The Crisis of Curated Aesthetics: Is Eclectic Style Dead?


Hannah Derry (she/her) writes on self-expression among modern day trends

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Image by Markus Winkler

By Hannah Derry

Growing up, my style icons were the Bratz (sorry Barbie!). This was, in part, because the characters were always depicted in different styles and weren’t pigeonholed into specific aesthetics. I especially enjoyed the films, which reflected the plot and theme in each girl’s fashion - my favourite was probably Rock Angelz. The breadth and eclectic nature of their styles influenced my own fashion choices. One day I was dressed like a tomboy, the next a goth, and the day after a pink princess - sometimes all at the same time (I was also a big fan of Avril Lavigne). However, as an adult, there seems to be an increasing pressure across social media to define your personal style. This doesn’t sound that too bad, right? But, from what I’ve observed online, the personal styles being pushed are actually very singular and curated, without much creative liberty, diversity, or even personality. Now, I understand defining your style works for some people, helping them to avoid falling prey to fleeting fast-fashion trends which will inevitably end up in landfill. Yet, I don’t think having a fashion niche is for everyone – style can be eclectic without being wasteful.

Personal brand and the core-ification of fashion

We often want to present a certain image of ourselves through how we dress; fashion has been used as a mode of self-expression since day dot. However, it’s fair to say that social media has altered the way we perceive ourselves and the way we believe others perceive us, amplifying a desire to make ourselves into digestible online (and sometimes in real life) personas. It’s almost like we are all marketing ourselves – selling the brand that is you. And the perfect way to do this is by picking an aesthetic. Want to give off an effortless, laid-back vibe? Try the ‘downtown girl’ aesthetic. Productive and on top of life? ‘That girl’. Cool girl with a magnetic aura? ‘Rockstar girlfriend’. The list goes on.

Besides many aesthetics/cores being contrived and inherently problematic, the idea of packaging your personality up into a neat box of visuals is simply unnecessary. Why not represent all aspects of yourself, without a prescribed aesthetic? I understand the simplistic appeal of categorising yourself – I grew up with social media in the 2010s and have tried on many ‘aesthetics’ over the years, but what happens when ‘that girl’ is not feeling particularly like ‘that girl’? The issue isn’t that these categories exist, but the apparent compulsion to force ourselves into one for the foreseeable future. People are, in fact, multifaceted.

Thrifting and a return to eclectic style

I no longer try to categorise my fashion taste, or any of my other artistic tastes, beyond the word eclectic (my Spotify Wrapped would certainly agree). I think one of the easiest ways to enjoy multiple styles whilst not falling victim to the ever-turning trend cycle, is to shop second-hand. It forces you to judge the item in isolation, away from the curated aesthetic of a collection – is that item worthy of entering your closet alone? Do you really like it or do you just like the overall artistry of the collection? Sometimes we appreciate the aesthetic holistically but don’t actually like its individual components.

Second-hand/vintage shopping also teaches you patience. It’s a slow process. An item can stay on your to-buy list for months (sometimes years) before you find it in-store, but you're probably going to get a lot more satisfaction when you finally get your hands on it. I was lucky enough to buy both of my prom dresses vintage, and I recently added another vintage find to my formal dress collection! The secret is to always keep your eye out and to have your wishlist in the back of your head.

I actually hold out a lot of hope that eclectic style is not dead – I see plenty of thrift-shop fashionistas with undefinable aesthetics on my feed. Some of my favourite accounts are: Katie O (@stealthespotlight), Adrienne Reau (@ageorama), Verona Farrell (@secondhandhuns) and Eva Gutowski (@mylifeaseva). It is, however, not lost on me that we all live on very different sides of the internet thanks to algorithms. This makes it very easy to fall into a specific core’s rabbit hole and forget about all the other styles you like. So, before you throw out half of your wardrobe to fit an aesthetic, think twice about whether you really need to fit into just one.