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Go Girl, Give Us Nothing! A Look at 2023’s Most Bland Trends.

In the midst of rapidly changing and diverse fashion and beauty trends, 2023 was a year of minimalism and simplicity. After years of maximalism and colorful Y2K styles, their consistent rise finally screeched to a halt. Various shades of gray, beige, and white overtook everyone’s closets and vanities, coming together to form polished, chic outfits. This color palette and simple style culminated in two major aesthetics of the year: quiet luxury and the clean girl aesthetic. While everyone was obsessed with these styles throughout the year, they fail to acknowledge the roots of classism and racism behind these styles.


Throughout history, there has been a clear divide between the working class, or new money, and the old money groups. Historically, “Old money” was associated with generational wealth, families who are ingrained in American history as far back as the Mayflower. These families are descendants of slave-owners, ship-owners, and the planter class. “New money” was associated with people who gained their wealth through their own means during the Gilded Age. Think of Madam C.J. Walker, America’s first recorded self-made female millionaire, who built her empire by selling hair products to working class black women. The old money found that the wealth of the new money was distasteful and sought to distance themselves by any means necessary, including fashion.


The old money and new money have had opposing styles for centuries. Think of the 90s, for example. As a decade, the 90s was all about minimalism. On one end of that spectrum, there was the rise of grunge: a cultural movement that featured mundane motifs in its fashion, such as tartan shirts, ripped jeans, and messy hair, which was popular with the working class and new money. On the other hand, the rich had a more polished style. Minimal color palettes, pearls, tweed, and sleek silhouettes were classic elements of this new style, which was featured on many wealthy characters from iconic 90s sitcoms and films such as The Nanny, The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air, and Clueless. In real life, Gwyneth Paltrow, Kate Moss, and Julia Roberts were also associated heavily with this style. 


In the last couple of years a similar process has played out: many trends associated with new money in the early 2000s like logomania, maximalism, and bright colors have made their way into mainstream media. As a rejection to the perceived gaudiness of these trends, wealthy people have turned to neutral color palettes and sleek silhouettes. While this style is not new, in 2023, it was branded “quiet luxury,” an attempt of the new money and working class to emulate old money through well tailored and simple looks. While quiet luxury has been trendy since 2022, it became an Internet sensation after the 2023 release of the fourth and final season of Succession, a show about the lives of the billionaire Roy family and their fight to control their multimedia conglomerate. Succession is just one of many television shows in recent years to focus on the wealthy, with other standout examples being the 2021 reboot of  Gossip Girl and the critically acclaimed The White Lotus.


Photo Credit: ig: @tillyparsons_

There is also minimalism in the popular clean girl aesthetic of 2023. The clean girl aesthetic is similarly a response to the maximalism and perceived messiness of a lot of “new money” trends. The clean girl aesthetic, like quiet luxury, aims to be effortless and elegant, put together without even trying. The clean girl look is defined by minimal makeup and jewelry, as well as hair slicked back into buns or held back by a claw clip (in a neutral color of course). The clothing as well is mundane, with matching sets in neutral colors. While not as prevalent in film and television as quiet luxury, the clean girl style was  popularized through social media, with some of the frontrunners of this style being Hailey Bieber and Sofia Richie, women who come from wealthy families and have married even wealthier men. Being a clean girl is not just defined by what you wear, it’s a lifestyle. The clean girl eats healthy, does pilates, and decorates her home with minimalist decor in multiple shades of gray, beige, and white. It’s the illusion of effortless productivity and style.

 

Both aesthetics use a style philosophy called stealth wealth. Stealth wealth is less of an aesthetic and more of a fashion philosophy. It utilizes average clothes to hide one’s socioeconomic status in a feigned attempt at relatability (think Adam Sandler’s style). At first glance the stealth wealth, quiet luxury, and clean girl aesthetics don’t seem similar at all, but they all utilize one key thing: discretion. Quiet luxury is about signifying wealth and status without appearing like the new money, who tend to favor loud and bold styles. Clean girl is about looking “put together" so to speak; it’s about looking classy without even trying. However, what these two trends truly do is perpetuate classism and racism in the fashion and beauty industries. 


Many of the newly rich of the past few decades are black, and they are responsible from many of the trends associated with the new money, such as logomania, a style defined by an obsession with visible logos and branding, or the slicked back hair associated with the clean girl aesthetic. While people idolize quiet luxury and the clean girl, there is also  demonization of black culture and fashion. It’s saying that black people aren’t deserving of their wealth, that their culture is distasteful or tacky. It’s idolizing the 1% and ignoring the heinous roots of that wealth (such as slavery, mistreatment of the lower class, etc.). 


Fashion and beauty are more often brushed aside when it comes to discussions about race and classism, with the idea that there are more pressing issues at hand. However, fashion and beauty, as seen with the popularity of quiet luxury and the clean girl, has proven to be an influential factor in upholding racist and classist ideals. People idolize the wealthy without thought, not acknowledging the roles they play in white supremacy and capitalism, and try to emulate them. Instead, we should use fashion and beauty to celebrate diversity and culture, unapologetically loud and vibrant.

 

Shania is a freshman in College studying English.

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