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The ‘Tumblr girl’ era is back - should we be worried?

 (iStock/Getty/Instagram)
(iStock/Getty/Instagram)

In case you haven’t heard, the Tumblr girl era is back - and in a bigger way than ever before. Unlike 10 years ago, when American Apparel tennis skirts and black wire chokers inundated our social media feeds, these fashion and cultural trends of the early 2010s are now being adapted by big-name influencers and brands alike.

Kylie Jenner - perhaps the biggest influencer of all - ushered in the Tumblr revival just two months ago when she posted a selfie in a pastel pink wig, bringing back her “King Kylie” era. “Suddenly we’re back to 2014 y’all, it’s finally happening,” one fan commented under Jenner’s Instagram post. “​​2014 is alive and thriving, we love to see it fam,” another excited fan proclaimed.

TikTok star and pop singer Addison Rae tapped into a similar aesthetic just a few weeks prior. Taking to Instagram, Rae shared a selfie with the platform’s classic “Valencia” filter, wearing a fur coat, distressed jean shorts and sheer black tights underneath (the Tumblr girl uniform). “So Tumblr 2014 coded, I love you,” one user said, while another wrote: “Oh 2014 is coming back.”

As one of the millions of young women whose Tumblr was their entire personality from 2012 to 2016, I participated in the collective groan that was made when the internet declared that Tumblr aesthetics have (once again) made their return. Not because this post-recession period was bereft of culture or innovation, though some may disagree, but because it seems too soon that something in my lifetime is already making a comeback. After all, it wasn’t as great as Generation Alpha on TikTok is making it out to be.

Tumblr was launched in 2007, just before the advent of Instagram in 2010 changed visually-focused social media sites into ones that hawk sponsored brand deals and digital storefronts. Tumblr’s blog format allowed its users, which peaked at more than 100 million in early 2014, to curate an online identity and engage with a niche community.

For some, a specific yet pervasive community on Tumblr was influenced by the alternative fashion trends of the early 2010s: think disco leggings, Peter Pan collars, denim shorts over tights, and Doc Martens combat boots. A “Tumblr girl” archetype was born, one whose social media feed was filled with low-contrast photos of her grunge aesthetic and her copy of the Arctic Monkeys album AM on vinyl.

Of course, social media has made significant changes since then. In fact, the revival of the so-called Tumblr girl has arrived at an interesting time, considering neat trends such as “clean girl aesthetic” have dominated the cultural landscape for the past year. According to trend forecasters, this is no accident.

Rebeca Oksana is a fashion content creator on TikTok who’s noticed this shift in people treating social media differently. “There’s this trend that everyone’s been talking about that’s taking Instagram back to its golden era, when people were posting unhinged selfies and filters,” she told The Independent.

Indeed, it does seem that people have grown tired of highly coiffed and curated social media feeds. Instead, they’re adapting to fashion trends that appear to be a complete rejection of minimalism and quiet luxury. The mob wife aesthetic, which takes its namesake and inspiration from mob wives, has taken over as the newest TikTok fashion trend - with women donning leather pants, fur coats, and gold accessories à la Adriana La Cerva from The Sopranos. In fact, the hashtag #mobwife has reached 24,000 TikTok posts in just one month alone, and interest in “mob wife aesthetic” is growing on average four per cent per day, according to Data but Make it Fashion. Meanwhile, interest in “clean girl aesthetic” has fallen by 16 per cent every day since the beginning of January.

Perhaps this so-called “mob wife” fashion trend of 2024 is a way for people to bring the Tumblr girl of 2014 into the current decade. Anyanna Anako, a fashion content creator and trend forecaster on TikTok, has already noticed a rise in certain clothing items that were previously believed to be in fashion purgatory.

“It’s funny that such an archaic or ugly style is quite in right now,” she told The Independent. “Even with the younger generation, Gen Alpha, what I see coming back are ballet flats in combination with skinny jeans as well.”

Make no mistake. While the years-long revival of Y2K fashion brought us the comfort of baggy and high-waisted denim, interest in skinny jeans - one of the most evil fashion trends of the 2010s - has grown a whopping 50 per cent in the past month alone. It may be more difficult to convince younger adults to drop loose-fitting denim and squeeze themselves into a pair of constricting jeans, but that’s why Anako believes it’s not millennials or Gen Zers who are replicating 2010s fashion trends at such a fast turnover rate. Rather, it’s those who never got the chance to actually live through the supposed golden era of social media.

“I really believe that 2010s fashion will be more of a Gen Alpha thing,” she said. “They’ll see it as something fresh and exciting, and they don’t have this feeling of cringiness or this feeling of: ‘Oh, I used to wear this. Why would I do this again?’”

This isn’t the first time that fashion trends less than a decade old have made their return; in fact, this isn’t even the first time we’ve seen Tumblr aesthetics reenter the cultural lexicon. By the end of 2021, trend analyst Mandy Lee (@oldloserinbrooklyn) noticed a revival of Indie Sleaze - the cooler, older sister of the Tumblr girl who would actually attend underground raves, rather than repost photos of them to her blog. “I’m a trend forecaster and there is an obscene amount of evidence that the Indie Sleaze/Tumblr aesthetic is coming back and we need to talk about it,” Lee said in a TikTok video at the time. “Some key characteristics from this trend were provocative advertisements, amateur-style flash photography and opulent displays of clubbing.”

It’s a general rule of fashion that what was popular some 20 years ago will eventually make its return. Now, trend cycles have become so much shorter that something we’ve deemed as having a comeback - like the Tumblr girl aesthetic - has already made its revival just two years prior. The ability for fashion cycles to replicate what’s trendy at an alarming rate is undoubtedly due to fast fashion, trend forecasters agree.

“Everything is a lot cheaper because of fast fashion. I think that’s one of the main contributors to this fast-paced, hyper-consumerism,” said Anako. “Commodifying identities is very much what we see right now, like mob wife aesthetic, clean girl, grandpa core. I think people are sick of these micro-trends and always having to subscribe to a new identity based on what you can purchase, what you can afford, what you can buy.”

In recent years, Chinese-founded online retailer Shein has quickly grown to become the world’s most formidable player in fast fashion. The company - which was launched in 2012 - made a reported $23bn in revenue in 2022, according to the Wall Street Journal, and is worth an estimated $100bn. It’s been alleged in several lawsuits filed against Shein that the company is able to identify current fashion trends using artificial intelligence technology, dropping up to 10,000 new items on its website daily.

Oksana agreed that people “are starting to get really tired” of keeping up with constantly changing trend cycles. “If last year was the ‘clean girl’ and you bought all of the products and the gym sets, for you to go the complete opposite with ‘mob wife’ you will have to spend a lot of money again,” she added.

Is it truly necessary to bring back every fashion trend that existed during a specific moment in time? After all, let’s not forget what both Tumblr and the fashion industry as a whole looked like in the early 2010s. The danger about reviving certain trends, even those as recent as 10 years ago, is that they existed during a time when baseline inclusivity and body positivity just wasn’t the norm. If Tumblr aesthetics are to make their return, then it shouldn’t be spearheaded by those who are white, cisgender, thin women.

Perhaps an even better rejection of the Lululemon-wearing “clean girl” aesthetic isn’t adopting yet another performative archetype, but rather cultivating a personal style. After all, developing a sense of style that’s not influenced by current fashion trends is far more reminiscent of the 2010s than something like the Tumblr girl revival.

“I believe that people will start to go against those trends and start to actually create their own personal styles,” Oksana said. “Obviously, you can still implement a few things that are trending, but it is actually impossible for you to keep up with everything. Something I have seen a lot on social media are people saying: ‘Stop creating a trend over everything. Just be yourself. Try to have your own personal style,’ which I think is really nice.”