation?” says Carrera Kurnik, director of Fashion Snoops. Gentle pastel colors, halter tops, shell and bead necklaces, and plenty of hibiscus flowers.

While some have criticized Coconut Girl for being a short-lived trend, the fashion emerged just last week at one of Hawaii’s fashion shows. And with its casual comfort and energetic optimism, it is coming back.

E-Girl and E-Boy – The Hotties Online

Gen-Z has always turned to social media influencers. The e-girl and e-boy subset are people whose persona revolves around their influencing. The e is for electronic, and these young men, women, or non-binaries, have created personas focused on the personalities around their individual style. This particular style is hypersexualized, and can get dirty fast, yet is geared towards teenage sex appeal. Think boy bands in the 90s, filtered through nonstop reality TV. Oversized denim, black and white stripes, and jogging outfits can all fit into e-girl or e-boy fashion.

Typically, the aesthetic has throwback elements, mixed with nerd culture. Anime, gaming, and goth all play a role. Plaid skirts, metal chains, neon-colored pants or hair. The e-girls and e-boys don’t want to fit in, they want to stand out. And there’s the sexy elements. The e-boys are heartthrobs, and the e-girls are flirts. Elements of bdsm including collars and harnesses often fit right into this aesthetic.

Angelcore – Girls in the Clouds

Angelcore alone has over 52 million TikTok views. This hyper-feminized aesthetic seeks to put the Venus and Aphrodite in every woman. Flowing white ethereal dresses, clouds, gold jewelry, lace, and flowers. The central key with this aesthetic is traditionally girly – think Barbie meets Victoria’s Secret. While Royalcore lovers envision themselves as royalty and Fairycore lovers dive into the magical world of fae, Angelcore fans picture themselves as goddesses or angels.

When Zoomers want angelcore they aren’t just buying clothes, they’re living with ethereal accessories and moods that bring them to the heavens. According to Nylon magazine: “The all-in-one shopping app Klarna reports that searches for Angelcore clothing pieces are at an all-time high. For example, white and light pink dresses saw a 244% increase in searches [last] August alone.” Similar to e-girl aesthetic, many angelcore fans take the innocent vibes and give them a suggestive twist, infusing the vibe with sexuality. At the tail end of this transformation is angelcore’s opposite: devilcore, an aesthetic filled with dark colors, blood imagery, and lewdness.

VSCO Girls – Valley Girls who Love the Turtles

VSCO is an acronym that stands for Visual Supply Company. The VSCO app launched in 2011, and allows users to take selfies and modify them. Like most of the Gen-Z aesthetic, users on TikTok took an idea and turned it into a throwback aesthetic. VSCO (pronounced visco) Girls all begin with a starter pack of brands, and unlike most aesthetics, that highlight individuality, VSCO Girls all try to look the same.

Simple, beachy, and preppy, with lots of throwback are all key. It begins with a starter pack: a wrist scrunchie, an oversized shirt, a signature accessory, and reusable straws. Yeah, the straws are big. Oversized tops, and small bottoms. Birkenstocks and Hydroflasks. And lots of selfies at the beach. VSCO girls often wear identical brands to each other and even try to emulate each other’s mannerisms. VSCO guys exist too, usually in Vans, Nikes, and Vineyard Vines shirts. Arguably a modern version of the ‘90s Valley Girls, the VSCO girls are uniform in style, but also one of the most environmentally conscious and sustainability-minded aesthetics. This includes Pura Vida bracelets, Fjällräven Kånken backpacks, and a lot of talk about saving the turtles.

With all of this information, where can you start? Knit’s 2022 Gen Z vs Millennial Apparel & Fashion Report is a good bet: it includes purchasing insights, shopping trends, and a complete buyer’s journey for two generations of apparel retail consumers. And if you still have questions after that? We have you covered — just get in touch to get your questions answered.

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