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The Era Of Unapologetic Bad Taste

Cringe. Slay. Although the time to decide the word of the year hasn’t come just yet, it’s undeniable how much of 2022 can fall under those adjectives – and how much these two singular words embody the trend of perceiving what we once looked down upon through some post-irony, refreshing new light. Even phrases like slay girlboss queen have been “yassified” after being banned from our vocabulary for years. But, this time, ironically, there is a difference.

Now more than ever it’s fashionable to have bad taste. Bad taste is empowering: to love what should be bashful and cringe, and have confidence in it is like fuel to Gen Z’s individuality. And there is nothing better than being one-of-a-kind to a generation like Gen Z. 


If John Locke’s theory that we are born blank canvases is somehow true to human nature, then Gen Z’s appetite for individuality can be entirely fulfilled. After all, Over 70% of Gen Zers believe they need more self-expression to live a happy life. This includes everything from labeling your own aesthetic (I’m a normcore type of gal, FYI) to writing, making art, basking in your very niche passion and what makes you, well, you. 

Considering that social media has brought the concept of “individual identity” to the forefront of our FYPs and personal lives, it seems normal for Gen Z’s thirst for individuality is at an overdrive: Posing your beliefs, interests and even fandoms online is the easiest way to showcase your personality to people and how super unique you are. 

But this goes far beyond personal beliefs and desired aesthetics. When it comes to Gen Z—they’re more likely to act on it. More than being today’s “it” consumer and accounting to an estimated $44 billion in purchasing power, Gen Z is also proven to be most likely to shop through social media. This creates the perfect soil for fast fashion to grow and for trends to follow…whatever may be fashionable right now. So as Gen Z is reclaiming things that are ugly, influencers, the media, and the market are embracing it fully—and we’re spending money on it. Because slay, I guess?


Unless you’ve been living under a rock over the past few months, you know that Y2K is in. Low-rise jeans, butterfly clips, and bedazzles babydoll tops can be found from your Instagram explore page to your FYP. However, not long ago, we all thought low-rise jeans were the ugliest thing ever. Remember the high-rise mom jeans trend?

And, have you seen how many people are craving back the 2010s aesthetic? From reminiscing on mustache rings, silly bandz, galaxy print, and LMFAO merch, it seems like 2010s fashion is no longer a part of Gen Z’s embarrassing past. And while we can chalk this up to Gen Z nostalgia, there is also the feeling (and anticipation, honestly) that these “cringe” trends are coming back: the trashy party girl look has already popped up in the FYP and Elena Gilbert and Bella Swan are suddenly fashion icons again. It can be only a matter of time before the cringe brushes away from skinny jeans and neon colors. 

Even though the general thought a year ago was basically, God, don’t let low-rise jeans come back, they did. Not only is Bella Hadid into pants that hang low and baby crop tees, but popular online thrifts like Depop are mining old Guess baguette bags, Von Dutch hats, and Ed Hardy couture items to resell. Even Bermuda shorts—which were and will always be ugly—are the summer item to have

Whether it’s nostalgia or only a preference for the way pants are cut: past decades circle back, sure, but taking pride in what was cringe and tacky not very long ago is what is different this time. In the past, we’d be selective: when the 90s came back, for example, there were chokers, there was plaid, but pants with one leg rolled up were nowhere to be seen. But with the 2000s coming back in full-force, Gen Z is embracing it all, no matter how ugly or cringe it was (and were…really? Bermuda shorts?).


Fashion, of course, is only the tip of the iceberg, since it’s the most visible way that bad taste can be externalized. But it’s safe to say that now the abolishment of cringe runs deeper. Hello! It’s camp!

Bad taste is everywhere: casual Instagram, taking pride in guilty pleasures like fanfiction and ‘questionable’ media like The Hills and Jersey Shore. Even if you’re listening to early 2010s Justin Bieber and 1D, you’re doing it in a self-aware, post-ironic, looking-camp-right-in-the-eye way. 

What changed for these things to not be embarrassing anymore? Why were they even embarrassing in the first place?

Maybe, since Gen Z has grown out of them, we can circle back to the comfort of our early years as a source of nostalgia. There are a ton of different interests out there and we can finally see taste as something subjective now, without any judgments of good and bad involved. 

Maybe this generation has grown so tired of anticipating what the next trend is that we’ve given up trying to be in altogether. 


Confidence, after all, is really important to Gen Z. Not caring about what people think and doing what you love are kind of this generation’s mantras, repeated a hundred times across social media platforms almost to a mind-numbing level. 

Even if it is surface deep, owning what you like and being proud of it seems to move us forward. Rather, it seems obligatory. 

So, who knows? Maybe that’s the reason why bad taste is now becoming popular. 

We’re all trying to slay—to break free from the societal standards of what’s good, and what’s not. It’s freeing not to follow the masses, to own cringy vocabulary, and to love Twilight books like we’re different from other people that are, like,  sooo worried to fit in. 

In that way, bad taste isn’t so much of an attempt to be unique anymore. Because, well, we’re all embracing it. We’re all yassifying things and embracing the bad, the ugly, and the cringe. If there is good taste, there needs to be bad taste to oppose it, and the odds of being on one side or another is 50-50. And really? Who actually cares? In 2022, Gen Z couldn’t care less about it.

Honestly…that is kind of camp of us. 

Isabella Gemignani

Casper Libero '23

Isabella Gemignani is a National Writer for Her Campus and editor-in-chief of Her Campus Casper Libero. She covers everything culture-related for the national website - and oversees her chapter's content production, which involves editorial, social media, podcast and events verticals and makes up a team of over 100 girls. Beyond Her Campus, Isabella writes for the architecture and design magazine Casa e Jardim, Brazil's oldest magazine currently in the editorial market. With a 70-year-old history, Casa e Jardim is known for its traditional culture, gastronomy and lifestyle curation. When not writing – which is rare –, Isabella can be found reading classic novels and looking for new music releases that remind her of the feeling she had when she listened to AM for the first time.