In a culture where “sexualization” is becoming an increasingly prevalent buzzword, some are choosing to fight back in perhaps the most unlikely of ways: by embracing the style and attitude of their childhood. Items like overalls, superhero T-shirts and hair bows, previously thought to be signs of immaturity when worn by adults, are now common staples of the young adult landscape. While this trend is most easily seen in specialty stores like Hot Topic, which have entire lines dedicated to the animation and video gaming subcultures, the effect is starting to trickle down into department stores. New York City and other population-heavy areas are even beginning to see cafes inspired by this very idea, with waitresses dressed in costume-like frilly dresses serving up French-style pastries in sugary-sweet coffeehouse settings; they have already taken off in Japan.
Indeed, this new, whimsical approach to fashion is very much a result of the “shrinking globe,” an offshoot of what many other foreign countries have already experienced. To some extent, media has also played a very large role in this resurgence of youth as the definition of art expands to include young adult literature, animation and video games creating increasingly high standards for “children’s entertainment” and more demand for cross-generational appeal. While seemingly unrelated to the bigger picture of the fashion world, the huge box-office success of Frozen, the rise of the comic book film and even the surprise cult fandom of the My Little Pony television series are all indicative of this backward trend of nostalgia.
Vanity Fair describes this new craze as, “twee,” taken from a baby-talk attempt to say “sweet.” Twee is in some ways a retro style, as the term was originally used in the ‘60s and takes elements from a mishmash of decades, such as ‘50s fruit prints, ‘70s flower headbands and ‘90s anime style, but it also speaks to many modern ideas, such as a push towards the handmade and local. Marc Spitz, author of Twee: The Gentle Revolution in Music, Books, Television, Fashion, and Film, views it as a sort of counterculture against preconceived notions of what society considers “cool” in favor of what was previously relegated to the status of being a “nerd, geek, [or] dork.”
Twee’s focus on the handmade is a large part of its overall appeal in a post-recession world where mass-market culture is becoming increasingly controversial. While Twee items can be found in stores, many of its more outlandish and unique aspects are more commonly found on online crafting sites like Etsy. Going on such sites, one can stumble upon such oddities as: hairpieces shaped like bat wings, modern items styled to look antique and pendants that can realistically resemble anything from a miniature copy of Harry Potter to a strawberry Pop Tart complete with sprinkle details.
While many factors contribute to the rise in Twee culture, perhaps the most pervasive, according to Spitz, is that it seeks to imitate the lost innocence that comes with adulthood. To him and to others, it is more than just a fashion trend: it is a way of balancing adult experience with a child’s heart, a way of being aware of human darkness while simultaneously choosing to focus on essential goodness. In a world rife with headlines highlighting human evils, it serves as both a means of escapism and as a refusal of the stereotypically jaded and cynical adult way of life.