2012 Fashion Is The Rage Again For Some Reason
Well, my dear readers, I regret to inform you the day every Tumblr user has dreaded – especially elder millennials who thought it was *so quirky* to loudly play four-chord songs on the ukelele in their high school hallways every single f--king passing period -- is finally upon us. Twee is back in style, slithering out from the kitschy bowels of early 2010's hipster culture to become the first fashion trend of 2022.
Best described as what it would look like if Wes Anderson and Zooey Deschanel hosted a tea party with a mandatory dress code of Peter Pan collars, mustache finger tattoos, and ballet flats that are equally uncomfortable and smelly, Twee's comeback is seemingly much like that of low rise denim – existing much more as a theoretical threat to 20 and 30-somethings' youth and sanity than in practice. Although posts plastered across TikTok and Twitter claim a mythical horde of zoomers (who were much too young to remember the days it was cool to wear horned rimmed glasses with no actual lenses) are catalyzing a return for the cutesy aesthetic, the vast majority of comments on the topic seem to be from millennials, respectively horrified and nostalgic for the trend's return. While some used Twee's relevance it as an excuse to post their cutest Obama-era outfits …
… Others, including some of the style's arguable architects, expressed their concern. “The TikTok girlies are saying 2008-2010 twee aesthetic is coming back and I’m fuming," mused Camilla Blackett, a screenwriter who penned several iconic Twee TV shows, including New Girl and the UK iteration of Skins. "We cannot go back to ballet flats and white tights!”
Despite its mildness and divisiveness Twee, unlike its unflattering denim counterpart, is tough to objectively define. The best way to classify the trend, at least for sh-t writers like yours truly, is through an incoherent series of loosely-correlated 20-teens memories. The itchiness of Forever 21 lace patterned tights. The melancholy opening piano riff of Grizzly Bear's “Two Weeks." The time when nearly every 20-something inexplicably owned – or really wanted to own – an old-timey penny farthing. But even with this hyper-specific imagery, the question of what makes Twee "Twee" has always been tricky to answer, a challenge even The Atlantic's James Parker grappled with back in 2014.
“You’re Twee if you like artisanal hot sauce. You’re Twee if you hate bullies,” Parker wrote, referencing Spin writer Marc Spitz's book on the trend entitled Twee: The Gentle Revolution in Music, Books, Television, Fashion, and Film. “Indeed, it’s Spitz’s contention that we’re all a bit Twee: the culture has turned. Twee’s core values include ‘a healthy suspicion of adulthood’; ‘a steadfast focus on our essential goodness’; ‘the cultivation of a passion project’ (T-shirt company, organic food truck); and ‘the utter dispensing with of ”cool" as it’s conventionally known, often in favor of a kind of fetishization of the nerd, the geek, the dork, the virgin,’" he continued. In other words, if you thought you were hot s--t for knowing all the words to Feist's “1234” before that iPod commercial came out but didn't like IPAs or gatekeeping quite enough to group yourself amongst the hipsters, you were probably Twee.
But beyond its amorphous definition and the terrifying implication that we'll all be sporting frilly socks and mod shift dresses again in the foreseeable future, the Twee revival has highlighted a recurrent phenomenon in today's digital fashion landscape – the ever-shrinking window of the trend cycle. The long-standing 20-year rule that dictated how wide leg-pants and graphic crop tops would be trendy throughout the ‘70s and again in the ’90s has whittled over the past several years. From Juicy Couture's velour tracksuits finding popularity in the mid-20-teens despite being cool just 10 years earlier to the widely-documented zoomer nostalgia for 2014 Tumblr culture, trends, including Twee, are cycling in and out of fashion faster than ever. This acceleration, according to i-D's Roisin Lanigan, is partially due to TikTok and its perpetuation of fast-paced “microtrends” -- or styles that are cool for a week before becoming passe.
“You would think that given we’re only in 2022, twee would have stayed in the near-distant past as a sartorial ick for at least another decade,” Lanigan explained in an article published in the Vice vertical earlier this week. “But as TikTok trends have illustrated in the past twelve months alone (remember the House of Sunny dress everyone had to have? No? Remember hibiscus print? Avant-basic? Crochet outfits? Thought not) the trend cycle has grown more frenetic than we’d ever thought possible," she continued. "Micro-trends beget micro-trends so quickly that even Shein struggles to keep up. Fashion always looks to the past to inspire the future, but when the past is no longer multiple decades ago but instead 2014, you have to wonder whether we’ve gone too far with our aesthetic navel-gazing."
Although it may not be a question of “whether” but by what margin we've gone too far with “aesthetic navel gazing,” as Langian put it, Twee's resurgence is about more than just style – or lack thereof. Aside from exemplifying the trend cycle's latest terrifying half-life, the Twee comeback represents a combination of simultaneous nostalgia and wishful thinking considering the current state of our world.
When Twee first reached its peak circa 2012, we were less than five years from the 2008 Global Financial Crisis – a.k.a one of the many “once-in-a-lifetime” disasters that have ultimately proven to be not-so “once-in-a-lifetime" after all, prompting many young people to express themselves through quaint styles typically reserved for children's book characters or manic pixie dream girls.
“The whimsical nature of the Twee aesthetic can be attributed to the time in general," YouTube trend critic ModernGurlz explained of Twee's initial rise to popularity. "We were recovering from the hardships of the economic recession and as such, we were on the hunt for fun and frivolousness.”
With its precedent in mind, Twee and its revival represents both where we are – the moments of relative normalcy throughout the pandemic -- and where we so desperately want to be – a world where everything is, well, not shockingly unprecedented, uncertain, or like, any stressful adjective that begins with the prefix un-. The return of Bella Swan core/Twilight fanaticism earlier in the pandemic represented the general melancholy of 2008 – and the repeated popularity of vampires throughout trying times, a trend dating back to the ‘70s with Ann Rice’s Interview With The Vampire – Twee takes the next logical step.
Since March 2020, we have cycled through various iterations of normalcy and restriction. On one hand, we're comforted by the nostalgia of Twee's original imagery having just endured a pandemic, but on the other, we so desperately want to put this behind us. As such, looking back at a time seemingly looking to a time when the worst of a crisis was behind us provides another level of comfort.
So folks, take it from TikTok – whether we like it or not, we're primed for a Twee resurgence. Now if you'll excuse me, I have a bowler hat to dig out from my closet.
Top Image: NBC
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