Smile like you preen it: How happiness became the rebellious fashion statement of 2017
Lately, the creator of the universe seems less like an all-wise omnipotent being, and more like an angst-ridden teenager subjecting the world to an endless stream of cruel jokes and tragic occurrences. Forget being #blessed, social media is dominated by doom and gloom, fear and outrage.
This state of unhappiness has become the status quo – it’s suddenly more socially acceptable to rant, whine and fight endlessly on your feed than dare express any sort of contentment with your life or the world around you. This sentiment is expressed through our fashion choices, as well.
Goth style made a major comeback, “normcore” and minimalism reigned supreme, dark Victorian-era styles dominated runways and “grumpcore” became the ultimate cool. Brands like Stay at Home Club, No Fun Club and Explorer’s Press saw major success selling clothes and accessories branded with slogans like “Anti-social social club,” “the worst” and “death before decaf.”
Expressing dissatisfaction with the world through fashion used to be a subversive, anti-establishment choice. But how do you disrupt social expectations when everyone you know is wearing dark lipstick and clothes ripped straight from the wardrobe of Wednesday Adams?
You be happy. It may at first seem quaint, but in the midst of ubiquitous upset, happiness has become the rebellious fashion statement of 2017.
Take, for example, Italian fashion powerhouse Colmar Originals, who threw one of the premiere fetes of Milan Men’s Fashion Week to launch their capsule collaboration with emerging Vogue-approved line Au Jour Le Jour. The brand is known for bright hues, vibrant prints and whimsical bejewelled and embroidered pieces. They self-describe as “cheerful”– not a word you hear often in the corridors of high fashion.
The Colmar x Au Jour Le Jour collab’s disruptive nature was clear as fashion industry insiders – most clad in head-to-toe black – clamoured to snap photos of unisex garments covered in electric prints, nostalgic cartoon ski tableaus and idiosyncratic patchwork. In their lookbook, the models – gasp – smile so wide their teeth show.
The cheerful bug also bit other high-end designers. Valentino and Hermès were among the houses to send head-to-toe fuchsia down the runway and dreamy tulle was spotted at Dries Van Noten and Dior. All-over yellow was a definite “do” at the 2017 Golden Globes with stars like Viola David, Reese Witherspoon and Natalie Portman sporting the sunny shade. Fashion lovers tried to find comfort in the nostalgia of the 90’s last season, but with the world still spiralling out of control, have decided try the shiny textiles and oversized florals of the ’80s on for size instead.
It may be a bit unusual to think of moods as going in and out of style. We’re much more used to referring to trends by colour, cut and other visual characteristics. It’s much harder to pin down how a sartorial movement ‘feels.’
However, emotions are just as contagious as the latest celebrity-approved hemline. Psychologists have long studied how people consciously and unconsciously tend to mimic the moods of those around them. Like a nasty cold, you can catch others’ emotions. In psychology speak, this phenomenon is called “emotional contagion.” Interestingly, we’re often oblivious to the influence others have over our moods at the workplace, in friendships and in relationships – perhaps because it’s uncomfortable to think we have less control than we’d like over our own feelings.
With social media use at an all-time high and access to a constant stream of others’ feelings at our fingertips, emotional contagion is both more complex and more viral than ever. Cornell University sparked controversy in 2014 when they covertly either added or removed positive and negative content from Facebook users’ feeds for a one-week period to study the effects. They found an increase in negative feelings on one’s feed resulted in more negative feelings and behaviour by the user. The user, in turn, posted more negative items, which infected other users.
Clothes, as a symbolic form of communication, express feelings as much as words do. Wearing head-to-toe canary yellow or a sweater that reads “anti-you” can change the attitudes of both the wearer and those around them. High fashion has always banked on being aspirational and, in 2017, designers are promoting the pursuit of happiness. “There’s a desire to come back from this period of crisis,” says Stefano Colombo, director of marketing and communications for Colmar Originals. “People feel that perhaps if they dress more positively, they’ll also feel more positively.”
Increasingly, people are becoming sick of divisive arguments, constant outrage and endless bad news. There’s a growing cohort that feels change can be achieved through peace, unity and, yes, positivity. There were glimpses of this at the Women’s March on Washington, and the growing body positivity movement is another great example of the trend.
Being #blessed, sharing inspirational quotes and wearing pastel pink florals no longer symbolizes someone is naïve or complacent. Rather, wearing your happiness on your sleeve subverts the establishment’s culture of anger and fear in search of a better future.