There’s a “girl” I’ve been following closely on Instagram over the last few months. She’s always on vacation. Not literally (okay, sometimes), but it’s often a figurative kind of escape — signaled by aesthetic choices instead of plane tickets. Her vibe is somewhat imperfect, with a “just pulled out of a suitcase” feel, and that’s kind of the point: It’s a little salty and sweaty, a little wrinkled, a little blurry. A version of personal style where projecting joie de vivre trumps all, even while doing something as mundane as picking up a prescription from CVS.
I’m not talking about a specific person, mind you. This “girl” is a composite of many, and a testament to how trends have evolved to reach their apex in the digital age: not as individual phenomena, but rather in conjunction with each other, to the point where they form an aspirational character of sorts. I’ve started calling this particular character the “summer girl” due to her makeup of micro trends, such as turquoise beaded necklaces, fisherman sandals, flip-flops, straw baskets, hand-painted ceramic plates, terry cloth, crochet bucket hats, white linen bedsheets, and sarongs as skirts — often displayed in tandem, as if she’s slurped summer from a straw and become the season incarnate.
“It’s the inevitable evolution of image-making and personal branding online,” writer Tembe Denton-Hurst agreed after I shared my theory with her. “We’ve gone from, ‘Oh, I’m going to wear this specific item because I like this trend’ to ‘Oh, I’m going to wear this collection of items together because I want people looking at me to assume I’m a certain kind of person.’” In that sense, it’s obvious why the summer girl is such an appealing one to project. She is the sartorial encapsulation of vitamin D — of playing hooky on Fridays, of skinny-dipping in the ocean, of kissing someone whose name you won’t remember on a trip you’ll never forget.
Naturally, a whole host of digitally savvy brands are involved in both pioneering the summer-girl aesthetic and capitalizing off the impact of its appeal. Maryam Nassir Zadeh, La Veste, Ciao Lucia, the Platera, Bode, Gimaguas, Éliou, Tombolo, Tigra Tigra, Emporio Sirenuse Positano, and Emily Levine Milan are some that come to mind, and all it takes is a quick glance through their Instagram feeds to see what they promise: you at your most unbothered and unplugged.
Tombolo’s website brandishes catchy phrases to this effect such as “escapewear,” “the bridge to your happy place,” and (my favorite) “maximalist inactivewear,” alongside its signature cabana shirts. Emporio Sirenuse likens its ethos to “a ride on a Vespa and a basket of lemons.” Blanca Miró Scrimieri — a summer girl if there ever was one — shared with me over email that her brand La Veste “is inspired by the aesthetic of la dolce vita, or summers on the Italian coast.” The result, in all these cases, is more than just summer-appropriate clothing — it’s a whole entire mood, one where sardines are a mascot and damp hair is okay at the dinner table.
“I think it’s partly a reaction to the pandemic,” Mélanie Masarin, founder of the popular nonalcoholic-aperitif brand Ghia, told me. “It forced us to find entertainment in the smallest corners of our lives while cracking outdated dress codes.” It’s true; the timing of summer-girl mania makes a lot of sense in this context. Two years and several months into a global pandemic, we’re not only gravitating toward joyful, escapist style, but also actually identifying with it in a visceral way.
“My grandmother used to say, ‘When you live in the sun, you have the same problems and the same life, but you have the sun.’ It always stuck with me.”
In addition to escapism, I think a lot of the summer-girl aesthetic’s appeal lies in its relative ease and approachability. If spending an hour blowing out your hair and ironing the wrinkles out of your clothes sits on one end of the spectrum, then this trend exists directly in opposition. It takes a certain level of confidence, especially in a sea of social-media-induced perfectionism, to let go and embrace the tomato-juice stains, but the upside of doing so is tangible. At the end of the day, whether I’m scrolling through Instagram or people-watching on the subway, the outfits that always catch my eye are not the fanciest or the coolest or the most photogenic, they’re the ones that look like someone has enjoyed a slice of life in them — and that’s what summer girls are all about.