In 2022, we made up so many names for ways to dress. For every children’s book character, ’90s rom-com trope, and family member, there was a corner of TikTok devoted to dressing like them. Never has such an embarrassment of outfit inspiration been available to us.
The urge to group a collection of trends under cutesily labeled umbrellas is not new, but the sheer number of “aesthetics” hit a fever pitch this year. 2022 fashion felt defined by the hyperspecific avatars we chose to shape our wardrobes. Barbie dolls, yes, but also: Weird girls. Party girls. Ballerinas. Matriarchs who live on the beach. Dominatrices. Clowns, somehow. I knew things had gotten out of hand when I saw that a group of TikTokers had pinpointed several crochet-heavy ensembles as representative of a “2000s frazzled English woman” aesthetic (think: Bridget Jones, or Kate Winslet in The Holiday).
Meanwhile, preppy style splintered into a collection of narrower subgenres like dark academia (a vaguely gothic twist on boarding-school uniforms), light academia (dark academia but with less black), and Plazacore (dressing like the fictional 6-year-old Plaza resident Eloise). Bridgerton birthed Regencycore, whose mood board involved various elements of 19th-century European garb like corsets, intricate florals, and empire waists.
Other monikers were defined more by an elaborately articulated vibe than any cultural reference. Something called “night luxe,” which is supposed to emulate a sumptuous late-night fête, has been described as the sartorial embodiment of an espresso martini. One Instagram account dedicated to “gnomecore” consists largely of spectacled men in lumpy beanies, all (allegedly) exuding the energy of quirky garden décor. There are so many aesthetics that some have even procreated to make trends like “ballerina sleaze,” apparently a cross between balletcore and a 2010s hipster revival that’s now being called indie sleaze.
As granular as all these references are, the actual clothing they’re purporting to describe is a lot less defined. There’s no ostensible difference, for example, between Plazacore and dressing like Blair Waldorf. “Indie sleaze” feels like an overblown way of saying that American Apparel is making a comeback. One of my co-workers translated the “frazzled 2000s Englishwoman” look to “throwing clothes on.” I heard the term “Barbiecore” weeks before I even noticed a single hot-pink dress on my Instagram feed. It’s starting to feel like the focus is less on the clothes themselves than on the moods or characters we want them to represent.
The appeal of a specific aesthetic to guide one’s clothing choices is not lost on me. Personally, I suffered this year from the fashion equivalent of streaming fatigue: constantly overwhelmed by choices. Should my jeans be skinny, loose, or also boots? How long are skirts supposed to be now? Should I get rid of all my clothes? Maybe things would be easier if I suddenly started picking outfits that make me look like, say, an heiress on vacation in Sicily.
But as the mood boards pile up, they’re becoming just as difficult to sort through as the year’s clothing-specific trends. As much as I’d love to drape myself in Diane Keaton–inspired linens, the prospect of dressing like Bella Hadid is equally alluring — and I’m not sure I’ll be into either of those options by this time next year. TikTok’s many niche aesthetics may seem individualistic, but in many ways, they’re just rebranding trend-following as a form of dress-up. If 2022 was any indication, the best way to prepare for 2023 fashion is to brush up on your Y2K movie knowledge.
Looking Back At 2022
- The Year of Facial Balancing
- The Cut’s 20 Most-Read Stories in 2023
- Bravo’s Best and Worst Year Ever