How Gen Z Is Using Social Media To Upend Millennial Apparel Trends

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Every few months, there’s a new trend that Gen Z swiftly cancels. They started small, flexing their tastemaker muscles by banishing side parts and laughing emojis before setting their sights on fashion and a slew of new slang (brace for “rizz” and “ate”). While these kaleidoscopic trends make for good social media content, they’re making major revenue waves for the apparel industry.

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Remember when Gen Z abruptly pronounced millennials’ beloved skinny jeans were dead? It seemed that style preferences shifted overnight, and anyone donning a pair of skin-tight denim was banished to the land of the uncool. It’s no surprise that the data aligns with this shift; according to Circana, straight jeans are now the best-selling women’s denim silhouette, with sales up 48% compared to four years ago, when skinnies reigned supreme. Skinny still claims the number-two spot in terms of revenue, but sales continue to decline in the wake of these new trends.

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Denim isn’t the only casualty. The latest trend to get nixed by Gen Z lies below the ankle. Socks, a seemingly neutral fashion category, is taking center stage. Countless reels and headlines are touting that crew socks are cool, with Gen Z using ankle socks as a marker to spot those in the over-30 crowd. While overall sock sales stagnated in the past year, crew sock spending dramatically eclipsed the industry, with sales up 8%. While customers of all ages increased their spending on crew socks (perhaps out of fear of being publicly lambasted), Gen Z represented over 80% of the growth.

While it’s nothing new for younger generations to establish their own trends, the difference today is the megaphone that social media provides, reverberating the new rules of cool. Trends used to be set by the runways, celebrities, and magazines. Now, consumers have a constant window into youth culture while scrolling on their phones. This behavior can also make it difficult for brands and even consumers to react. Tapping into consumer-born trends such as #cores can be as tricky as holding onto water, with trends emerging and fading almost as soon as they pop up on feeds.

While both the speed and volume of these trends are being intensified by Gen Z voices on social media, there lies a strong undercurrent of millennials opting for true personal style over ephemeral fads. Yes, spending is shifting towards these shiny new things, and consumers are hungry for newness, but when it comes to millennials, many are not as fast to follow these fleeting fads. Millennials are straddling the self-assured line between trendy and established personal preferences.

For Natasa, a 37-year-old mom of two who lives in New York and works in finance, she won’t compromise on comfort to tap into a fad. “I still wear ankle socks for work and working out. I can’t imagine wearing thick white crew socks on top of leggings. For me, it doesn’t look or feel right – it reminds me of an ’80s aerobics instructor.” Natasa isn’t alone in how she feels. While crew socks are on the rise, sales of ankle socks grew faster for millennials in the past 12 months, showing signs that this generation is steadfast in knowing what they want, and sticking to it.

A similar stance holds when it comes to the hot-button issue of denim rises. Low-rise denim has been a re-emerging trend, with sales growing 6% for Gen Z this past year. Many in the over-30 crowd shudder at the thought of low-rise jeans, haunted by the 2″ zippers that plagued the denim of our youth. Jessica, a 37-year-old teacher in Brooklyn, feels that low-rise doesn’t work for her life, no matter how popular the style may become. “I’ll pass on low-rise. I like to wear mid-rise; it’s what looks good on me and feels best, especially for denim. Trends are cool, but not if I feel uncomfortable all day.” It seems that millennials agree, with sales of low-rise women’s denim declining by 18% for this demographic.

When it comes to what to wear or say, Gen Z acts as the trend judge, jury, and executioner. While Gen Z wields immense influence in dictating fashion trends through social media, it’s not the only voice to pay attention to. By recognizing that personal style often trumps fleeting fads, particularly for generations like millennials, the apparel industry can navigate the constantly shifting tides of trends while still resonating with a broader audience. Gen Z is an important consumer but, ultimately, the key lies in embracing individuality, offering a diverse range of styles, and empowering consumers to express their authentic selves.

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