The trend that gave us 500 Days of Summer and a slew of ukulele YouTube covers, twee fashion is back. However, for some, the movement’s resurgence is evoking memories of toxic body image ideals that were formerly associated with the movement.
With our reality being so ridiculously uncertain for the past two years, it’s only natural that we turn to the past for comfort. In the world of fashion, this means a shorter cycle of style revivals. The era of twee is the most recent trend to have made a comeback on TikTok in particular.
For those unfamiliar with this moment in time, from circa 2007 to 2012, let us walk you down memory lane. You’re on your way to HMV to pick up 500 Days Of Summer on DVD, and you’re listening to Feist on some knotted headphones. And what are you wearing? A polka dot skater dress with a Peter Pan collar, maroon tights, and ballerina flats. Life is good.
Tumblr popularised the hipster style in the late 2000s and early 2010s and can be described as cutesy, quaint, or vintagecore. Oversized collars, A-line dresses, ballerina flats, colourful tights, and layered cardigans made up the majority of twee, with Zooey Deschanel serving as the unofficial queen, and Wes Anderson films and indie music flying high as the unofficial flags. Inspired by mid-century modernism, twee also incorporates accessories like belts, hair bows or berets, and satchel bags. Other twee icons included Taylor Swift and Alexa Chung, but twee was really an internet sensation, with YouTuber Zoella seldom seen without a Peter Pan collar.
Considering that we are only in 2022, you’d assume that twee might have remained a sartorial ick for at least another decade. However, as TikTok trends have demonstrated, the trend cycle has become more rapid than we could have ever imagined. Micro-trends generate micro-trends at such a rate that even Shein sometimes finds it difficult to manage. Fashion has always looked to the past for inspiration, but when the past is 2014, you have to question whether we’ve taken it too far. The pandemic hasn’t helped matters; being trapped indoors for extended periods of time has pushed us to seek solace in the familiar and nostalgic. For a time, this meant binge-watching The OC or living with parents again. It now means revisiting twee.
Even before the trend became popular on TikTok, the runway anticipated the return of the twee trend. Take, for example, Coach’s spring 2022 collection, which was highly influenced by Bonnie Cashin, an American sportswear designer who worked for the brand in the 1960s. Since Cashin is recognised as being the inventor of layering in fashion, it’s only natural that whatever she influenced would be cutesy and quirky and well… twee. Miniskirts—another classic Twee staple—ruled both Dior and Miu Miu’s spring 2022 collections.
On TikTok (where all microtrends live and die) the hashtag #twee currently has around 91.1 million views, with some deconstructing the aesthetic’s past prominence and others heralding its triumphant return. However, not everyone is convinced. As twee resurfaces, there is more demand for inclusive fashion than ever.
Those who were around during twee’s initial reign have lamented the fact that they aren’t ready to return to some of its more problematic elements. For some, it’s the fact that those ballerina flats provide little support and smell pretty terrible after a while. For others, the problems go a little deeper than that.
While the comeback of fashion from the early 2000s sparks some nostalgia in many of us, it’s crucial to remember the rigid beauty standards that those trends typically depended on, as well as the damaging body image discourse that was prevalent at the time.
The reemergence of twee has prompted flashbacks to the fatphobia that existed during this time, with Tumblr romanticising eating disorder culture to the point where after scrolling through the #proana hashtag you might consider eating a slice of bread to be worthy of jail time. There was no regulation around what information was permitted online back then; censoring and community rules were poor at best, if not completely absent. The majority of the ModCloth and Princess Highway ensembles that inundated our Tumblr blogs also seldom came in anything larger than a size 16, and mainstream portrayals of the twee style aesthetic excluded larger individuals. Even when Miu Miu famously debuted its SS22 collection with the reintroduction of the low-rise mini skirt in 2021, only skinny models marched down the catwalk. This reawakened old fears from the Y2K era, when “heroin chic” ruled the beauty and fashion worlds. It’s no wonder some TikTokers fear the twee renaissance might be “the beginning of the end.”
Will this be the case with twee? It’s not common with trend revivals for society to copy and paste every detail of the original “moment” into a current context, so we’ll have to hope that twee’s comeback is an updated version of the archetype (much like the recent, more diverse relaunch of Juicy Couture). A more inclusive kind of twee, hopefully with better podiatric support too. Fortunately for us, twee is making a comeback in a moment when body acceptance is much more mainstream, so there’s a chance to offer diversity to these nostalgic style trends. When it comes to embracing these fashion comebacks, it’s up to brands to cater to all body types.