Trends are short-term, but are their implications?

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A drawing of pink ballet flats each with three bows instead of one.
These shoes weren’t just made to be pretty, they’re also pretty comfortable. lee lim

Coquette, cottagecore, light academia… which other ones am I missing? 

Coquette is defined by the Oxford Language Dictionary as “a flirtatious woman.” It’s also the name of a crested Central and South American hummingbird – in case you didn’t already know.   

Recently, the internet has taken to debate again, this time centred around the new style marked by aesthetic details like lace, pearls, bows and frequent use of a pastel colour palette. Some Coquette-esque fashion features might include Mary Jane shoes, corset tops, and whimsical gold jewelry.  

According to Hannah Oh, “Although it can seem like the Internet is magically churning out new trends out of nowhere, some of these ‘-core’ aesthetics (like gorpcore or the ‘Clean Girl’ aesthetic) are actually just pre-existing styles and subcultures that have been around for a long time and were recently repackaged with specific names.” 

The labels assigned to trends like Coquette or coquette-core work to describe what Oh calls a “nebulous vibe” in fashion. More plainly, recurring fashion trends that have no clear form or ideas that are difficult to accurately define. According to Oh, the trend has “been around for years and has been recently redefined as the coquette look.”  

Coquette style has been described as a ‘hyper feminine’ expression of fashion and has led some to critique its role in recreating stereotypical narratives of the feminine.  

According to Daisy McManaman, a PhD candidate of Women’s Studies at York University, “‘Hyper-femininity’ describes femininity at its most extreme, at the far end of the spectrum of different gender expressions.”  

McManaman continues by writing, “Contemporary expressions of hyper-femininity are often intended to subvert aspects of hegemonic femininity (expressions of femininity that reinforce traditional gender roles). These versions of hyper-femininity reclaim aspects of patriarchal, traditional femininity and play with, perform, and parody it.”  

The hyper-feminine has received critical backlash within some feminist discourse because it’s been interpreted as submission or conforming to the male gaze and patriarchal domination. However, a counter narrative has been taken up with feminists who argue the opposite – that embracing the hyper-feminine can be, for some, subversive, empowering, and an act of joyful self-expression.  

Although not coquette, the 2000’s hit movie Legally Blonde is a hallmark example of this take. Within the film, Elle Woods, played by Reese Witherspoon, attends Harvard University after defying stereotypes and stigmas around how Harvard law students appear and act.  

When asked in disbelief how she got into Harvard, she replies with her famous response, “What, like it’s hard?” Moreover, while at Harvard, she never succumbs to the pressures of conforming to fashion norms and attends the prestigious school in her characteristically Elle Woods way – all pink! 

Coquette style has also recently come under fire for its supposed ‘infantilization’ of women and femmes, which some claim leads to dangerous ideas around submissiveness and docility. This seems to be an age-old conversation and leans into the harmful stereotype that the way women and femmes dress has a lot to do with how they are treated. 

Michelle Steele writes, “Clothing doesn’t offer any justification for sexual violence.” Steele further says that, “Perpetuating the stereotype that women [and femmes] ‘ask for it’ by how they dress seeks to mitigate the responsibility of the abuser and make a woman complicit.”  

Isn’t this discourse tired yet? When are we going to leave behind the false narrative that clothing has anything to do with respectability? It’s time clothing stopped ‘doing all the work’ in determining who is respectable, a feminist, and otherwise in favour of doing the work socially to transform and subvert harmful and dangerous social structures that place emphasis on clothing in the first place.  

Go forth and coquette it up – should you wish to, of course.  

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