Despite fashion being thought of as an industry that takes itself seriously, the tide is turning thanks to a pervasive and much-appreciated Instagram trend.
Fashion memes are the antidote to fashion’s poe-faced stereotype. They make the most mundane topics relatable; celebrate – or ridicule – extravagant style moments both on and off the catwalk; and poke fun at some of life’s most serious topics. Fashion becomes accessible, even to those who think they don’t care.
Take Rihanna’s 2015 omelette dress moment. Some may lack interest about the Met Gala or not care that her dress was painstakingly designed by Chinese couturier Guo Pei, but they do enjoy seeing RiRi become a popular brunch dish.
That viral moment put Guo Pei on the map. Her ‘omelette dress’ made the world take notice of her and her brand, with the designer telling the Guardian that, despite working on her collections for years, finding fame through one dress was “completely unexpected”.
So why do we find such joy in moments like this? In times that seem a little bleak, from worrying mental health epidemics to political messes, these quick shareable moments of joy add a drop of colour to a cloudy day.
“I think people crave that release and escapism that fashion offers,” says Freddie Smithson (@freddiemade), who has 116k Instagram followers at the time of writing, and is one of the many popular meme-focused accounts on Instagram.
With politics, climate change and knife-crime dominating our news feeds, a little light relief couldn’t be more appealing.
“It [the fashion meme] reflects people seeking escapism from what feels like rocky times,” continued Smithson. “It’s a time of uneasiness – not being sure what’s going on with some major issues, including climate change, global politics as well as Brexit and issues with mental health.”
Sidney Prawatyotin (otherwise known as @Siduations), who has an impressive 145k+ followers, echoes this. “I think fashion is taking itself less seriously,” he tells us. “It’s a signifier of power and opulence.”
“More than ever, the division of class, race, religion, political parties, body-size and gender are loud and clear, especially with talks of Brexit and the 45th US President.
“Fashion brands, publications and aficionados who aren’t oblivious know that it’s time for inclusivity, humility, positivity and fun.”
The rise in popularity of fashion memes might seem like a relatively recent trend, but if we dig a little deeper, it’s not all that new.
Demna Gvasalia’s influence cannot be underestimated here. His meme-worthy brand Vetements was arguably first to the party back in 2014, courtesy of his tongue-in-cheek DHL logo T-shirts and oversized slogan hoodies. In 2015, he was hired as Balenciaga creative director, presenting a new take on the heritage brand that felt fresh and rebellious where exaggerated shapes and bold silhouettes were key. His daring collections were low-hanging fruit for comedic Instagrammers, who compared a statement multiple layered coat look to an outfit Joey from Friends once wore. A pair of platform Crocs also went viral, sparking multiple memes.
Global search platform Lyst reports that viral jeans have sparked a huge spike in search. For example, when Parisian label Y/Project showed a pair of denim pants during its spring/summer 2019 show, they immediately went viral, generating a social engagement of over 514,000 impressions in under a week. There was a surge in traffic and a 2250 per cent increase in page views for ‘janties’ ahead of Coachella. Again, items like these offer peak meme potential.
Fashion has always been funny; wild, conceptual designs teamed with the creative industry characters, be it magazine editors or designers, make for ripe comedic material. Think of subcultures over the decades – the swinging sixties, punk, goth, mods and hippies – all are pretty meme-worthy. Now, with social media, we have a platform to jovially laugh at it all.
We live in a digital age with high exposure to social media, so meme-able fashion moments offer an accessible way to make light of the industry’s more amusing facets.
Before social media and Instagram likes, red-carpet style largely followed a traditional Hollywood glamour aesthetic. With the power of social media in mind, is the power of the meme influencing celebrities’ wardrobe choices? After all, it’s always the star with the boldest and most show-stopping look at an event that attracts the most attention. Are celebrities wearing more ‘meme-able’ pieces to stand out? Lady Gaga and her four outfit changes at this year’s Met Gala is a prime example.
Smithson agrees, as he says: “Look at the Met Gala – obviously there’s a theme to follow and it’s always been a peacocking event by its very nature.
“But recently, I think the desire, of both brands and celebrities, to go ‘viral’ afterwards is immense. I mean, the whole world is watching and the reach seems to be endless.”
“Take the Fiji water girl at the Golden Globes,” points out Smithson. Her coverage in the press and on social media was huge, after she stood in the background on the red carpet and accidentally became a talking point. “It was one of Fiji water’s most successful campaigns, regardless of whether it was intentional or not.”
“This really shows the power of viral content,” he adds. “The mundane can be just as powerful as being super extra.”
That said, there are plenty of celebrities over the years who have always gone big when it came to fashion. “Think Cher in Bob Mackie or Bjork in Marjan Pejoski – extravagant fashion isn’t just reserved for the world of memes,” notes Prawatyotin.
What about designers themselves? Are they considering viral moments when designing collections and catwalk concepts?
“I would imagine meme culture has become a consideration and conversation at some brands and even formed part of their strategy,” muses Smithson.
“However, I’m not convinced that designers are going bolder with their collections and, if they are, I don’t think meme culture can take the credit. The odd piece in a collection, sure! But not whole collections.
“I think designers are designing ‘meme-able’ clothes, although not intentionally,” Prawatyotin tells us. “Like memes, fashion tends to reflect current events, reference the zeitgeist of a specific time or be inspired by something or someone that’s relatable.”
“I’m hoping that it’s not just a trend,” he adds. We couldn’t agree more.
From: Harper’s BAZAAR UK