Why Everyone is Embracing ‚Ugly‘ Fashion Trends

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Fashion has an odd relationship with ugliness. During the early aughts when socialites Paris Hilton and Nicole Richie were sporting Ed Hardy and Von Dutch hats, it was considered all the rage. Now, as ’00s trends make their way back to the runway, the high-fashion crowd has begun wearing these kitschy designs in full irony of its perceived „ugliness.“ The same could be said for Britney Spears and Justin Timberlake turning double-denim into formalwear on the red carpet, an aesthetic that celebrities have continued into modern day style.

Now, ugly is entirely in the eye of the beholder—so to pinpoint what „ugly fashion“ constitutes will never generate just one definition. However, there seems to a be a somewhat solid sentiment as to what characterizes the aesthetic in 2018. In contrast to the breathtaking haute couture gowns, sexy stilettos, and matchy-matchy tweed suits that grace the runways season after season, „ugly fashion“ prioritizes practicality, utility, and everyday wear without forsaking style.

In other words, the items that the fashion crowd would normally never imagine wearing are suddenly becoming popular. Dad sneakers and pool slides have been dominating street style and catwalks for several seasons now. Balenciaga recently released a multi-leveled platform take on Crocs, which were presented for the Spring/Summer 2018 collection. It came complete with one of Croc’s signature customization options: detachable pins that the wearer can use to personalize the shoe’s perforated body.

„Fashion is demystifying the notion of ugliness,“ fashion researcher Joelle Firzli tells CR. „[It is] pushing the rules to the extreme and playing on the borderline of what is considered beautiful, because, well, it can. Ultimately, you do not have to like it or wear it. Not everybody will wear the Balenciaga crocs or the Gucci crystal beard. What is relevant is that we all react to it. Ugliness in fashion makes fashion relevant.“

Practicality over pretty and a perception that beautiful is boring are both concepts many designers have become fascinated with over the years. Miuccia Prada, who became known for her „ugly chic“ aesthetic in the mid ‘90s, stayed solid to those roots in 2018. For her Spring/Summer 2019 collection, the clothing has been best described as an homage to the geeky, slightly awkward, more-is-more girl. The clothing interweaves fine textiles and craftsmanship (silk and intricate embroidery) with offbeat takes on preppy staples, like high waisted shorts, sock sandals, and nylon knee-highs.

Similarly, Dries van Noten once mentioned that he bases many of his collections on a color he doesn’t like, and that „nothing is so boring as something beautiful.” His Spring/Summer 2019 collection was headlined by boiler suits (commonly seen on mechanics, railroad workers, and the cast of Ghostbusters) that were tied loosely around the models’ waists and equipped with utility pockets.

„The trend has been on the rise for quite some seasons, with big and small brands,“ Firzli adds. „One possible reason is that as the industry is moving faster… To maintain relevance, designers react by creating bold and horrid collections. Beauty can be dull and fashion hates that word.“

There’s a plethora of reasons as to why ugly is back en vogue right now. Looking at history, it often has emerged as a counter-response to the glamorous and the sophisticated. The youth of the ‘60s rebelled against the refined, feminine silhouettes of the ‘50s, while the grunge trend in the early ‘90s replaced the glamazon hype of the late ‘80s.

Ugly fashion can be seen as the latest iteration of normcore, a unisex trend that took over the runways in 2014 and popularized unpretentious, everyday clothing including Patagonia zip-ups, hoodies, and sweatpants. As seen in the rise of athleisure—the trend of wearing comfy leggings and sports bras from spin class to the board room—fashionable working women have also begun to embrace comfort and leisurewear over ostentatious style.

In 2018, however, the glam and the ugly seem to simultaneously contrast and compliment one another. Case in point: Donatella Versace’s Spring/Summer 2019 collection, which saw velcro tape sandal-sneaker hybrids paired with delicate fabrics and feminine cuts.

The rise of ugly in this moment could also be attributed as a reaction to the #MeToo movement and an increasing need for women to be noticed on their own terms, without being involuntarily objectified in the process.

„I think inclusivity and diversity plays a role in [why] the ugly beautiful trend is strong.“ says Geraldine Wharry, a trend and fashion forecaster.Notions of what’s attractive, feminine, [and] seductive are being redefined along with gender percepts. [It] makes for a very experimental time in fashion in terms of pushing boundaries in color, shapes, unisex fashion, or gender-bending fashion, leading [designers] to thrive within the notion of ugly beautiful. Their models are not the ‚conventional‘ idea of beauty and their concepts on the catwalks are both odd, repulsive, and fascinating.“

Indeed, Chitose Abe described her brand Sacai as one which „embodies the notion that women can wear what they want, how they want, when they want.” For her Spring/Summer 2019 collection, this conviction was showcased on an army of models donning layers of deconstructed pleats interlaced with utility wear—from cargo pants to fishing vests. Up-and-comer Marine Serre’s Spring/Summer 2019 collection, titled “hardcore couture,” displayed intrepid layers of fuzzy, supersaturated sweaters, flame-printed pants, and scuba diving wetsuits in the shape of evening gowns, aiming for supreme practicality rather than perceived prettiness.

And Rick Owens, a designer known for always keeping his finger on the pulse of world events, set his latest runway show quite literally on fire by having his models (or as Owens’ described them, his “California witches”) circling around a burning tyre in an abundance of strange sculptural silhouettes, Birkenstock-sneakers (that’s a thing now), and, most noticeably, an absence of heels.

All-around, there was a frenzy for flats on the Spring/Summer 2019 catwalks, from revamped dad sneakers to slouchy boots. Because, as it turns out, another upside of ugly is that it’s comfortable, which also might a reason for it’s profitability.

Birkenstock, for one, has been a fashion darling for quite some time now. Marc Jacobs had Kate Moss saunter down the runway in a pink pair during his infamous Perry Ellis Spring/Summer 1992 show, the collection that got him fired from the brand. Nearly two decades later, Phoebe Philo showcased fur-lined ones for Céline’s Spring/Summer 2013 collection. Since then sales of the sandal have peaked—reportedly increasing from 10 to 25 million pairs between 2013 and 2017.

Another love child of ugly fashion, perhaps evident by its name, is the Ugg boot. This slouchy, oh-so-comfy shoe has steadily been boosting sales in recent years—making .5 billion worldwide in 2017 alone, and has simultaneously risen in the ranks of high-fashion runways: Y/Project’s Glenn Martens’ recent collaboration with the brand being one example.

„Business is booming for streetwear inspired styles reinterpreted for the luxury market,“ Wharry says. „Collaborations with brands pulled straight out of everyday utilitarian fashion, from Champion to Ugg boots to Crocs. It’s a bottom-up-and-top-down effect, with luxury and street now constantly feeding off each other.“

So, ugly sells, but as out-of-control forest fires and an imposing climate crisis become the norm, one also feels implied to ask: Is it at all sustainable? According to Zuzanna Skalska, a seasoned trend forecaster, it is.

“Ugly should be a new black if we want to save our planet,” she tells CR. “We have too many things, too many perfect-made things. Instead [we should focus on] ‘less is more’— less beauty, more function—and more reused materials should be a production standard.”

Certainly, the contemporary ugly aesthetic seems to trump pretty in terms of its re-usability: After all, its entire concept is based upon a recycling of forgotten-about staple classics, not of-the-moment pieces: from that vintage boiler suit to your dad’s sneakers. No matter how we perceive it, ugly is here to stay—at least for the time being.

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createdAt:Fri, 09 Nov 2018 18:36:02 +0000
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