February 4, 2023

If you were asked to describe this year’s fashion identity, could you do it? Perhaps you could call nostalgiacore, for the glorious resurgence of Y2K fashion; or maybe you’re referring to fetishcore, before the influx of leather harnesses and latex bodysuits that pushed BDSM-related styles into the mainstream (thanks for your contributions, Julia Fox). Instagram’s trend report for 2022 said this was going to be the year for goblincore, and sure, fairycore’s grungier counterpart had its moment, but so did balletcore’s Miu Miu flats, Barbiecore’s Valentino pink, the denim-everything from cowboycore, the Gilded Age silhouettes from regencycore, and so on. Although nice, [insert any noun here]core trends are often more likely to have an intense moment in the spotlight to disappear, thanks to TikTok’s ferocious For You page and its sea of ​​volatile pledges. So how can you tell the real gold from the fool’s gold? Can quality clothing still emerge on its own, or does it always need an algorithm-friendly title to gain widespread appeal?

“Modern fashion is currently obscured by gimmicks,” Mandy Lee, a Brooklyn-based fashion analyst and trend forecaster who goes on TikTok as @oldloserinbrooklyn, told Hypebeast. “The same strategies people use to go viral on TikTok, fashion uses to get noticed. It’s really amazing to see how fashion is adapting to this new way of consuming things.”

Over that veil splattered the exhausted four-letter term, “core.” Since its introduction to the fashion dictionary, the little-suffix-that-can has spawned thousands of stylistic blueprints for Internet-born microtrends. Among them, some find subcultural success, such as cottagecore and gothcore, both of which have garnered cult followings in their own way, while others (rightly so) remain reserved for their niche audiences: see bubblegumbitchcore or feralcore. Anyway, there is a core to everything. Anyone can make a core and anything can be a core.

And all it takes is a viral moment.

TikTok trend forecasters, fashion commentators, and style-focused media outlets can slap a nicely packaged “core” at the end of a hot-topic noun to communicate a new trend to their audience in a relatable, consumable way. But the problem with the “core” lexicon is its digestibility – it’s like a reverse Sour Patch Kid: first it’s sweet, then it’s sour.

The “cores” that gain traction will quickly go under as fast-fashion brands gruesomely mass-produce the moment with stolen designs made from harmful materials under unethical working conditions. And once becomes a core at mainstream, people are looking at a new name, continuing the toxic cycle that was responsible for one of this year’s most depressing headlines: “Shein is the hottest brand in the world.”

Founded in 2008 in Nanjing, the fast-fashion company has been crowned the most searched clothing brand in 113 countries around the world. For context, Shein earned $10 billion USD in 2020, while competitors ASOS and Boohoo earned $4.4 billion USD and $2.4 billion USD in the same year. Today, the brand is valued at a surprising $100 billion USD according to The Wall Street Journalmaking it the largest digital fashion company in the world.

Just hours after claiming the Google crown, Shein admitted to working hours violations, with some employees working 75 hours a week with only two or three days off a month — and that’s just the tip of the iceberg if it’s about the company’s unethical practices. Quick refresher: Shein is the billboard for design theft, mainly stealing from independent and up-and-coming designers. It allegedly failed to compensate its employees fairly, and according to Public“numerous informal workshops [have] no emergency exits and [come] with barred windows that can have fatal consequences in the event of a fire.” It operates on an extremely unsustainable environmental model, producing 700 to 1,000 new styles each day and leaving behind 6.3 million metric tons of carbon dioxide equivalent each year, almost all of it from the supply chain.

In an era when companies are quick to tout their commitment to sustainability, how has Shein managed to spread into the fast-fashion mammoth it is today? The most obvious answer is the company’s incredibly low prices (the average item costs $7.90 USD), which are a saving grace for many facing a cost-of-living crisis worldwide. In that respect, capitalism is to blame. However, the sheer volume of products the brand releases on a daily basis is not an attempt to clothe the needy; it’s just an absolutely ridiculous reaction to the accelerating microtrend cycle – and it begs the question of why we’re buying So a lot?

People love owning the latest “it” item, and these days Gen-Z’s elusive “it” is largely defined by TikTok’s For You page, which sparks new trends around the clock. In light of TikTok’s tsunami of new styles, “cores” make it easy to define those popular yet hyper-specific moments in fashion. But to be clear, it’s more than okay for a microtrend to be just that. Calling it a “core” turns the clothes into a social media movement, and more often than not, the title is too complicated for fairly simple color or fabric choices. But with that hashtag comes the fast-fashion overhaul, and with just a few clicks those items are in your cart.

@oldloserinbrooklyn #stitch with @laini ozark everything is back at once #fashiontrends #trendcycle #fashion ♬ original sound – Mandy Lee

To be fair, the flooded “core” isn’t all Gen-Z’s fault. It surfaced in 2013, with normcore, a term coined by two millennials: brand consultants and K-Hole founders Greg Fong and Emily Segal. The industry-shifting moniker was used to denote those who recognized the power of belonging, rather than seeking originality or virality. In the words of Fong and Segal, “Normcore is moving away from a coolness that relies on difference to a post-authenticity coolness that chooses equality.”

Then came gorpcore, in 2017, thanks New York magazine. The term, which is actually an outdoorsman’s acronym for trail mix (good old raisins and peanuts), tied a bow on the granola outfits with pieces from brands like Arc’teryx and Salomon. RepellentHarling Ross wasted no time introducing the next: menocore, or coastal grandmother chic. But where fashion writers walked, the internet walked.

Nuclei are gone at far, and it’s time we put the weary suffix to sleep. If you really buy into every core, which fast-fashion brands make very possible, it’s likely that your wardrobe will be very similar to that of The White LotusPortia, whose style FashionSarah Spellings so eloquently describes it as “obviously algorithmically informed.” Each individual piece in Portia’s closet appeals to a different core, and together prints collide without regret, accessories demand too much attention, and her look generally lacks identity. On his core (pun fully intended), style is a vehicle for personal expression. Where is the personality in an algorithmic prescription?

In 2021, Lee predicted the current mess with her first ever viral TikTok video. “The trend cycle will reach a point where it self-implodes because there are so many different microtrends and they’re becoming more and more apparent,” she said. “People will have no choice but to lean on their personal style because it’s just going to be impossible to keep up.”

Establishing an individual style does take dedicated effort, so Lee offers this advice: “Always have conviction. If you love that swan knit cardigan, you’ll wear a damn lot of it. You didn’t buy it because it’s just a trend. It lasts longer in the cycle because you just really liked it.

“I don’t think there will ever be a single attitude or shift that will stop the Shein machine,” Lee said.

Instagram’s 2023 trend report says that more than half of Gen Z plan to make their own clothes next year, citing sustainability as a key issue for the generation, which could lead to an influx of individualism. In addition, the social media giant reports that more than a quarter of Gen Z shoppers plan to be frugal with their clothes in the new year, especially when items fall out of budget. That’s promising, but unfortunately it won’t be enough to fight fast fashion. “I don’t think there will ever be a single attitude or shift that will stop the Shein machine,” Lee said. “I really don’t see how we’re going to get out of this.”

So here I am, telling you to do exactly what I’ve been preaching to you for the last 1,361 words: embrace a different core… kind of. Enter nothingcore, the full stop to the core cycle. Nothingcore is not your traditional core, nor is it any core at all. It’s a social media-friendly call to action to drop the core altogether.

Instead of cosplaying as TikTok’s next hashtag, prioritize refining your personal fashion identity on a larger scale. That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t still participate in new trends, nor does it mean you shouldn’t look to cores for sartorial inspiration — because, let’s face it, a lot of them can be very creative. It’s about writing your own style doctrine, not copying the social media version. It’s about taking responsibility as a consumer in the current vicious trend cycle. It’s about fighting the Shein machine. After a year when fashion was defined by gimmicks, maybe nothingcore be the one to finish them all in 2023? Time will tell.

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