If the thought of bell bottom jeans and ballet flats making a fashion return stresses you out, chances are you’re a millennial.
Jokes aside, the demographic cohort born between 1997 and 2012, are known as Generation Z (or Gen Z), and they are taking the fashion and beauty industry by storm. They have already made a significant impact on the industry by breaking down the conventional norms of fashion and beauty standards, and creating a new era of individualism and inclusivity. Here’s what that means.
Millennials built a highlight reel
In a now viral TikTok, London-based sociologist and content creator Rukiat Ashawe dug deeper into the ways in which Gen Z is transforming how fashion and beauty is perceived (and sold) to mass audiences.
According to Ashawe, social media first exploded in the early 2010s, attracting a large volume of millennial users who created “formal” content.
These videos and photos (often shot by professional cameras) only portrayed the highlight reels of their best moments or photos. In other words, this was the era where cosmetic surgery, including lip fillers and brazilian butt lifts, glam makeup, facetune filters and a general “perfection” aesthetic thrived.
Millennials emphasized creating a sense of jealousy from their following, while still maintaining a professional sense, in the event that prospective employers found their profiles. For them, the way they presented themselves had to conform to a certain societal standard.
Gen Z is about “curated imperfection”
As someone who works in advertising and marketing, Ashawe personally witnessed how advertisers look at sales through the gaze of youth culture and cultural shifts on the Internet. Additionally, as someone who has always been active online, she understands how social media has forced the evolution of the beauty and fashion spaces, and will continue to do so.
For instance, unlike millennials, Gen Z rejects this level of curation in a rebellious manner.
Instead, they are creating a separate identity, which is now influencing what is trendy and what is not.
Welcome the era of “clean girl” aesthetic, photo dumps, blurry photos and TikTok videos where the creator is not afraid to film without a full face of makeup or with messy hair and clothes.
“Millennials are all about curated perfection, whereas Gen Z are about curated imperfection. Millennials had their time to dictate what’s “cool” and what’s not, and now it’s Gen Z’s turn. Even brands and advertising are marketing the preferences of Gen Z. It’s a cycle,” she tells Blogilates.
The first generation not motivated by consumerism
Gen Z is all about authenticity, individuality, and inclusivity, and they are more interested in celebrating imperfections than meeting impossible standards. This has impacted the way social media tools are being used and brands are increasingly paying attention. In fact, brands are no longer concerned about what millennials prefer or endorse, but instead are focusing their marketing energy when it comes to beauty and fashion brands towards the likes and dislikes of Gen Z.
“Gen Z is disrupting the fashion and beauty standards in all ways, but they are one of the first generations that are not motivated by pure consumerism. Gen Z is a different type of consumer and they are really pushing into self presentation and a level of realness that is unseen before,” explains Deirdre Clemente, cultural historian and Director of Public History at University of Nevada Las Vegas.
Tiktok broadcasts the generational shift in beauty standards in real time
Historically speaking, this pattern of invention and reinvention is common. Clemente agrees that Ashawe’s TikTok video accurately portrays the cyclical nature of changing fashion and beauty standards and how it’s Gen Z’s time to disrupt these trends.
According to Clemente, cohorts of generations look at those before them to forge their own identities and to either modify, or add onto, what comes before them; similarly, Gen Z has reacted to what millennials have done and as a result, they reject what millennials found “sexy” or “beauty” and are forcing how social media is being used.
“For instance, millennials love the pouty face filter. Gen Z doesn’t use this filter and I view this rejection of millennial makeup as typical of social change, but also symbolic of how Gen Z define consumerism on their own terms because their consumption is based on the types of companies they support, that do or do not support their political or social views,” Clemente adds.
Brands need to keep up with shifting trends
Through the power of social media, it is becoming incredibly obvious that Gen Z are using Instagram and TikTok to their advantage and become trendsetters in their own right. This means that brands need to catch up on the ways Gen Z demands authenticity and transparency and to also value sustainability.
This awareness is especially significant and likely to shape the industry for years to come. If brands want to appeal to Gen Z, they need to be willing to adapt and to prioritize the values that are important to this generation, and not millennials or any generations below them.
For instance, Gen Z are renting other people’s clothes or putting their own up on rental platforms and even upcycling hand me downs and thrifted items. Some examples include the ways in which they are taking a break from popularized fast fashion brands, and instead digging into their closets to transform old pieces into newer items they can wear. Best part? They’re recording all of these changes and tagging them as “fit the flip” or “upcycling.”
Don’t worry, Millennials
Millennials everywhere may feel concerned that what they once deemed cool or interesting may not be the case for longer. As someone who falls within this age range, I often feel a disconnect when speaking to family members or mentees that are Gen Z and find an inability to find mutual grounding in the ways we dress, speak, or think.
However, despite these differences, millennials don’t need to be worried by the changing beauty and fashion standards. Just like the Generation X above millennials conformed to the changes millennials influenced, the current changes that the newer generation are making should inspire millennials to catch up and be aware of what’s happening around them.
Though the future is still to be seen, both Clemente and Ashwate predict that the next buzzing trends will largely follow the cycle of invention and reinvention that has been previously seen. However, this time around, it will be Gen Z spearheading the change.
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