why are people wearing impractical clothing?

2010 was a significant year for pop culture. From the release of Justin Bieber’s Baby to Snooki’s infamous drunken arrest, 2010 birthed a plethora of moments that have become ingrained in the cultural zeitgeist. Yet, among all these moments, there is one that stands out – Lady Gaga’s meat dress. Dubbed as the ‘most outrageous celebrity fashion moment’ of the 2010 MTV Video Music Awards, Gaga’s meat dress received criticism for its impracticality and attention-seeking nature – a similar critique that has been applied to some of today’s fashion trends. 

Recently, it would appear that clothing is becoming slightly impractical. From MSCHF’s Big Red Boots, which have been seen on the likes of Coi Leray and Diplo, to Loewe’s Spring Summer 2023 Women’s Wear Collection, it seems like that artistry surpasses functionality when it comes to fashion. Now, I don’t mean to sound as though I am complaining. If anything, the adoption of cartoonish elements into fashion, such as bright colours, interesting silhouettes and whimsical designs, is certainly endearing. But, my question is: Why is it happening and why can’t I escape it?

As with most things, Julia Fox explains it best: “Ugly is in”. In response to the online discourse surrounding dissatisfaction towards the phony nature of social media, we have seen growing resistance towards overly curated images, and the gravitation towards chaos, confusion and self expression. 

Consequently, trend forecasters and bloggers alike, have noted the arrival of the ‘Anti-Design’ movement. With its origins found in counterculture and feminism of the 1960s and 70s, pieces inspired by the Anti-design movement often reject functionality and predictability but embrace colour and individualism. The current collective desire for authenticity and individuality, which has been explored through the sudden rise of various apps and trends, has ultimately impacted the popularity of ‘outrageous’ runways, such as Botter’s SS 23 runway or Moschino’s SS 23 show.

@culted Throwback to Botter Paris at their SS/23 show last September 👀 📹 - @imruh & @lucienpages #botter #botterparis #parisfashionweek #fashion #fashionforyou #fashiontok #fashiontiktok #learnontiktok #foryou #foryoupage #fyp ♬ original sound - Notfromco

In conjunction with the Anti-design movement, people seem to be embracing ‘cringe-core’. The trend, which had its humble beginnings in 2022, embraces the idea of having bad taste and encourages us to want to stand out from the crowd. Taylor Lorenz, who writes for Rolling Stone, highlights that ‘for much of the internet’s history, cringe has been an insult. But now, a shift is underway’. If anything, the rise of impractical clothing and ‘cringe core’ go hand in hand – both want us to be unapologetic in our choices… especially through fashion.

However, perhaps all of this (Anti-design, cringe and impracticality) is evidence of our collective need for escapism and our subsequent embracing of the metaverse. Okay, I’ll be the first to admit that it does seem slightly overdramatic to link political events such as the Tennessee drag ban or the cost of living crisis, to our need to want to escape society through whimsical and impractical clothing. However, given all the political and social turmoil, and the stress and anxiety it induces, is it really that surprising that people want a break from their reality? 

More and more we are seeing the use of fashion as an avenue for escapism. With our frustration towards the stresses of our everyday lives, why would we want to dress normally…when we could dress like cartoons? 

When looking at some of the popular ‘impractical’ items of 2023, it’s obvious that escapism and nostalgia are the driving factors behind their design. Take, for example, the Jimmy Choo x Sailor Moon collaboration, or the MSCHF boots, which draw inspiration from the red boots worn by Astro Boy in the beloved manga series. 

The same could be said of the Diesel ultra mini skirt. Although the skirt is not necessarily inspired by cartoons from our childhood, it does play on our love for early 2000s fashion. The ability to capture the Y2K aesthetic, a period which is known (and loved) for generating excitement and producing iconic moments,  through one of the most popular brands from the period, is desirable to many – despite the obvious futility of the skirt. 

Even on runways from the late 2010s, there is the blend of impracticality and fashion history. The Comme des Garçons Homme Plus Spring/Summer 2015 collection, saw models walk the runway in shoes reminiscent of 19th century long toe shoes. Although I doubt that the Comme des Garçons runway inspired a new trend of people exclusively wearing long toe shoes, the excitement generated by the unusual design and nostalgia did not go unnoticed. 

But while the cartoonish appeal of elaborate and impractical clothing is certainly ‘fun’, it’s worth considering that such garments are also indicative of material wealth and status. If we look at clothing during the Renaissance, the period which saw the introduction of tight- fitting bodices and ridiculously long skirts, there was the implication that the more impractical your clothes, the higher social status you had. The idea was that the individuals who could purchase these clothes didn’t depend on work to make a living, allowing their clothing to prioritise aesthetics over functionality.

No, I don’t think Astro boy inspired boots were designed to be a profound critique of the relationship between class and work. However, their $350 price tag strongly suggests that their target audience probably doesn’t have your typical 9-5. 

Ultimately these statement pieces allow individuals to stand out from the crowd. They are a subtle indication of your confidence and rejection of homogeneity. Given the tendency of social media users to gravitate towards unique and unconventional content, should we be surprised that we are moving away from functionality in our clothes?

Whatever your opinion is on impractical fashion, it certainly isn’t going anywhere any time soon. Not only does the ability to create thought-provoking (or tweet-provoking) pieces push our boundaries on what we think could be considered as wearable, they also provide an avenue to express aspects of one’s individuality (or disposable income). So, who cares if you get weird looks.. if you have the cash to spare, get some impractical clothes!

Joelle Bello @joelle.bello