It’s the End of the Vibe as We Know It

Worried that you'll be left behind in the coming vibe shift? We have some good news: the vibe shift is not the vibe. 

vibe shift | vīb SHift | noun
A term used to describe a social phenomenon in which, “In the culture, sometimes things change, and a once-dominant social wavelength starts to feel dated” (New York Magazine)

Since Allison P. Davis’ article was published in The Cut last month, Twitter, Tiktok, and even mainstream media have been abuzz with talk of the impending change to the sociocultural landscape, and what this shift means. In fact, discourse around the vibe shift has expanded to include almost everything: Will Smith’s Oscars slap, cryptocurrency, tech journalism, venture capital backed startups, Congress, and even the entire Western World Order!

Permit me a moment to roll my eyes

While the articles linked above have various degrees of merit (I attempted to organize them from least to most substantial, don’t @ me), one can’t help but feel that the term is fast becoming oversaturated, suffering under the weight of its own ubiquity – I mean for goodness’ sake, “vibe shift” even has an entry on Know Your Meme!

Davis’ original classification of the term as “catchy but sort of too-cool” may be a partial reason for its memetic, viral spread, but it sheds light on a less obvious truth: calling what’s happening right now a “vibe shift” seems to be more of a marketing ploy, an attempt to establish a locus of control over a phenomenon that resists definition and containment. Simply put: the current vibe shift differs so radically from the previous eras that term-originator Sean Monahan describes that it cannot in truth be considered the same thing.

Rather than this new wave being the next point on a continuum of trends, we now seem to be approaching what trend analyst Mandy Lee describes as an implosion of the trend cycle, in which new microtrends emerge and fade with such rapidity that it will be as if they never existed. This is due in part to the passage of time: as Vice’s Bradley Esposito puts it, “the people [millennials] who are in charge of curating the internet are getting old.” In the meantime, their successors in Gen Z – ranging from household names like the Jenner and D’Amelio sisters to insiders like Zack Bia to obscure microinfluencers – are reaching maturity and asserting their own presence in the cultural conversation.

In fact, it should be telling that Esposito, Lee, Monahan, and Davis are millennials themselves – their understanding of this changing landscape is driven primarily by their professional proximity to the culture, and as members of culture’s old(ish) guard they are doing what they’ve done for their entire careers: commenting on what they see. The difference now is that their ability to use editorial to not only observe, but to steer, the cultural conversation in one direction is waning in some senses. This is not to say that they are approaching irrelevance; if anything, the collective decades of analysis between them and their peers make them invaluable to dissecting the specifics of this vibe shift and its implications for the public, or at least for the millennial and older members of the public.

This brings me to my main point: “the culture” is driven by youth, both socially and economically. Fashion designers have recognized this for decades, from Raf Simons’ SS 2000 “Summa Cum Laude” collection, inspired by the dress of MENSA students and Holland’s Gabba movement, to Hedi Slimane’s Celine SS 2021 “The Dancing Kid” collection for Celine, which drew heavily from the e-boy style that dominated early TikTok. However, after two years of isolation due to COVID 19, Gen Z has shifted away from a monolithic culture to one that is more personalized. The rise of the microinfluencer, as referenced above, is symbolic of the current youths’ prioritization of uniqueness and the resultant decentralization of fashion influence. These days, any teen with a smartphone can start posting fit pics and style videos and, with some algorithm influenced luck, develop a dedicated followship almost overnight.

So How Does This Impact Society?

The near constant spawning of new voices in the fashion space has led to an almost overwhelming amount of content created around personal style and aesthetic. Fashion companies have responded in one of two ways:

  1. Designing collections that attempt capture the zeitgeist, as Slimane did for Celine or Miu Miu did with their recent collection (aka the micro miniskirt seen round the world)
  2. Rapidly creating and turning out garments to reflect every single microtrend that emerges, known more commonly as fast fashion

While the first method is not much different from how fashion has operated since its inception, the second is troubling. Fast fashion’s rise over the past decade, particularly among young consumers hyper obsessed with remaining in vogue has wreaked havoc with the environment. While consumers do share part of the responsibility for these damages, the majority of the blame lies with the corporations who seek to accelerate the trend and consumption cycle as a means of increasing profit with little to no regard for the damage they are doing to the Earth.

Ok But More Importantly, How Does This Impact Me?

To speak plainly, it is ultimately our money as consumers that drives these fast fashion brands to ignore ethics in favor of profits. As such, while some of us are somewhat at fault (I am of course aware that fast fashion’s lower price points also make it a more affordable option for the economically less advantaged), the power to enact change also rests with us. My advice, therefore, is simple:

Stop caring about the vibe shift.

While this may seem overly general, its simplicity is part of its power. I’ll elaborate:

To Gen Z: we don’t need to care about vibe shifts or trend cycles because we ARE the vibe. Take this time to enjoy your youth, and relish in the fact that as decentralization of influence rises, so does the importance of personal style. You can wear whatever you want, create any aesthetic, and it will be fine. Dress for yourself.

To Millennials (and any trend obsessed Boomers reading): Albert Einstein offered some wisdom on your situation in saying, “I have reached an age where if someone tells me to wear socks, I don’t have to.” Enjoy the fact that with age and experience comes a certain dignity and freedom to do and wear what you want that differs from the freedom afforded to Gen Z. Part of aging with grace is acknowledgement and a gentle relinquishment of control to the next generation.

But I Still Want to Be Trendy!

I should clarify that none of I’ve written means you need to forsake trends entirely. As Lee points out in a follow-up to her original video, the increasing importance of personal style can be effectively supplemented by trends, which introduce individuals to new colors, styles, and silhouettes. But the general vibe should be one that observes trends rather than obeys them.

Thrifting emerges as one possible answer to the apparent dilemma of maintaining an “up to date” wardrobe while also being a conscious consumer. Local thrift stores, sustainable fashion brands *cough cough* Goodfair *cough cough*, and online vintage stores from companies like Nordstrom all provide garments that will get noticed without killing the planet. Plus, wearing vintage clothes is a fun way to wink at trends gone by and “vibe shifts” for consumers of all ages – what better way to face the unpredictable future than embracing the past?
I’d sign off with a “good luck,” but I don’t think you’ll need it – we’re all going to survive this vibe shift just fine.

Leave a comment

Please note, comments must be approved before they are published