The Wesleyan Argus | More is More: The Art of Wearable Maximalism

Mark A. Carlson

Fashion is often predictable, or cyclical, in nature. As evident in modern fashion trends, what once was in style usually comes back around within a few decades. Young people, for example, have embraced the seventies—not only in terms of the music, the cigarettes, and the mullets—but in terms of stylistic silhouettes as well. It has become common to see today’s youth sporting bell bottom jeans, sweater vests, and go-go boots. More recently, the 90s and the 2000s have also already returned. Even though it’s barely been twenty years and “vintage” is usually characterized by items that are at least 30 to 40 years old, y2k has swept the fashion world (again) with the reintroduction of low-waisted jeans, velour tracksuits, and platform sandals that pose the ever-present risk of breaking an ankle.

Therefore, it seems like the more recent decades have had some trouble defining themselves and coming up with new ideas in terms of fashion. Are the 2010s and 2020s destined to be defined by skinny jeans and the second coming of the “twee” aesthetic from 2012? Perhaps not. Fashion has adopted a “stick to the stuff you know” attitude in terms of returning to the same iconic pieces over and over again. Still, there have been many bigger changes that have shaped fashion history: pants for women, the introduction of the bikini, and the invention of the mini skirt and the micro mini, for example. 

Most recently, social media has seen the rise of maximalism, also called the “aesthetic of excess,” which combines color, clashing prints, endless layers, and odd mixes of pieces from multiple eras all jumbled together to create eccentric ensembles that often attract judgement. TikTokers like Clara Perlmutter (@TinyJewishGirl) and Sara Camposarcone (@saracampz) have garnered thousands of views for their “out there,” and oftentimes controversial outfits. These influencers do things, like combine a striped turtleneck with an iridescent eighties prom dress and a knit balaclava all in one go, to invite the prospect of a brand new shift in fashion that is exciting for a few reasons.

Some might argue that maximalism is not new. It has been lurking in the form of avant-garde runway fashion for years. However, most of the time, runway fashion is only meant for and restricted to the runway, and there isn’t always extensive interest in taking those statement pieces for a spin in a more casual setting. Celebrities, the primary market for this kind of straight-off-the-runway garb, don’t seem to be clamoring for the weirder and more ridiculous pieces the way we might think they are. For example, the 2019 Met Gala’s theme, “Camp: Notes on Fashion,” was a little ahead of its time, and so comprised a disappointing set of looks that saw many attendees missing the mark. This newer generation of maximalism is more accessible—partially due to the promotion of thrifted and vintage clothing, especially among young adults. Pieces found while thrifting are more often one-of-a-kind, handmade, or straight out of another bygone era. They also tend to be less expensive than newer options and there is more of a sense of freedom, at least for me, in playing around with pieces when they are less of an investment. 

Undeniably, ethical fashion and sustainable consumption are still privileges. By extension, so are many experimental styles and trends like maximalism. Obviously not everyone has the time to hunt through thrift store racks or the money to purchase from sellers with more “curated” collections. Recently, large thrift store chains like Goodwill have taken advantage of their newfound popularity and started raising their prices at some locations. Their public reasoning has to do with rebranding themselves to be on par with other department stores that offer a similar range of products. They think it will make people think the items are worth more and will steer customers away from the negative connotations associated with the term “used.” However, this practice also limits their clientele to those who can still afford the jacked up costs. Fast fashion is a monolith of a problem but the solution is not as simple as asking everyone to start thrifting.

Maximalism is still exciting for another reason that pertains mainly to women’s and feminine presenting fashion. Namely, it goes against the expectation that everything worn has to be flattering. In the words of online personality Griffin Maxwell Brooks, “there’s no such thing as ugly; there’s only hot and camp.” The line between camp and satire has been thinned for the better. Maximalism rejects the idea that clothing will look best on the “perfect” body and insinuates that there is no right way to style a piece of clothing. 

Not only are some maximalist outfits “unflattering,” but some of what we’re seeing worn is not generally considered “wearable” in the first place. Unconventional fashion has taken the world by storm in what can be considered a type of art form. Another TikTok user, Myra Magdalen (@myramagdalen), has drawn attention for using industrial velcro to attach remotes, clocks, keyboards, and even an Edward Cullen lunchbox to herself as part of her outfits, bringing a straightforward sculptural quality to her style that doesn’t overthink itself. The fact that she uses mundane household objects—albeit not all of us have entire collections of old electronics—perpetuates the idea that anyone can do this more so than runway art does.

While maximalism may be obtainable, it is not necessarily practical, especially if we’re talking about trying to run errands while large inanimate objects are stuck to you. I don’t consider myself a maximalist but I do love to try new things when it comes to clothes. Of course, this doesn’t mean I always feel comfortable in any “weird” or “maximalist” outfit. Sometimes I don’t feel like being stared at in the post office or at the dentist. Other times I do. One of the benefits of a small liberal arts college campus is having a community that encourages creative expression. It’s easy for me to take for granted the fact that while at school, I don’t often have to think about whether it’s safe for me to dress the way I want or whether I will be taken seriously enough.

While the possibilities associated with maximalism are seemingly endless, not everyone has the means, effort, or confidence to abandon every social norm that dictates how we get dressed in the morning. It’s true that the movement might be a passing social media trend, just like everything else. As the massive amount of content available at our literal fingertips continues to grow with no sign of stopping, it is worth wondering whether content creators are simply grasping at whatever will hold a user’s attention, even if it’s just for a few seconds. This mentality breeds the outrageous and makes it easy to write off maximalism as something to scrutinize and gawk at. Still, I for one am excited to see how maximalism will inevitably influence fashion and the way we choose to be creative. Just like the way runway designs and silhouettes make their way eventually to the fast fashion racks in a muted, evolved form, I am sure maximalism will eventually infiltrate fashion as a whole, perhaps without us immediately realizing the relation to its origins. 

While I previously emphasized fashion’s predictability, there is still room for it to surprise us. Just take the future for example. We have been predicting space age fashion for decades now, where we’re all clad in silvery metallic jumpsuits and moon boots à la The Fifth Element. And while I am still holding out hope, this doesn’t seem to be in the cards anytime soon. I don’t think maximalism will become “mainstream.” I also don’t think there needs to be some huge race to come up with the next never-before-seen-trend. I am perfectly happy to keep creating new from old. After all, once you accept the fact that every idea has already been done before, the creative world of fashion and beyond becomes your oyster.

Emma Kendall can be reached at [email protected].

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