In recent memory, fashion’s most talked about moments have also been the most meme-able. The double-pronged ability to make an impact within the dimensions of an Instagram square, while enjoying a second life as a visual, context-free gag has been absolutely key.
Last weekend, Jared Leto went viral with the outfit he wore to the Conor McGregor fight. Channelling Fred from Scooby-Doo, he wore a plunging black shirt with a crucifix, a blue neckerchief and robotic-like sunglasses, he became a meme.
It was not very different from what he has worn before (especially when wearing Gucci) but, out of context, this sort of gender-fluid outfit at an Ultimate Fighting Championship fight had those waggish meme-makers going wild, suggesting Leto should be either selling essential oils, playing jazz flute or appearing in Pitch Perfect. Also this week, the new Sex and the City cast photo became a meme (with Brat Packer Andrew McCarthy making possibly the best meme, referencing Kim Cattrall’s role in the 1980s film Mannequin).
In 2021, if you have not become a meme, has it actually happened? The idea of taking an out-of-context moment and repurposing it into a completely different digital setting is not new, but now fashion moments feel like they are being created to be enjoyable on both these levels. It was only a few years ago when Moschino, Balenciaga and Viktor & Rolf began exploring the trend in fashion, but in 2021 fashion memes are even more essential, a vital part of the conversation in a way they weren’t before. A single photo can create a viral moment, spark a cultural conversation and, for a fashion brand, eventually boost sales. The strongest visuals can create multiple meanings: think of Bella Hadid wearing her gold Schiaparelli “lungs” on the red carpet at Cannes; Kanye West’s “head bag”; Machine Gun Kelly and Megan Fox or Bennifer 2.0’s entire relationships playing out in photos. These duos can start trends and cultural conversations with a manicured nail, a cut-out dress and couple-twinning outfits.
With so many of us forced to have more screen time during the pandemic, something happening without an online rumble seems insignificant. And with the growth in NFT’s and virtual clothes, the lines separating the viability of a moment in the real world compared with the impact it has in the digital one become blurred.
One of the biggest fashion winners of these past 18 months has been Croc shoes. The entire Crocs phenomenon seems built on the meme idea (think of the recent Croc-Balenciaga heel crossover) and the multiple meanings these shoes give different generations – Gen Z loves them, millennials hate them and no one can stop talking about them. The company themselves have said that they have used this “Marmite” feeling it brings out in people to inform their campaigns. This is, one might assume, a business model to learn from and the future of fashion.