The Year of Girlhood

Fashion
Graphic by
Kayleen Dicuangco

From bows galore to Barbiecore, 2023 was the year of enjoying traditionally “girlie” things. But what exactly does that mean?

Girls rule! No, seriously. Ask anyone who has been paying attention to pop culture in 2023. In a year filled with fleeting trends, the beauty of girlhood has emerged as an undeniable through-line.

You’ve likely seen the evidence. Taylor Swift and Beyoncé are ubiquitous. Everyone is eating “girl dinner” and doing “girl math.” The summer was spent witnessing a sea of hot-pink-clad Barbies dominating screens. Regardless of what you choose to believe, you can probably be grouped into some type of food-adjacent girl category — from the tomato to strawberry to vanilla variation.

On the internet, it seems that everyone is a girl once again. I, for one, am drunk with power in claiming this label for myself. “I’m just a girl!” is a common refrain I pull out when I wish not to deal with something, like doing the dishes or calling the electrician. It doesn’t have any tangible impact, but saying it feels cathartic.

As with many of my contemporaries, I am simply a 20-something-year-old teenager — and no, I will not be taking questions at this time. You see, this mindset extends far beyond the algorithm.

As we close out the year, an unequivocal embrace of girlish garments has firmly infiltrated the style zeitgeist. The most obvious indication? Bows. Associated with saccharine schoolgirl uniforms and wholesome dress-up-game rituals, neatly tied ribbons are one of the clearest codes of girlhood. And these days, they’re everywhere.

Look no further than the rise of New York City designer Sandy Liang, whose runways have long been a fête of fanciful ribbons. Establishing the bow as one of her house signatures, she constantly finds ways to reinvent it — most recently, her Spring 2024 show did so via belts and bags.

Sandy Liang, the beauty of girlhood
Photography via Launchmetrics.com/spotlight

Beyond Liang, many 2023 catwalks saw a flurry of ribbon accoutrements. Simone Rocha introduced bows as eye makeup; bows were tied onto suits at Tanner Fletcher; supersized bows were presented as outfit focal points at legacy labels Balmain and Valentino.

Simone Rocha, the beauty of girlhood
Photography via Launchmetrics.com/spotlight

Today, bows have become a not-so-secret dialect of internet speak; a way of signalling that one is reverting to their more sensitive, ingénue self. On TikTok, viral videos — usually set to a mellow soundtrack of Lana Del Rey or Mitski — show bows transforming any mundane image into a dreamy tableau. We’ve seen ribbon-adorned toiletries. Behold these coquettish corndogs. There have been gift-wrapped ice cubes. Bow-topped mac and cheese, anyone?

These clips are often labelled with moody messages (“This is me if you even care”) that capture the melancholic essence of growing up and feeling misunderstood. Sure, a feed full of bow-shaped bacon may be perplexing out of context — but at its core, this trend is about filling aspects of the everyday with visual callbacks to childhood.

Anyone who partook in the stereotypical delights of girlhood knows how they are commonly villainized. But public opinion operates in a cycle; liking Twilight was once embarrassingly low-brow, and now, it dominates a growing subculture of IYKYK coolness. The same goes for many a “girlie” emblem.

Fashion-wise, the expectations of womanhood — which are traditionally distanced from those of girlhood — can feel confining. Pink hues, glossy ribbons, sparkles galore and flowery motifs tend to be written off as distinctly naive. Dressing as such in adulthood is not only a way to indulge in childhood nostalgia, but to push back on age-based constraints.

Of course, revelling in the beauty of girlhood is not without its critics. In a world adamantly afraid of aging, what does it mean to be openly obsessed with tokens of juvenescence? All things considered, it makes sense that some see 2023’s glorification of girlie style as infantilizing.

For me though, it’s a way of reconnecting with a past version of myself. I don’t remember when I “lost” the beauty of girlhood; maybe it was the first time I felt insecure about my appearance or harboured a heart-aching crush. The things is, growing out of girlhood is often rushed and frantic and propelled by an urgent yearning to be taken seriously.

In contrast, indulging in girlish emblems — affixing bows to everything, blasting Taylor Swift and unapologetically loving Barbie — is not so much about holding onto youth. It’s about rediscovering a version of me that I probably pushed away far too soon.

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