In an article about Gen Z's fashion sense, a young girl sorts through a rack of clothes.
Illustration by Isabelle Hardy, University of the Arts

Gen Z’s Style Defies Definition

Through their focus on activism, aesthetics and self expression, Generation Z's fashion has warped into curated chaos.
May 22, 2023
7 mins read

It seems that all parts of our society have been influenced by Generation Z. Whether it be through art and culture, activism, the environment or even something as simple as a coffee order, Generation Z has always been a champion of change and inclusivity. However, though the trends and change that Generation Z jumpstarted have undeniably bled into everyone else’s lifestyles, there is always one question that mystifies both members of the generation and the rest of society alike. What the heck is Gen Z wearing?

Nowadays individuality and dancing to the beat of your own drum is more in than ever before. No longer are young adults required to follow strictly gendered dress codes, nor are they pressured to conform to just one style of dress in general. Dressing to both express and impress is now the priority for this group, and individuality plays a major role in Gen Z’s daily decision on what they choose to wear. Yet individuality is a near-impossible task in a generation intent on identifying and defining every aesthetic imaginable. Some influencers are crowned champions of their aesthetics, such as @aliyahsinterlude, whose alternative style was crowned “aliyahcore.” Many pushed back, arguing that chunky shoes and miniskirts predate the influencer, but the name stuck. Moreover, the concept becomes more complex within the generation itself when considering topics such as maximalism, upcycling, environmentally conscious clothing, SHEIN hauls and fast fashion. No part of Gen Z is left untouched by discourse when it relates to their fashion, and many will say that how they dress is a key part of their identity.

So how did we get here? Can we really blame it all on social media and the ever-present advances in technology? Surely not– but it is a great place to start. Generation Z grew up on both sides of the age of technology and had uniquely unfettered access to the world of fashion. This has not only influenced the way Gen Z dresses, but also influenced them to revolutionize the fashion world on their own terms. Their use of social media as a way to express and advertise these new styles to the rest of the world has greatly played into this. Influencers such as Clara Perlmutter, better known as @Tinyjewishgirl on Tiktok, has used social media to show her maximalist, over-the-top and sometimes gaudy fashion looks to her 899.3K followers. Though her looks aren’t for everyone and she oftentimes receives a lot of criticism, Perlmutter is a prime example of Generation Z’s fashion revolution and loud yawps of individuality.

Like their clothing, Gen Z contains multitudes. Johnny Cirillo, “The People’s Paparazzi” and @watchingnewyork on Instagram, is yet another social media user who uses their platform to advertise the fluidity this generation has when it comes to their style choices and their fearlessness in playing with color theory, textures, fabrics and historically gendered clothing. Cirillo’s page captures New Yorkers in all their fashionable glory. No two outfits are quite the same – monochromatic individuals walk arm in arm with friends donned in all kinds of patterns and fabrics. The account helps a bit to demystify Gen Z’s fashion sense and drives home their desire for individuality. Everyone looks at home in their outfits; from a simple jeans and t-shirt combo to sky-high heels embedded with strawberries, a sense of confidence within every wearer links each post.

There truly is no better way to describe Generation Z’s fashion style than with the words, “inclusive” and “unique.” Though trends and styles are still being discovered, or even rediscovered and incorporated into an already complex style, the multitude of people enjoying the discourse of fashion has greatly increased and diversified. People of all ages, sizes, gender expressions and ethnicities are now contributing to Gen Z’s fashion culture and continue to make it a welcoming and inclusive place that prioritizes comfort and expression.

However, an interesting point about Gen Z style is its intersectionality with social issues such as gender identity and environmental consciousness. It would be wrong not to mention the millions of young adults who are challenging the fast fashion industry by constructing their aesthetics through second-hand clothing stores. They do this through the resurgence of thrift culture in an effort to reduce waste and be more environmentally friendly. This has recently sparked conversation surrounding the ethics of shopping in stores whose clothes are priced significantly lower to make them more accessible to low-income individuals. Despite this, many have educated themselves and conscientiously choose to thrift in the hope that these stores can remain safe spaces for people with lower incomes.

All in all, the conversation surrounding Generation Z’s fashion boils down to what will remain when the new generation of young adults takes over. Gen Z aims to be timeless. Their sense of style is heavily dependent on the wearer of the clothes. This generation of young people is ambitious in their sense of fashion, trying to tackle larger issues such as environmental consciousness, accessibility, body inclusivity and gender expression. Ultimately, they have decided to wear whatever they want. If clothing tells a story, then Gen Z are master storytellers. Though not everyone understands, they don’t have to. And they’ll keep looking anyway.

Katherine Hollis, New York University

Writer Profile

Katherine Hollis

New York University
Psychology and Creative Writing

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