What Is Going on With Gen Z Fashion?

Look, I know this will make me sound like an old man shaking my fist at the clouds (because I am), but — what is going on with Gen Z fashion?

DISCLAIMER: While I like to think of myself as a somewhat stylish guy, I am no fashion icon. This is all in good humour so please don’t cancel me. And be nice to Gen Z. They have plenty of cool fashion trends like retro sunglasses, cool sneakers, and even the coastal grandma look.

The Costal Grandma look is a’ight.

Caveats aside, style and trends rely on a herd mentality, where oft-bizarre fashion choices become ubiquitous fads. And like the generations before them, when Gen Z decides to wear something goofy, they don’t mess around.

A few examples:

Mom jeans. What black magic has been done at the graveyard of dead styles to force the grinning, macabre skeleton of shockingly high-waisted jeans to pop out of their tomb?

More than a few Gen X women I know have told me that experiencing this unflattering atrocity again triggers them (to use the parlance of our time). They fought tooth and nail, sacrificing much, so future generations wouldn’t have to live with what they call, “the dreaded mum bum.” Which is like a real bum, but so long and flat you can’t tell where the back ends and where the legs begin.

Pajamas and sweatpants. Now, there are some fashionable sweatpants out there, I’ll admit, but back in the day, going out in public dressed to this casual extreme was called, “giving up on life.” People wearing sweats were too sad to wear pants.

I applaud Gen Z though; somehow they’ve turned sleep and depression-wear into legitimate formal dinner attire.

My son recently begged me to buy him Pit Viper sunglasses. The only people who should wear these are watersports enthusiasts, white nationalists, and dudes who say things like, “Gnarly party last night, bruh! I had so many energy drinks that I saw God!”

Gen Z, we also need to talk about footwear. Gather ‘round the old man, my young friends, and hear his out-of-touch tales of nostalgic days gone by.

On the least offensive side; platform shoes.

They’re not just for Bee Gees fans and soldiers in the Kiss Army anymore. There are platform sneakers, boots, sandals, dress shoes, etc. Everyone looks like Tom Cruise trying to stand next to Nicole Kidman. I worry they’ll roll an ankle.

Birkenstocks. Not just Birkenstocks (they’re ugly, but fine, wear ugly sandals), but Birks and socks.

Socks with sandals are a staple look of clueless 80s boomer Dads. When I was young, if your friends saw your Dad wearing socks and sandals, you’d be roasted alive, shamed and embarrassed of your lineage and their lack of fashion wherewithal. How did this Dadcore affliction become the pinnacle of cool?

The most offensive footwear in human history are Crocs.

Fugly, cheap plastic clogs with smelly, Swiss cheese holes, once reserved for nurses who needed comfy footwear and people too lazy to wear actual shoes. When will the pendulum swing back on these monstrosities?

I have two theories about why this is happening:

  • Smart phones forced an impressionable young generation indoors, away from physical friendships, where how you present your appearance matters. Then, Covid sealed the deal. Friends were online, school was online, so comfort became paramount. Fashion creates certain crucial impressions about you, but on Zoom, no one could see sweatpants and Crocs. Then, I guess it stuck IRL (to use the parlance of our times).

  • The internet/TikTok. Access to all trends has created a futuristic, post-modern, non-style. For better or worse, we had eras; 50s greasers, 60s hippies, 80s new wave, 90s grunge. Gen Z has it all at once, a collage of colliding styles that look like they used a time machine to raid their teenage parents’ closets. And like flat Earthers, if enough other people are doing the same insane thing, it becomes legitimate.

Now, I’m conscious of what I call, “not cramping someone’s Elvis.” When Elvis Presley and rock n’ roll took over teen culture, adults clutched their pearls. “It’s the devil’s work, I tells ya!” But they just didn’t understand the hypnotic allure of gyrating hips. (Or maybe they did all too well).

Point is, I don’t want to poop all over an emerging culture that I don’t understand. In fact, this rant says more about me than Gen Z. To paraphrase Grandpa Simpson, I was “with it,” until they changed what “it” was. And now “it” seems weird and scary.

Though, it’s one thing for the kids to wear crazy shit and another when I see 40-year olds wearing plastic sandals with a six-inch sole to work in an office. You don’t look young and cool; you look soooo cringe (to use the parlance of our times).

There’s a Star Trek movie where they’re trapped on Earth of the past (coolness and Star Trek go hand-in-hand, right?). Knowing any interference could change the future, the captain tells them to, “find a little corner of the world and stay out of history’s way.”

I don’t know if I’m right or just an old man shaking his fist at the Crocs. Since I’ll never understand the appeal of mom jeans or pit vipers, no matter how cool they seem to be, it may be time for me to find my own little corner and stay out of history’s way.

Or, I could embrace my inner Dad and climb aboard the socks and sandals train, shouting, “All aboard for a fashion trainwreck!”

If I wore socks and sandals these days, I’d probably be the coolest Dad at the mall. However, in true Gen X fashion, I’d hate myself for doing it.

Craig Silliphant

Craig Silliphant is a D-level celebrity with delusions of grandeur. A writer, editor, critic, creative director, broadcaster, and occasional filmmaker, his thoughts have appeared on radio, television, in print, and on the web. He is a juror on the Polaris Music Prize and the Juno Awards. He has written two books; a non-fiction book about Saskatoon's music scene, Exile Off Main St, and a book of short stories called Nothing You Do Matters. He's a husband and father who loves living in Saskatoon. He has horrible night terrors and apocalyptic dreams.

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