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Everyone has seen her at least once. She’s the girl you come across by chance while scrolling through TikTok or Instagram reels one day. It’s her outfit that gives you pause. The hodgepodge of colors, textures, and styles leaves you confused, repelled even. This girl is one of many at the forefront of a new aesthetic movement that has taken on many names: “weird girl” aesthetic, “Pinterest girl core,” “it only makes sense in New York.” All, however, are united by one cause: the uglification of fashion.
In order to understand “ugly fashion,” one must turn to the mecca of beautiful fashion: Vogue. Daniel Rodgers of British Vogue recently wrote an article about unusual (read: ugly) celebrity footwear. In the course of his article, he wrote the following statement: “Most of these [shoes] are aestheticized, cartoon versions of ugliness that seem to have been designed with the specific intention of traveling long distances on the feed.” For all intents and purposes, this line is the manifesto of pro-uglification fashionistas.
Weird/Pinterest/New York fashion displays four primary traits: an emphasis on aestheticization, or the visual romanticization of conventionally ugly objects; an over-the-top, larger-than-life cartoonishness; an ugliness causing inconvenience, discomfort, or offense to the eye; and a focus on clickability, or the degree to which something will go viral on social media.
The fourth trait is a product of the aesthetic movement’s beginnings, which can be traced to the advent of social media. In the early 2000s, the average consumer started to buy more clothes just as social media notoriety became highly profitable. As a result, high fashion brands began to intentionally uglify their clothing lines. The subsequent online mockery brought their products to more consumers, who then bought them under the false impression that everything that famous brands made was “art.” As a result, the world witnessed the travesties of waist-high Manolo Blahniks going on sale and Balenciaga models trudging through the mud.
Though this laughable maximalism was originally mocked by the masses, it eventually trickled down to the average person. The process reached maximum velocity during quarantine. Once the novelty of casualness wore off, pop culture experienced an explosion of aesthetic excess, thrifting, and other cornerstones of the ugly fashion aesthetic.
The appeal of what one Youtuber dubbed the “colorful hyper-maximalist cluttered style” might be elusive to an outsider, but it ultimately lies in a great American virtue: individuality. In describing the draw of “cluttercore,” or the weird girl aesthetic’s interior design equivalent, Hanna Martin said to Architectural Digest, “It requires personality and specialized interest in order to work.”
That’s true to a certain extent. The inharmonious items that comprise a maximalist outfit defy generalization. In light of that, ugly fashion could be a rebellion against people’s ubiquitous categorization into aesthetics like “dark academia” and “coastal grandma” online.
Even so, in avoiding categorization, maximalist dressers often risk tackiness. People often take the aesthetic’s “mix and match” directive to the extreme. One Instagram user, for example, proudly displayed a look that combined an oversized tee, men’s boxer shorts, cowboy boots, and a baseball cap. Her caption: “When you style a cute outfit but it only makes sense in NY.”
Not only does dressing to this look risk ridiculousness, it can also have real effects on one’s mindset. One study showed that dressing in an incongruous way — a mandate of the maximalist aesthetic — decreases one’s focus and alertness. Another revealed that wearing “put together” outfits heightened one’s abstract thinking skills as well as one’s perception of their own “responsibility, competence, honesty, reliability, and trustworthiness.”
Though these findings sound impossible, they are actually reasonable in practice. When you dress for a funeral, your brain prepares to grieve. When you put on gym clothes, your brain prepares to work out. When you wear partially nonfunctional, mismatched clothes, your brain prepares for the laid-back, mundane situations in which that outfit would be appropriate. In other words, if you take the maximalist aesthetic to the extreme, even your brain won’t take you seriously.
Considering all this, it may be time to resist the uglification of fashion. In addition to looking silly, ugly outfits can hinder one’s cognitive function. Rather than falling back on the “senseless is goodness” mantra, consider exploring the dreaded TikTok aesthetics and figure out which one speaks to you. You can use that as a starting point to buy and style clothes that make you look put together and *gasp* like a cohesive whole. Sure, high fashion brands might be doing the opposite, but those same brands once normalized corsets. Who needs them, anyway?
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