May 23, 2024

Is the price of having an aesthetic too high?

Helena Bruździak in Warsaw, Poland

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Lana Del Rey's lyrics from her 2012 album 'Born To Die' have become a coquette staple.

Picture by: Jaguar MENA | Flickr

You’ve probably heard of Lana Del Rey, but did you know that she’s the face of one of the internet’s most prized Gen Z aesthetics: ‘coquette’?

High schoolers have always clung to subcultures as a way to establish identity and a sense of belonging.

Most people will recognise the classic goth, punk, jock, or cheerleader, but Gen Z took these categories a step further through the help of social media and introduced ‘aesthetics’ – a deeper subculture that includes clothing but also a person’s vibe.

‘Coquette’ is one of the trends that at least every teenage girl today has heard of with 1.9mn posts on #coquette on TikTok. Think of bows, delicate silhouettes, lots of lace or pearls, hyper-femininity and sweet florals.

Many girls adopt this online subculture as a way to embody their femininity and become comfortable in their softness without being seen as weak.

Read more:

Coquette: Why the TikTok trend is more than just cute bows

By Jasmine Sandhar | BBC Newsbeat

The trend has risen in popularity over the past few years with recent originsin the early 2010s during the peak reign of the microblogging site Tumblr.

However, accordingto fashion historian Dr Serena Dyer, the aesthetic has pulled inspiration from the past 200 years.

Compared to other aesthetics, ‘coquette’ has survived the longest and still remains relevant in mainstream culture.

The trend is, of course, cute and fun to participate in, as are others, such as ‘clean girl’ – typically sporting a slicked-back bun or glowy makeup. Or its darker sister, the ‘mob wife’, which is all about showing power and strength through dressing in all-black with fur coats, statement jewellery, and dark makeup.

If you tried to search for a “What aesthetic am I?” quiz, you would get about 1.7bn results, which shows just how widespread the need is to find who you are in this way.

With the boom of TikTok during COVID-19, the app hit over 1bn monthly active users in 2021, and with it came the acceleration of aesthetics in the form of microtrends that end just as quickly as they start.

It’s feeding into our growing obsession with placing ourselves into neatly defined boxes and our online shopping addictions to stay relevant and trendy. Yet, this comes at a cost for the environmentand our authenticity.

Spotting a microtrend in the wild

Last spring, we met the ‘tomato girl’ aesthetic which is based on anything red with a Mediterranean feel to it such as red lipstick and flowery sun dresses. The trend has 119mn results on Google and 46mn views on TikTok.

What was meant to define the summer of 2023 barely survived last June until it disappeared into the archives of social media.

The rise of careless consumerism among young people

Out of the whirlwind of constant new trends and aesthetics being pumped out there is an effect on the fashion scene, which used to be a relaxing 20-year journey for styles to return to the mainstream. But now, with the continual churn of new trends influenced by celebrities on social media, the pace has sped up considerably.

This is what we call microtrends: short-lived clothing, makeup, or style items that take over TikTok algorithms, causing us to think we need it, then disappear. Each year, 1.92mn tonsof textile waste is produced.

So, how do you spot a microtrend in the wild? Check the tag. Quality speaks volumes. If it’s crafted from primo materials such as cotton or wool, chances are it’s not just a flash in the pan. Brands aren’t keen on pouring resources into pieces destined for the fashion graveyard, opting instead for timeless durability.

‘Tomato girl’ even has its own tag on the Princess Polly website, an ultra-fast fashion brand. Even though the site has a sustainability mission, environmental advocacy groups such as Green Matters and Ecowiser warn against the brand due to the cheap materials and therefore labour used to make the clothing.

Breaking out of the box

Social media helps people find communities, developing subcultures and aesthetics that are based on personal expression. But now that Gen Z aesthetics are led by fast fashion consumerism, is it merely creating an illusion of unity?

By boxing ourselves into the latest online trends, we’re opting for echo chambers rather than true community-building. Today our algorithms determine our viewpoints, shutting us off from engaging with diverse perspectives. In doing so, we’re unable to meaningfully combat prejudice, harassment, and conflict.

This begs the question: in our desire to be seen as relevant, are we losing sight of our own authenticity and what truly resonates with us? Are we trading our uniqueness for the ever-changing validation?

The irony is, that in our efforts to stand out, we often find ourselves conforming to the very standards we seek to challenge.

The truth is that if Gen Z has enough media influence where we can create a trend out of ‘blueberry milk’ nails, then it’s safe to say we have more influence over our own aesthetics than we think.

Written by:


Helena Bruździak


Warsaw, Poland

Helena Bruździak was born in 2009, in Warsaw, Poland. She enjoys history and English at school, is passionate about writing, and wants to study law in the future. She enjoys listening to music, playing the piano and reading poetry.

Helena speaks English and Polish and is learning French.

Edited by:


Christian Yeung

Society editor

Hong Kong | United States


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