"While all trends happening right now can give us a clue us into the collective thinking and feeling, I’d say the rise of alt-girl fashion is one that really shows the place we’re at"
As we know, fashion trends don't magically appear all over our social media and street style, they need to have a moment they can be traced back to. There are not many rules for that moment to happen, it could be the debut of a new runway collection, the start of a political movement, a sensationalized pop culture event, or a viral post on social media—whatever it is, the important thing is that it can infiltrate and influence what we choose to wear in ways we'd never imagine. One of the best things about clothing is that it can tell us the story of where the culture is at large because the collections are often a culmination of what's happening in the world. And while all trends happening right now can give us a clue us into the collective thinking and feeling, I’d say the rise of alt-girl fashion is one that really shows the place we’re at.
If you – or anyone – had the power to predict we'd be dealing with the ending of a global pandemic, climate change at its worst, and even the downfall of democracies worldwide, then you might have been able to see the alt-girl fashion aesthetic coming back, as this trend is a reflection of unprecedented times – and we’re having hard times in a very hard world. But of course we can not say that systemic upheaval is the only thing contributing to the return of alternative fashion—there are some other forces at play. So let’s dive a little deeper to really see what Alt-Girl fashion is and how fashion shows and cultural phenomenons have brought the aesthetic back.
Style and clothing have always been a great tool for communities to subvert oppression, and no other fashion movement has more clearly raged against the mainstream culture than the rise of alternative fashion. At this point, many people may know alt fashion because it's getting more and more viral TikTok, but there is a lot more history to it. Alternative style has long defined various eras and emerged from multiple subcultures – like goth, punk, emo, and grunge. So while Alt-Girl fashion may have started in not-so-small subcultures, its impact can be felt everywhere. Let me explain it better: Alt-Girl fashion's comeback can be attributed to a gathering of different events, from the obvious angry reaction to the state of the world to subtler influences. To take as na example, let’s look back to nineteenth-century England, a country grappled with collective grief as it as its workforce were industrialized while crime and infectious diseases plagued society. That was the moment that gave both rise to what we now know as the "mourning look" worn to funerals and to the beginnings of gothcore, working like a foundation to the style.
So now, after a couple years of playing by the rules – or at least as much as this generation can, it’s no surprise that an against-the-system style movement has finally emerged. The Alt-Girl aesthetic is characterized by those who wear alternative fashion, listen to non-mainstream music, and carry an “I-don’t-care” attitude. This is what Gen Z is currently saying on TikTok, and since they’re the ones giving life back to the aesthetic – and giving it a hashtag with over 2M videos – I guess we can only listen to them. Take, for example, the rise of musicians like Olivia Rodrigo and Rina Sawayama, who have cultivated a new pop-punk sound. You can now see how known pop-culture personalities like Megan Fox and her fiancé, Machine Gun Kelly have recently popularized alternative fashion on the red carpet. Or maybe you prefer to scroll through TikTok and search "alt-girl fashion” and see how conversations around deviating from the mainstream are dominating right now. But maybe you don’t really care about those things and want to see the ‘real’ deal. In that case, the clearest indication that this aesthetic is really back are the FW 22 runways shows – we can’t argue with that, right?
But now that we have the alt-girl aesthetic permeating all the fashion moments such as red carpets, runways, and street style, the question we should be making is: what does it mean for an anti-mainstream aesthetic to enter the mainstream? Will it lose its meaning and fall apart, or will it evolve? Let’s get into it a little more. Here’s some context: as the legions of teens who used to post on Myspace on the beggining of Internet, shopped at Hot Topic, and did everything possible for a pair of Converse's or Vans will tell you, the image and attitude of the alt-girl isn't at all new or original, and it couldn’t be, as the aesthetic is actually an adaptation and evolution of styles drawn from the culture of alternative music, a genre that has been here for a while now – the original alt-girls, such as Joan Jett, Cyndi Lauper, and Stevie Nicks showed us the aesthetic all through the ’70s and ’80s. The trend had its first re-emergence in the ’00s, this time defined by a whole new generation, like Avril Lavigne and Taylor Momsen. This time, their signature looks consisted of chokers, studded belts, crop tops, low-rise jeans, plaid skirts, and cargo pants – does any of these ring a bell? And even though it was a lot, people were very much sold. We also had Gwen Stefani and her offbeat, unapologetic style to use as inspiration. Not only did her stage presence speak for itself, but her wardrobe— that crazy-but-fascinating oscillation between goth and cyberpunk—made her a role model for all alt-girls-to-be, and her powers stays untouched to this day.
Because alternative fashion has dozens of subcultures in it, it’s inevitable to have some overlaps. And even though these categories are non-conforming and walk on the opposite direction from all the core trends, they also go through evolutions of their own and play a part in influencing the mainstream. Of course, alt-style is inherently cyclical, like all other trends, so it’s been coming in and out of fashion with changing seasons and shifting musical tastes. Still, all it seems to take is a new alt-adjacent musical act to set things back into motion and, just like that, alt-style returns to the spotlight.
And now, in 2022, Alt-Girl style has re-erupted and this time around, the fashions associated with it are way more accessible than it’s ever been before. We now have it-girl super famous in the fashion pack, like Megan Fox and Kourtney Kardashian, helping bring the alt-girl to the mainstream. These women have been spotted rocking black leather pants, chunky boots, and edgy dresses to escort their beaus to their gigs, thus making the style trendy as everyone sees and loves anything they wear – despite the alt-girl’s typical rejection of the trend cycle. But the thing about this aesthetic is that it isn’t only about fashion: it's also goe with the fact that alt-music is enjoying a revival, and it’s transporting us back. So even though it seems a little inappropriate to call Alt-Girl trendy, it’s not wrong to say we can do it now – and we’re kinda loving it.