Nearly a decade after its introduction to the Internet, the meme has expanded beyond its roots on Reddit. It's been utilised to create puns out of TV and movie stills, mock politicians, deride social trends (remember planking?), and in recent years, comment on fashion. Criticism of high fashion through memes is the latest product of the ever-evolving dynamic between fashion and Internet culture.
These memes are typically posted on accounts run by youth content creators who appreciate fashion for all it’s worth, even if they deem that worth to be nothing. (You’ll know when they make a meme about it. They’re pretty harsh.) Self-proclaimed “fashun communtur & meme queen” Luke Meagher is the mastermind behind @hautelemode, a meme page amassing over eighteen thousand followers. His memes comment on recent news in fashion, like Supreme’s win at the 2018 CFDA Awards, as well as controversial trends and collections, such as Balenciaga’s purposefully ugly sneakers and Jacquemus’ disappointing menswear debut.
The main takeaway I got after stumbling upon @hautelemode for the first time is that the fashion meme serves to do more than just poke fun at topics in fashion - it creates conversations surrounding them. Few forms of fashion journalism allow for the direct user-to-user engagement that the meme does. Many Instagram users comment their own opinions on the meme’s subject matter. Some agree, others don't, but for the most part, the debate is kept civil. Commenters range from bloggers to art directors to fashion educators, and of course, there’s the occasional hypebeast troll. Even Simon Porte Jacquemus himself made an appearance in the comment section of @hautelemode’s meme criticizing his collection, where he jokingly agreed with Meagher.
The use of the meme as a tool to comment on fashion isn't exclusive to luxury labels. Though the fashion industry is often condemned for its perceived elitism, the fashion meme is nothing if not inclusive. This is represented through the plethora of accounts that cater to fashion’s subcultures. To reference a few, @fakeyeezyboosts accommodates the virtual streetwear community and @slowfashionmemes advocates for sustainability and ethical production within the industry. These accounts are more than just meme pages; they give a platform to alternative communities that are often overlooked simply because they lack the prestige of the high fashion establishment.
Regardless of the audience it targets, fashion memes serve a collective purpose: to make fashion commentary funny. It feels dismissive to write that the most important aspect of the fashion meme is humour while simultaneously praising it for its other seemingly superior qualities, but I’d like to argue that satire is exactly what fashion journalism needs more of right now. If we’re being honest here, fashion commentary is far too often boring. I’ll find myself reading a review of a collection, only to realise halfway through that my eyes are glazed over and I’m completely zoned out. In trying to recall what I just read, I can’t differentiate between that review and the one I read before it because they all sound like repetitive regurgitations of one another. The banal, worn-out review I’m describing is an indication of fashion journalism’s inability to keep up with current times. With an influx of online content, audience’s attention spans are getting shorter and the demand for commentary that’s actually interesting and meaningful is greater.
The fashion meme is the anti-review. It’s concise, entertaining, and downright hilarious — basically everything that the fashion commentary we’ve come to know is not. That, combined with the increasing assimilation of fashion journalism into online spaces has convinced me: the fashion meme is here to stay.
As major magazines like Glamour and Nylon discontinue their print editions, the circulation of the fashion meme stands as a testament to fashion journalism’s increasing reliance on the Internet. Whether or not these meme makers can be considered the new wave of fashion critics is debatable, but as someone who loves memes and is bored of conventional fashion reviews, I'm more than willing to embrace them in the community.
Text by Sarah Kearns