Generational rivalries are nothing new. We all remember the ‘ok boomer’ trend in 2019, where millennials and gen Z made fun of the reactionary views of older generations. More recently, however, the internet is consumed by the rivalry between millennial (born 1981- 1996) and Gen Z (1997- 2012) fashion and culture.
Where does the rivalry come from?
A strong sense of a distinct Gen Z identity has been created in recent years, especially through the rapid popularity of TikTok. ‘Gen Z culture’ is unique in its being framed by technology use, heightened social awareness and abstract or sarcastic humour. Now, with many of Gen Z now reaching adulthood, Millennials are finding themselves behind the trends for the first time, particularly online. Much of the online debate has surrounded the unlikely societal divider: the skinny jean. The tag ‘no skinny jeans’ quickly took off on TikTok, with 274,000 videos under the tag in February. The middle vs side part debate has also been a core inciter of the Millennial vs Gen Z battleground. In and of themselves, these are trivial shifts that have provoked a harmless cultural debate, there are, however, deeper roots at play.
Misogyny and the fear of women aging
An insidious undercurrent of conversations around the transition from millennials to Gen Z becoming the trend setters, is the sigma of women aging. It is worth noting that this debate seems to focus exclusively on female style and interests. I would suggest that the more intense reactions of millennial women to their style becoming the butt of the joke is rooted in the societal belief that a woman’s worth declines with age. In a culture where we are told as women that the aging process is something to be feared and prevented, the reaction of millennial women to teens poking fun of them becomes less surprising (however cringy those TikTok ‘diss tracks’ may be!) However, the nature of trend formulation in the internet age could be a positive shift away from such damaging beauty standards.
Gen Z style: A more inclusive approach to fashion?
Though the emergence of distinctly Gen Z fashion trends appears trivial, and simply part of the cyclical nature of fashion, the body acceptance movement and an increased social consciousness may set Gen Z style apart from trends of the past. Nowadays, we have access to more diverse sources of fashion inspiration than ever before. This has provoked a huge shift, where the fashion industry and glossy magazines are no longer the exclusive pioneers of what we should buy and how we should look. This provides us with a level of agency over the direction new fashion trends take, rather than it being imposed by the fashion industry celebrity culture- which also forces the mainstream to do better in terms of inclusivity. Though issues remain of social media algorithms promoting conventional beauty standards, we have come a long way from the early 2000s where trends such as low-rise jeans and crop tops were seen almost exclusively on unattainably slim bodies. Gen Z style could also provide a break from the cycle of fast fashion, with sustainability coming to the forefront how we approach our fashion choices. We can only hope that as fashion inevitably evolves, it can continue to do so in a more inclusive and sustainable way.