Fashion has a penchant for being a hard-biting business. This is nothing new. It’s an industry constantly regenerating - firmly placing brands, designers, and trendmakers at the top of the hill, hoping their influence trickles down to the masses, and then pushing them back down when it is decided that their moment has passed. Everyone at the “top” - editors, influencers, street style stars, celebrities - deck themselves out in what’s new, chic, and cool, inspiring their dedicated fans and readers to dress in their images.
Yet lately, a new wave has arrived that can hardly fit under the "chic" moniker of the past - the runways, our Instagram feeds, and editorials are embracing bad taste and styles that are decidedly “ugly.” What’s uncool is becoming cool again, specifically because it’s uncool. From unattractive footwear, fanny packs, acne, crooked teeth, double-bar glasses, orthodontics, unibrows, and messy makeup, consciously defying fashion’s status quo is now the thing to do. Just look at Vetements, whose collaborations with the likes of Reebok and Juicy Couture have bought popularity and allure to orthopedic-style sneakers and revived the infamously tacky ‘00s velour tracksuits, respectively. Or take Raf Simons, who, like Demna Gvasalia at Vetements, continued the trend of clunky, thick footwear with his Ozweegos sneakers. Then we have Christopher Kane single-handedly breathing new life into probably fashion’s most hated shoe: Crocs; for the past two seasons, Kane has collaborated with the brand to create bedazzled and patterned versions of the rubber clogs saying, “I like that they are perceived by some to be quite ‘ugly’ and not at all feminine or designed to flatter.”
Many brands are also showcasing several ugly pretty beauty trends, like Malaysian label Moto Guo, known for its geek aesthetic, who nearly broke Twitter when he sent models down the runway with red, blemished, and broken out faces in one of his most recent shows. Similarly, New York brand Barragán featured each model sporting either natural or manufactured unibrows. Speaking of manufactured, the fake freckle trend has become one of the most popular beauty trends - imitation imperfections promising a youthful look. Brands like Topshop are even selling “Freckle Pencils” to cash in on the craze. In the editorial realm, fashion publications have been posing questions about ugliness and beauty standards through as well; in its Spring/Summer 2017 issue, HUNGER magazine featured an editorial entitled “Drop Dead Gorgeous” starring models as beauty pageant contestants with severely obvious "flaws." One model wears overtly large false teeth, while another wears a cloudy-eyed contact, another model dons a large downturned prosthetic nose, and a fourth model wears a unibrow - very similar to the impetus of Beyoncé’s “Pretty Hurts” music video.
From this wave also emerges a new tribe of models, thanks in part to the guerrilla casting of subversive labels like Gypsy Sport. These fresh faces break the standard pretty model mold - coming in every shape, size, colour, orientation, and identification, they refuse to relinquish their individuality. With models like Slick Woods, Elliot Jay Brown, Seashell Coker, and Jazzelle at the foreground, flaws are celebrated, quirks are enhanced, and beauty in our epoch is redefined (and refreshingly relatable).
Resurrecting the fashion dead when it comes to fanny packs, or brands like Juicy Couture and Crocs, or unibrows and kitchen sink haircuts takes a particular sense of self-assurance - it makes a comment on both the validity of what is “on trend” and the definitions of attractiveness or beauty. To dress badly, and own it, says that you are above trends. Now, if you in turn create one, well, then there lives the catch twenty-two. It takes confidence to the pull off the “ugly” or passé, both on the part of the designers and those consuming the fashion. And make no mistake, these designers and brands are satirizing; it is much more of an homage, celebration, and elevation of unconvention than of the specific style's aesthetic in isolation.
“Ugly” itself is a construct, taste subjective. Each are determined by the intertwining of socioeconomic background, class, culture, location, and - above all - one’s place on the fashion totem pole. Everything has its own level of attraction - that’s in the eye of the beholder. To the vast majority, living in middle to even lower-middle class - like the people from my small coal mining town in the Midwest - what’s “in” trend-wise is of absolutely no concern to them. Looks aren’t too important, to be honest; fanny packs, Crocs, and clunky sneakers have always been staples. The industry’s new infatuation with this “anti-fashion” ideology demonstrates the convoluted nature of trends as a whole. Sometimes they’re just meant to be ignored. Either way, it seems like unfashion is very, very in fashion.