Good and bad taste no longer exists—here’s why

Written by Beccy Hill

It’s official: we’ve ditched restrictive rules and trends when it comes to fashion. Writer Beccy Hill explains how we finally came to live in an era where good taste is defined by the wearer, and not the items themselves.

Entire industries have been built on the fickle notion of taste, but none more so than fashion—knowing what to wear and how to wear it has arguably formed the backbone of the business. But in 2022, where traditional media has less power than ever before thanks to the internet, who is to say what is considered ‘good’ or ‘bad’?

Defining taste has always been subjective, not to mention problematic. Why should only a select group of people dictate to the masses what is en vogue and what is not? As Fiona Harkin, foresight editor at strategic foresight consultancy, The Future Laboratory puts it: “[Fashion] was driven by a top-down system, with access to trends coming from tastemakers and an elite group attending catwalks—shows that were mostly sealed off from public view.” She continues, “The digital world has brought about the democratisation, not only of information, but of creativity. Now, the fashion system has fractured.” However, when everyone has access to everything, it’s difficult to stand out. Brands and fashion houses know this, and have had to adapt accordingly. 

Balenciaga’s Demna Gvasalia wearing a subversive balaclava and tracksuit to the 2022 Met Gala.

The current strategy for brands in the world of fashion appears to be the more ridiculous, the better. Take the latest offering from Balenciaga for SS23—a leather bag which is a near identical replica of a Lays crisp packet, rumoured to set you back $1800. This is yet another notch in the brand’s creative director Demna Gvasalia’s provocative bedpost, following its bin bag, destroyed sneakers and hi-visibility jackets. As Hanan Besovic, fashion commentator behind @ideservecouture explains: “Balenciaga is now being considered a social experiment because they have cracked the code on how to stay relevant.” Whether or not people actually buy this stuff remains to be seen, however, it’s a sure fire way to ensure that they keep the Balenciaga name in their mouths (or more importantly, their social feeds).

When fashion becomes this ridiculous (in essence, it always has been) how are we expected to take it seriously? It’s no wonder in a recent survey 47% of respondents said they think that influencers now decide what good taste is, compared to 0.4% who said designers. Whilst it’s encouraging to see young people carving out their own identities, it’s not without its problems. 

In a recent survey 47% of respondents said they think that influencers now decide what good taste is.

The TikTok trend of ‘Is it a ‘fit, or is she just skinny?’ tackles precisely that. Videos of It girls and influencers in basic outfits, such as a white vest and jean shorts, are then stitched with videos of regular or plus-size people replicating the same outfit, to prove that our obsession with so-called ‘style icons’ is more to do with their body type than their fashion sense. “There’s a section of Gen Z that still values and aspires to markers of traditionally ‘good taste’—think the Clean Girl aesthetic and the Old Money aesthetic, two lifestyles that prioritise ‘quiet luxury’ and ‘classic’/’timeless’ dressing that’s so often associated with good taste,” says Biz Sherbert, culture editor at creative agency The Digital Fairy. This isn’t about body shaming, but rather highlighting that if you’re skinny (and more often than not, white) it’s much easier to qualify as being fashionable. 

However, the fact that this has become a discussion point proves that the internet (although certainly not all of it) is no fool. Collectively, we’ve become united in our shared belief that we’re worth more than our bodies or bank balances, and it’s in this environment that pretty much anything can flourish. “People are less restricted by the traditional function of taste as an arbiter and their purchasing decisions are guided by other factors, whether that be replicating a TikTok trend or dressing for self expression,” says Biz. Cottagecore, gorpcore, Barbiecore — TikTok knows no bounds of ‘cores’, compartmentalising and celebrating trends, as well as the tribes that come with them. 

The countless ‘It’s ugly until Rihanna decides it’s not’ memes prove the age old theory that good taste is defined by the wearer.

While this is a positive thing, it’s important to remember that almost everything has been done before. The current backlash surrounding Hailey Bieber’s ‘brownie glazed lips’ is down to the fact that this beauty trend dates back to the early 90s, and was started by women of colour. To try and claim something as your own invention, especially if you are a white person, is definitely not in good taste.

What it is, however, is a prime example of fandom, and the cult of celebrity which has many of us in a chokehold. Lest we forget the countless ‘It’s ugly until Rihanna decides it’s not’ memes, which may just prove the age old theory that good taste is defined by the wearer, and not the actual items themselves. People who are confident in themselves have always been able to have this effect on those less confident. As Hanan adds: “It’s not just the clothes, it’s also the person that wears them. You have to have a presence to pull off certain fashion looks.”

All signs point to a future free from defined, hierarchical taste levels, if we aren’t there already. Hanan puts it perfectly when he says: “In order to have success when it comes to dressing, you have to experiment and fail sometimes.” Thankfully it’s starting to feel like we live in a world where it’s OK to do so—without ending up crucified on a worst dressed list. 

Images: Getty.

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