If Tumblr defined an entire generation with ripped tights, messy liner, Dr. Martens, and the idolization of icons like Skins’ Effy Stonem, then twee was its feminine, artsy sister that peaked in 2014. Oversized collars, printed A-line dresses, Mary Jane flats, colorful tights, and layered cardigans built the bulk of twee, with Zooey Deschanel standing in as the unofficial queen while Wes Anderson movies and indie music flew high as the unofficial flags.
Twee was the girl whose favorite class in school was art, the girl who thrifted before it was cool, and the one who wore fake glasses for the aesthetic before it was mainstream. Some also associate twee with hipster culture.
But why is twee making a comeback now? Besides the fact that trends are moving at breakneck speed from one decade to the next, the runway recently predicted the return of twee even before the trend went viral on TikTok. Take Coach’s spring 2022 collection, which was heavily inspired by the American sportswear designer Bonnie Cashin, who designed for Coach in the 1960s. “Sure, it was a little twee, but sweet sincerity is shaping up to be the mood in New York this season; even the bitterest among us can’t help feeling happy to be back at it,” wrote Steff Yotka of the A-line silhouettes, houndstooth prints, and oversized minidresses that dominated the collection. Since Cashin has been credited as the founder of layering in fashion, it makes sense that anything inspired by her would connect back to all things twee. At Dior and Miu Miu’s spring 2022 shows, miniskirts—another humble Twee staple—ruled.
Still, many associate twee with the return of the Tumblr era, which has been steadily creeping up on us for the last year. But even more core to the twee aesthetic is the art of thrifting and shopping secondhand, which has hit the mainstream like never before. Websites and apps like Vestiaire Collective and Poshmark are making it more accessible, and Gen Z is making a point to actively shop secondhand. Underlying it all, twee stands for a retro aesthetic that recalls the mod culture and classic shapes of the 1960s and 1970s, with little dresses, berets, miniskirts, and button-downs being the core staples.
“When twee originally entered fashion 10-plus years ago, it was hot on the heels of Y2K’s sexy, hyper-glam, over-the-top, party-girl aesthetic,” explains Anna Pompilio, a senior strategist and trend forecaster at the agency LPK. “Twee characterized itself as cute and nostalgic—we saw a shift from low-rise jeans to retro cardigans, from label obsessed to thrift-core.”
It’s worth noting that through all the Y2K fashion obsession on the internet, the emphasis on secondhand shopping to get those McBling-inspired looks was not as heavy. “The beauty of twee, with all its kitsch and quirk, is that it lends itself to being a more accessible pocket of fashion,” Pompilio says. “With millennials and Gen Z being broadly more conscious of—and quicker to dismiss—fast fashion, this trend better appeals to their values and means, consisting of found items, thrift trips, and vintage gems. It’s more affordable, and there’s room for unique iterations and personal flair.”
Still, twee is not without its cultural discourse. As popular TikTok creators like the trend-cycle analyst Mandy Lee and others have pointed out, the original twee aesthetic of the mid 2010s glamourized thinness and lacked diversity. “But what was normal and accepted back then is not the same as what is normal and accepted today,” Lee noted in one of her videos. Likewise, “twee today, helmed by Gen Z, opens itself up and encourages more diversity in both race and body type,” adds Pompilio.
Here’s how to get the twee look in 2022.