Justine Lepage takes us through the history and influences of maximalism, the over-the-top style popularised by TikTok, where pattern-clashing and chunky accessories meet flashy colours and unusual silhouettes.
This summer, maximalism has been on everyone’s lips in the fashion world. Many attribute the emergence of this exuberant style to the nihilistic post-lockdown mood that seems to inhabit all social media Gen Z youths, who are just looking to have some fun despite the grim environment. Looking further back, maximalist trends have been observed for centuries, constantly alternating with minimalist styles. The rococo era, the spandex and hairspray-full 1980s… Looking East, another notable influence of the movement is the Japanese Harajuku fashion, and the work of creators like Kansai Yamamoto. With maximalism, every item of clothing is a statement piece, each outfit creating a fun and unique combination of patterns and shape. But could maximalism be considered a subculture, and not only a trend?
To constitute an alternative style, a fashion movement often has to be characterised by a rejection of fashion norms, and even a societal comment in some cases. The values of maximalism are those of reusing and recycling clothing and accessories in creative ways, countering the rapidly shrinking life cycle of fast fashion trends and items of clothing. Second-hand fashion and small sustainable designers are the best allies of wannabe funky fashionistas and maximalist influencers. Because of the way the clothes are sourced, maximalism would then seem to be an affordable and accessible way to dress, at the counter-current of capitalist fast-fashion. The stacking of statement pieces in maximalist outfits can also be seen as a way to escape the cycle of trends in favour of self-expression. Each piece of clothing comes with a story of where it was sourced and what it means to you personally, everything has to “bring joy”, in a Marie Kondo fashion, and come together in a fit as an explosive boost of serotonin. Maximalist fashion also plays with the idea of what makes a silhouette flattering, and allows more creativity, not as directly restricted by beauty standards. That being said, most maximalist influencers are thin and conventionally attractive.
Most of the main public figures of maximalism on social media, like Sara Camposarcone or Amy Roiland, pair second-hand charity shop finds with luxury items like Balenciaga shoes. To dress in a maximalist way is often to have a sizable closet, in order to layer pieces on an outfit like a very fancy onion. But who can afford so many items of clothing on a low income, is it really this accessible to be a maximalist?
Over the past 20 years, the upper class have refined their aesthetic as clean and minimalist, leaving the clutter and the colours to the lower class. The upper class’ style has been characterised by its editing, channelling Coco Chanel’s “take one thing off before you leave” mantra. Doing to o much has been seen as having poor taste, and only wearing the simplest but best-cut garments made of luxurious fabrics has been the mark of a high social rank and income, and the supposed level of taste associated with it. The gentrification of poor taste and kitschy aesthetic can be seen as one of the main components of maximalism. The movement’s origin in alternative sustainable fashion could very well be on its way to be completely turned around, as uber-rich previously minimalist celebrities like Kim Kardashian have started to dress in a maximalist way. But as for most trends, the message carried by maximalism could very well be eclipsed for its aesthetic only, if the fast-fashion industry and influencers start capitalising on it.