For maximalists, the over-the-top outfits and decor are more than a trend, it's a lifestyle of self-expression.
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When you go on Anna Golka’s TikTok page, you’re overwhelmed with video after video of over-the-top outfits, clashing patterns, and a wealth of accessories. Golka, 31, is a maximalist, a style that is currently trending on TikTok and Instagram. Contrary to Coco Chanel’s minimalist advice to take one item off before leaving your house, fashionistas like Golka are going against traditional guidance. “Add one more thing before you leave the house,” Golka concludes.
At its core, Golka believes maximalism encourages you to be yourself. “I think that there’s just so much room for creativity with the maximalist aesthetic,” Golka says. “Playing with prints and colors and shapes in my outfits is like creating art. It’s fun, and why shouldn’t we have fun?”
It started with maximalist interior design going viral on Instagram in 2020, which marked a return to an aesthetic that can usually be summarized as mismatched, overcrowded, and somewhat eccentric. Maximalism can be traced back to the 19th century, when the Victorians collected clashing pieces of furniture and color palettes that paved the way for a modern practice of the aesthetic. And now, in 2022, maximalist fashion, interiors, and design has taken TikTok and Instagram by storm. The rules are simple: express yourself through extravagance. It’s kitsch, over the top, somewhat reminiscent of the excesses of the Victorian era. “I define maximalism as more is more,” says maximalist content creator Sara Camposarcone. “This means, to me, lots of bold colors, prints, and textures layered and worn in a unique way. Maximalism can be very avant garde and sometimes outrageously fun and wild.”
Some cultural commentators believe that the trend is a sign of the times, where people are being encouraged to surround themselves with things they love, even if they are somewhat mismatched. Others claim the shift toward maximalism is a generational war between Gen Z and millennials, where Gen Z is countering the millennial minimalism trend — an aesthetic that focuses on looking clean, decluttering spaces, and owning very few items of clothes — in the loudest and most colorful way possible. Golka, a millennial, says this is a misconception and points to the Covid-19 pandemic as a reason for the trend.
“I feel like when I think of my other internet friend maximalists, a majority of them are actually maximalist millennials,” she says. “I also feel like having to quarantine for however long played a large part in maximalism’s rise. We were stuck at home, not really being able to do what we loved. And I feel like we just realized we should do what we love. If that means diving into our individualism and mixing prints and creating crazy outfits, then do it!”
“For me, it’s pure escapism,” explains Sarah Roberts, founder of A Beauty Edit, who is obsessed with maximalist fashion content on TikTok. “I simply wouldn’t have the confidence to fully embrace the maximalism trend — and yet in my heart, it’s a true embodiment of realism. You can be yourself completely, and embrace every aspect of your personality — for the whole world to see.”
Countering Catastrophe With Sustainable Self-Expression
According to Roberts, the maximalist trend is about countering the doom and gloom of the current post-pandemic, pre-recession world. While everything seems to be pulling society into darkness, Roberts says that the creativity and visual aesthetics of maximalist outfits are inspiring. “It really is uplifting to see people take ownership of their personalities and bravely put together ensembles that they love and feel represent them,” she says. “It’s amazing.”
According to BBC journalist Bel Jacobs, whose piece on maximalist interior design attempts to get to the heart of the trend, the pandemic has changed our relationship with our homes, motivating us to see them as spaces to be filled with things that give us joy rather than as multifunctional spaces for our daily lives. The same can be true for fashion. Instead of wearing basics to simplify our everyday life, why not invest in clothing items that truly represent your personality — no matter how extravagant?
But in the age of climate crises, where consumers should be adopting more sustainable consumption habits, is the maximalist trend encouraging overconsumption? In the age of SHEIN and Amazon, will the maximalist fashion trend collide with the fast-fashion influencers on TikTok to produce hyper unsustainable practices?
Stylist, designer, and maximalist content creator Sara Camposarcone, the queen of sustainable maximalist fashion on TikTok, challenges the perspective that maximalism is a uniquely unsustainable trend. Camposarcone, who often styles and upcycles vintage dresses on her TikTok, emphasizes that, overall, maximalism is about celebrating freedom, joy, and youthfulness through fashion, no matter your age. An avid thrifter and secondhand shopper, Camposarcone says that despite the fact that maximalism is the aesthetic of over-the-top embellishments, these looks can be achieved without over-consumption.
“A way to dive into maximalist fashion while keeping sustainability in mind is using what you have first,” Camposarcone explains. “Repurposing what you already have is important before thinking about purchasing more. When shopping for new pieces to add to my collection, I always look to online secondhand stores first to find unique vintage treasures. Another fun idea to keep your maximalist outfit sustainable is clothing swaps with friends, or trying out a clothing rental store.”
Jessica DeFino, writer of the beauty-critical newsletter The Unpublishable, says that while maximalism might imply the accumulation of a large amount of things, it doesn’t necessarily need to be like that. “There is an argument for slow-growth maximalism as a sustainable practice,” DeFino says. “For instance, my grandmother’s home has a maximalist aesthetic — but that maximalism is something that she’s earned over a lifetime of slowly acquiring things.” DeFino says her grandmother has accumulated enduring and beautiful items over the years, and that this could be a good approach toward sustainability.
However, DeFino also warns that influencers must be aware of how capitalism and consumerism inform what is trending and why they want to participate in promoting it. “Especially with beauty and fashion, it’s important to be mindful of how often ‘self-expression’ is used as an excuse for consumerism,” DeFino says. “Beauty and fashion can, of course, be valid forms of self-expression, but self-expression is not a purely aesthetic thing, and I’d argue that the fact that we’ve been collectively and culturally conditioned to associate ‘self-expression’ with applying beauty products and buying fast fashion is diminishing our ability to truly exercise expression.”
Ethically on Trend
Some defenders of maximalism claim that minimalism has white supremacist roots. Indeed, in a 2017 article on the trend, writer Cameron Glover emphasized that minimalist influencers have been criticized for “framing minimalism as a choice to live a life that emphasizes experiences over stuff, rather than a financial necessity,” thus appropriating the “aesthetics” of poverty that people of color have been practicing for generations due to poverty, classism, and racism. Writer Gabrielle Ione Hickmon wrote for Bitch Media that minimalism “presents [itself] as whitewashed, making it hard for those who aren’t white and rich to identify with the practice.” Could maximalism also be a response to the appropriative and problematic roots of millennial minimalism?
“I would say that ‘the trend cycle’ itself has white supremacist roots,” explains DeFino. “We desperately need to go deeper in our analysis of these issues — especially when our analysis of these issues ends up conveniently proving that we get to do the exact thing we want to do — buy stuff! Western consumerism has devastating effects on the people of the Global South. Middle-class consumerism has devastating effects on the poor. If your act of self-expression or self-care has devastating downstream effects on someone else, can you still consider that expression or care?”
In this sense, Camposarcone’s content might be onto something. By advocating for finding your personal style away from the mainstream, Camposarcone encourages her followers to not follow trends as a way to live a more sustainable lifestyle. “I believe when maximalism is done in a way to express your individuality and authentic self, it really doesn’t require you to consume more,” she says. “You have to use what you already have in a way that shows who you are on the inside.”
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