Opinion | There Are No Fashion Rules Anymore

Despite the agitated millennials on TikTok defending their side parts and skinny jeans from perceived insults, skinny jeans remain a best-selling style. The concept that anyone ought to be wearing anything other than what they’re comfortable in represents the last gasp of an old system that is fading into irrelevance.

We’ve arrived at a place where a new season doesn’t usher in an accompanying new silhouette. Instead, the dominant way of consuming fashion now is through niche aesthetics like cottagecore, none superior to any other. Of the possible postpandemic identities one can assume, there’s the early 2000s nostalgist in ironic Juicy Couture sweats, the granola slow-fashion influencer wearing nubby cardigans and clogs, the streetwear hypebae and the Fashion Nova fan worshiping at the altar of all things Kardashian.

“Historically, in these moments of disruption, there is a lot of confusion in the fashion world,” said Justine De Young, a professor of art and fashion history at the Fashion Institute of Technology. “We all lived through this, and nobody knows exactly what people want — not just on the part of the consumer but also on the part of the designer.”

Dr. De Young said that in moments like this, brands try out several different styles to see what consumers respond to. The fast-fashion emporium and Gen Z favorite Shein, for example, sells everything from barely-there crocheted crop tops to grungy oversize flannels.

Now is the time to explore different styles and experiment with items you perhaps always wanted to try but never had the courage to. Figure out which items in your prepandemic wardrobe still resonate with the person you’ve become; otherwise, start from the ground up. Use this moment to figure out exactly what you like to wear, because nobody else is going to make that decision for you.

“Postcalamity, there’s often a turn to a celebration of exuberance,” said Dr. De Young. “Deprivation and loss pushes you to want to celebrate life.”

After the Black Death in the 14th century, which wiped out 60 percent of Europe’s population, she said, clothing became much more vivacious and form-fitting. Similarly, in the aftermath of the Franco-Prussian War, emerging fashions were referred to as the upholstered look, owing to a preponderance of ribbons and other fussy details. “My students term it the YOLO moment,” said Dr. De Young.


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