This week, Ruth Croft explores the concept of childlike nostalgia in current fashion trends, and why that is potentially a problem.
Ever since I was young, I have always loved the concept of invigorating fashion. That which catches the eye like a rare jewel trapped in the dirt, that something extraordinary in a sea of unremarkable trends. I saw the fashion world as a glittering galaxy, a thousand lightyears away from everything I knew, and I learned to expect something sensational amongst the everyday colours of black and grey. As a child, it was bright neon patterns, and heavy, bejewelled accessories, belts fashioned from scarves, friendship bracelets, jelly sandals. It was everything tacky and retro and absolutely full of joy.
Then, a few weeks ago, I was spending the night scrolling through Instagram, when I was suddenly hit by an overwhelming sense of nostalgia. I realised that I was looking at the revival of youth, of styles that I hadn’t thought about in years. It is a trend that is reminiscent of innocence; of the time where we didn’t need to worry about paying the bills or how much the price of a cup of coffee is these days. It encapsulates the heart of childhood. And no wonder, in reflection of the last year, that we want to see a reminder of naivety. In an era where we’ve all been forced to make sacrifices, it’s understandable that industries such as the fashion world wish to present us with a reminder of simpler times. It is a pattern that is also apparent in mainstream media, with the rebooting of millennial television shows, like Gossip Girl and Pretty Little Liars. In 2020, there was even an emergence of teens on TikTok being fascinated by flip phones and the original iPod. It seems that everyone is looking wistfully into the past twenty years for an escape; to reinvent the time where it was perfectly normal to enjoy being a child.
However, it is Gen Z, in particular, who have chosen to implement this style. They are taking their childhood aesthetic, and romanticising it into fashion idolism. The result is influencers all over social media posing in plastic high heels, with tiny handbags. It is suddenly cool to wear Crocs. Huge, clunky rings set with glass stones are worn on every finger. It is retro reinvention in its teenage rebellion.
Through this, we have to consider whether this trend is also a reflection of society’s obsession with prioritising and preserving youth. It is no secret that the concept of looking young forever is idolised, both within modern media, and the fashion and beauty industry. Even in the era of seeing an increase in body diversity on most social media platforms, we are still surrounded by the effects of airbrushing in order to conceal ‘imperfections.’
These being wrinkles, body hair, loose skin, stretch marks, and cellulite; all normal signs of growing into adulthood. The fact that these are being covered suggests that there is still one body type being revered in the fashion world, and it is one that symbolises the formative years.
This is problematic for several reasons. The first being that the majority of society do not look perfectly edited to a professional level in everyday life, and are therefore not seeing themselves represented in the media. This can be disheartening when said media is imposed upon us whenever we click onto Instagram or Twitter; or whenever we walk into a shop and see the magazine aisle. If we are told enough times that our skin isn’t smooth enough, or that our body hair needs to be waxed away, then eventually we will start to believe it.
Moreover, the reverence towards young and unblemished physiques can suggest an even darker undertone. The aesthetic that is being portrayed to us as the most attractive, is undeniably the most debateable. If we are idolising youth, then, in turn, we are admiring those who are young, and are expected to find them desirable. This is concerning, especially when intertwined with the current fashion trends. We are being presented with a look that reminds us of our childhood, whilst also being required to find it fashionable, and attractive to look at. And it’s not just the soft, rosy-cheeked look that the beauty industry is forcing upon us; it is the cartoon prints on t-shirts that reveal the midriff, and tie-dye mini skirts. Whether we like it or not, there is a suggestion of sexualisation surrounding these fashion choices, and the fact that these additions of childish nostalgia are being aimed at adults is disturbing within that context.
However, the infantilisation of women in the fashion industry is not a new movement. The belief that women are the weaker and more submissive gender has been perpetuated for thousands of years, right from the time of the Ancient Greeks, and is still pertinent in certain cultures today.
Even in the modern Western world, there is still a stereotype that portrays women as dependent in their femininity; fragile, and emotionally vulnerable. There are evident parallels to childlike expectations. And it is only exacerbated by the media, and their desire to strip women of their natural womanhood, and to reduce them to girlish attributes. This, in addition to the sexualisation of said women in fashion, with their exposed vulnerability, only strengthens the connection to infantilisation. It’s the Lolita fantasy, posted all over social media by those who believe it an aesthetic.
But the question remains: why is it still deemed necessary in 2021 fashion? Surely it is possible to create fashion trends that evoke reminiscence of childhood joy, without sexualising it, or targeting it at adults rather than children themselves. The industry doesn’t need to perpetuate these stereotypes, nor does it need to reach potentially distressing conclusions surrounding the worship of youth. All we require is the destruction of the perceived intertwining of femininity and childhood, in order to eradicate the concept of infantilisation completely, and to allow us the freedom to appreciate fashion trends in their revival.
You can read more of Ruth’s work on Instagram by following @thewriterruth.