'Cheugy' is giving post-fashion

Cheugy is new. We haven’t had a word before to describe the vague feeling you get when something is not quite on-trend, or is trendy on paper while execution falls short. Repulsion usually follows.

There are some obvious examples, which are easy enough to categorize: Minions, Pinterest, Live Laugh Love. It can also be niche and subtle: some vase might look vintage to the untrained eye, but u know it’s for sure mass manufactured by TJ Maxx. The only evidence being that it fits into the surrounding decor a little too conveniently.

As a word, the definition of cheugy is simultaneously a perfect descriptor and incredibly difficult to articulate precisely. I think that our need for such a word is evidence that we’re knees-deep in a post-fashion & post-trend world. In the past days of delineated, top-down fashion trends where we all shared the same opinions, we never needed 14 year olds to make up words to fill a linguistic void. But these days are different.

Why invent a whole new word? Why not simply say “off trend” or “uncool”?

The power of cheuginess as a descriptor is in its abstract and ephemeral nature – it’s almost always subjective to whoever is using the word, and describes a phenomenon that’s based on a particular personal taste yet universal to anyone who has a taste. It’s not cheugy because it’s off-trend – it’s cheugy because of the way you understand the social context of that object, its qualities, and the subject who owns that object as a part of their visual identity.

A world with clear trends also defines, by consequence, what is not on trend. “Cheugy” is only useful in a world where there’s no concrete trend to point to as a benchmark.

While trend cycles have typically happened in 20 year increments in the past, the world of social media is compressing that so much that even trends from the 2010’s are already making a comeback. Mina Le dives into the 2014 tumblr girl aesthetic, saying that “we are bombarded with so many photos of trends at such a concentrated rate, that we get tired of them very easily.”

This is fairly consistent across the fashionsphere. Li Edelkoort, a top trend forecaster has an entire manifesto about how Fashion as an institution is dead. She largely blames a combination of the insular nature of high fashion, corporate greed, and problems in fashion education.

We’ve also seen fashion trends devolving into meaninglessness in the consumer world, like with the rise of normcore in early 2010’s despite the entire trend being contrived by an art collective “in the spirit of fan fiction”. honestly, based. There was also the “Top 20 trends of 2020” lists that circulated Pinterest at the tail end of that year, as if the entire world hadn’t been sitting at home in sweats.

Self-expression ↔ identity

Even ignoring the clumsy fall of fashion as an institution for a moment, the internet has done enough on its own to create a new understanding of what our style says about who we are. Before the neverending social media feeds full of inspo, fashion bloggers were demonstrating that it’s not only possible to break free from trends, but that when we do so, we unearth a vibe that is wholly that person in a way that Forever 21 could never.

With so many bloggers and influencers pulling at our inspo senses in different aesthetic directions, it’s hard for normies like us to stick to one taste. Instead, we end up taking bits and pieces that resonate with us – memes, references, and remixes – and start trying to find our own flavor of that person.

Before, we dressed to belong;
now, we dress to stand out.

Cheugy is a farewell

Given all of this, I think the introduction of cheuginess as a neologism marks the end of an era. The downfall of the trends it represents is not dissimilar to the downfall of department stores and the detached consumerism of fast fashion. As consumers become increasingly interested in sustainable, unique pieces and increadingly frustrated with the damage and greed of corporations, a word like “cheugy” helps shape a mindset that celebrates creativity and responsibility in a timeless way.