In 2023, fashion was nothing but buzzwords. If something wasn’t a “core”, it was an “aesthetic”; if an outfit wasn’t “Y2K”, it was “indie sleaze”. Wandering through the streets of London, the popularisation of these terms has resulted in styles that are increasingly difficult to distinguish as belonging to a specific moment in time. Low-rise jeans are worn with Dr. Martens, ballet flats are mixed with Adidas three-stripe tracksuits, and strong-shouldered 80s blazers are paired with Victorian-style billowing skirts. How did fashion get here and what do these buzzwords we keep hearing actually mean?

The term “core” first surfaced in 2014 when “normcore” was made popular in online spaces to describe the then-nascent style of basic silhouettes and neutral tones. Since then, the “core” suffix has been commandeered by TikTok to reduce otherwise potentially nuanced styles to simplified, easily searchable terms. “Cores” have become increasingly comprehensible, accessible and abundant since the rise of TikTok – a virtual space where attention spans are decreased and adopting new aesthetics without having to understand their origins is encouraged. It's safe to say the rise of the “micro-trend” has left us all spinning.

Many of these so called cores are a nostalgic amalgamation of different era-based trends. “Blokettecore” consists primarily of ‘90s sports jerseys mixed with girly 2000s kitten heels, while “regencycore” involves corsets and pearls borrowed from the 19th century. While a range of factors have been catalysts for the increasing popularity of nostalgic aesthetics, some key events have had a substantial impact.

Web2, the second iteration of the internet which has prioritised user-generated content (including social media, blogs, and free publishing platforms), has had an unprecedented impact on the fashion world, rendering it almost unrecognisable to how it operated just a decade ago. Fashion has become extremely accessible with the popularisation of platforms such as Instagram and TikTok, which not only means that anyone can now participate, but that the public is having a larger impact on the trajectory of fashion than ever before.

As Gen Z were the first generational cohort to witness the full extent of mass digitisation, they naturally dominate a lot of the content seen on these platforms. Gen Z grew up in a time when fascination with technological evolution was at a high, yet also when nostalgia-based marketing strategies began to gain momentum at the turn of the century.

This is when nostalgia became a bigger part of the advertising world and companies realised that they could profit off the prettifying of the past. In his 2010 book Retromania, Simon Reynolds observes that pop culture in the early 2000s was “dominated by the re-prefix: revivals, reissues, remakes and re-enactments” instead of being the “threshold to the future” that it was supposed to be. As a result, Gen Z was exposed to more content from previous decades than from their own, instilling within them an obsession with all things “vintage” and “retro”. All they’ve ever known is that the past is good, possibly even better than the present, and this lenience towards history has filtered down into a constant recycling of throwback content on Instagram, TikTok, and Pinterest.

Since then, this affinity for the good old days can be seen in almost every industry. Remakes, reissues, and remixes are towering over the fashion landscape – last year, Marc Jacobs re-issued his notorious 1993 collection for Perry Ellis under his own brand, Gucci, Prada and Etro referenced archive bag shapes, fastening and fabrics while the Adidas Superstar hit the pavements once more, merely a decade after its first re-release from the iconic ‘70s model.

As Gen Z is most familiar with reiterations of the past in fashion as opposed to new developments, it’s only natural that they are reluctant to deviate from nostalgic designs. Sociologist Georg Simmel once said that “what we call the present is usually nothing more than a combination of a fragment of the past with a fragment with a fragment of the future”, and on TikTok, these past and future fragments have come together to create the “core”.

But as we move further into 2024, cores seem to be losing momentum in the fashion world. What might have otherwise been fleeting trends are becoming mainstays. Perhaps the longer lifespan of the core is representative of consumer fatigue due to their constant attachment and detachment from microtrends, and therefore a lack of personally developed style.

There’s no easy way to say what the future of fashion holds, but as we embark on an all too familiar indie sleaze revival, marking the resurgence of a time not 15 years ago, it begs the question: what will happen when we catch up with the now?

By Emma McDonough