A Primer on Gen Z Fashion—from “Pop Punk" to "Coconut Girls”
Every generation gets its own fashion trends, and in the digital age they move at breakneck pace. But (contrary to some media pigeonholing), there’s more to Gen Z’s fashion trends than meet the untrained eye.
So we hosted a roundtable discussion over Zoom to unpack four such Gen Z fashion phenomenons that have bubbled up on TikTok—Y2K, coconut girl, dark academia and pop punk—with our expert Gen Z panel.
Taking cues from Paris Hilton, the Spice Girls and Ashton Kutcher, Y2K style brings back Aughts stalwarts like trucker hats, velour everything and the (v divisive) mega-low-rise jeans. Brands like Parade and Puma have also gotten involved via capsule collections with Juicy Couture and the Von Dutch, respectively.
Ranjana: I feel like I dress more Y2K in the summer months. It makes me think Y2K is back, but is it just a seasonal trend? I feel like that's where a lot of trends are heading, towards seasonal.
Aodan: A lot of people, especially because of TikTok, are becoming more interested in something that's a little bit more sustainable, in terms of a niche interest in finding stuff that is legitimately Y2K. So I think it's interesting from two perspectives. I wonder if Y2K is coming back because Y2K is now officially vintage—like, it's been that enough years to be labeled as vintage—or if it's because there's like this weird sense of nostalgia for that time.
Jasmine: Yeah, I totally agree. And what's interesting especially is that Hailey Bieber photo I would consider tacky. It symbolizes, like, trying to be Y2K, but buying it from a non-authentic store. And then what Bella's wearing feels way more authentic because it's the Ed Hardy t-shirt with pants that could have been made in the ’90s or the 2000s.
Coconut girls are reviving the hibiscus prints and glitter tattoos that make up the “mean nice girl” slice of the Y2K pie. Think 2021’s White Lotus vacationer extra meets 2006’s Aquamarine mermaid extra. The trend was big this summer, when TikTokers and IG influencers took their fluorescent sarongs and jelly sandals to poolside/beachside/palmtree-side photo ops.
Clara: Y2K is such an umbrella over coconut girl. Definitely acknowledge that. But coconut girl felt a little bit inaccessible to me. I was just scratching the surface of what was a very diverse coconut community—but like I did not feel seen in coconut.
Jasmine: I think that you’re dead on. I also just think this trend is dead. It lived and had a peak and now it's gone. And I don't think it'll come back to be honest. We won't see this next summer.
Ranjana: I feel bad. I didn't even hear “coconut girl” until this discussion. But just the name alone, I thought it would be that effortless beach wave hair and sunkissed skin. Like, everyone's putting blush and bronzer underneath their eyes and across their nose. I guess it was wrong.
Aodan: Yeah, I feel like to me this actually feels like true Y2K to me. This is like what's-her-name from High School Musical (Sharpay Evans) come to life. It's like Polly Pockets but life-size. In a super inaccessible way, in terms of not only just body type but also in terms of like, when you look up this trend, it's strictly very thin white women. Beyond that, there's like no diversity in terms of ethnicity or body type. I couldn't find any queer representation. And I think that kind of dials back into the trope of it being more authentically Y2K in the sense that I didn't feel that type of representation in media in the early aughts.
If “Coconut Girls” are the Elle Woods archetype, dark academia imagines bookish, A+ student fashion as B- “nice mean girl” Vivian Kensington cosplay. The trend has roots way-back-when, in the Tumblr-era “Arctic Monkey groupie” knee socks x tennis skirt aesthetic but has found new life on TikTok where it’s scored 1.2 billion views (cc: light academia).
Clara: Listen, I love academic fashion. All schools. My feeling is this to me feels like a Tumblr era: the Alexa Chung period, Arctic Monkeys, all of that stuff. It’s, like, the more “alt” version of “fall girl” with the pumpkin spice latte. It has more in common with “fall girl” than it does with prep to me, very recycled and derivative in this way that I think is uninteresting. But that's my own special beef that I probably need, like...
Jasmine: We were on Tumblr at the same time because I totally get what you're talking about. I'm thinking the Lana Del Rey, Marina and the Diamonds, Arctic Monkeys: when it was just a photo of a cigarette with words on them. I totally know exactly the vibe. But it's funny because that brings me a lot of nostalgia for the style that I actually like.
Ranjana: I was just gonna say quickly, I feel most alive when I'm wearing a tweed blazer. I don't know why. But I wouldn't call my style “dark academia.” But to each their own. I would give this a “so-so”: not a yes but not a solid no either.
Aodan: So much of [dark academia] I feel like is neutral basics [and] has more longevity. A nice pair of mossy dark green trousers aren't probably going to go out of style anytime soon. In terms of whether or not I like dark academia, I don't know if I love it. What I do appreciate about it is that it seems to be something that is like here to stay, which I appreciate.
Black artists like Willow Smith and Young Thug are reviving the Pop-Punk scene, bringing representation to a genre that’s been historically dominated by white musicians and fans. Their latest releases — and the accompanying studded chokers, pink hair and ripped shirts — have the full attention of Gen Z. Olivia Rodrigo also added some gas to the fire with the visuals for Brutal, rewinding to Avril Lavigne/Paramore heyday.
Jasmine: This feels like a very natural progression from Y2K—and that alt vibe that was going on on TikTok last year when people were bleaching the front of their hair and doing the blush—into a more almost ’80s punk incorporation. I think it's great. The barrier to entry might feel a little higher. You kind of have to commit. But I do think it's the most personal style that you see [in these trends].
Ranjana: This is such an inclusive type of style and trend. Willow Smith, Lil Nas X, they're all embracing something that they probably couldn't have 20, 30 years, even 10 years ago. For so long, people of color have had their identities stolen through fashion and beauty. But now it feels like history really is being rewritten, and people are taking those opportunities for themselves and continue to be trailblazers in fashion.
Jasmine: Totally. Also punk allows for more representation in terms of behind-the-scenes. You have Olivia Rodrigo wearing these outfits, but her creative direction is by Kim Petras who's a trans artist. You have a lot more identities in the mix here: the designers who are making [the clothes] and the people who are pulling the pieces.