Gen Z Fashion Looks from the Belly of the Beast

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Gen Z fashion is a contentious topic. Even the question of whether social media has made Gen Z the most trend-conscious, or the most trend-immune generation, is constantly up for debate. The Zoomer generation’s dedication to uniqueness has made sourcing and selling to them a challenge for so many retailers.

No two next gens are exactly the same. As such, brands and retailers need to do the work to understand the purchase motivations of their unique Gen Z consumer base. Is their priority on showcasing their newfound adulthood or on climbing the corporate ladder? Or, like so many next-gen consumers, are they dressing in hopes of improving their own mental health? There’s no one-size-fits-all answer for this unique demographic.

Unlike prior younger generations, there are very few clearly defined social cohorts for retailers to market to. There’s no Breakfast Club jock, princess, rebel, geek and outcast trend style happening here. However, there are a few universal things we do know: Gen Z’s #1 apparel concern is “quality” (57 percent) closely followed by “comfort” (55 percent), “appearance” (49 percent), and “low price” (43 percent).

We can psychoanalyze Gen Z purchasing behavior until the cows come home, but it may be more effective to dissect the motivation behind their actual purchases.  In this article, we’ll break down three Gen Z ensembles, where they bought each piece, what they (or their parents) paid for it, and whether they’d have worn it five years ago.

Our Next-Gens and Their Ensembles

 

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Kylie Hoffman, Student, 18 years old. Worn to Cheyenne Frontier Days, Wyoming.

  • Top: Mimosa, from Ellison Boutique in Boulder, CO, $60.
  • Jean Shorts: American Eagle from 2016/2017, on sale for $25.
  • Boots: Ariat hand me down boots from mother, “at least a couple years old,” $160.Would you have worn this five years ago?

“I would not have worn the top I am wearing five years ago because of the mature look it gives off and I would not have been old enough to pull it off. The top is satin and a bandana style and ties in the back give it a more sophisticated appearance. I definitely would have worn both the shorts and the boots as they are simple, timeless and can be worn for many different occasions based on how I choose to style them.”

 

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Sophie Jo Pirkey, Personal Stylist & Founder at Pirkritude, 28 years old. Worn in Chicago, Illinois.

  • Earrings: Vintage clip-ons, $.50
  • Satin blouse: Vintage, $4.
  • Bed Coat: Vintage, $2.
  • Socks: Forever21, $10.
  • Trousers: Coldwater Creek (from the 2000\’s), $3.
  • Shoes: Urban Outfitters, on sale for $40.
  • Jewelry: Free gifts and family heirlooms.

“Each of those pieces were thrifted in 2021 from various Village Discount Outlet locations in Chicago. I typically won\’t spend more than $50 on any garment or accessory unless it\’s very good quality and I know I’ll get a lot of use out of it. I thrift most of my clothes because it’s where I have access to actual quality-made garments that also have character.”

Would you have worn this five years ago? Why/why not?

“This outfit is from a few years ago, but I wouldn\’t necessarily put it together today, and five years before then I think it would be too loud for me. I’m in a constant state of style evolution because I dress authentically to my inner self, and she’s always changing, so my style changes with her. There are a few key elements that remain, but aesthetically it can drastically change.”

“In this photo, I was in a very bright and colorful place. I had recently recovered from a six-year-long intense depressive episode, so the last thing I wanted to do was wear black or muted styles. I still had some fear of depression, and it caused me anxiety to associate myself with anything dark during that time.”

 

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Taylor Stinnett, Pricing Analyst Intern at UDR, 21. Worn to work in Lone Tree, Colorado.

  • Vest: Zara, $45
  • Jumpsuit: Topshop, $50
  • Shoes: Onitsuka tigers, $120

Would you have worn this five years ago?

“I would have worn this five years ago, as black is timeless and I think the subtle added flares of polka dots and silver shoes are still classic enough to appeal to many generations. My company’s dress code is generally defined as ‘business casual, denim allowed.’”

Three Unique Motivations from Our Young Fashionistas

Since the Zoomer generation is highly diverse and proud of it, we’ve showcased three diverse fashion choices and motivations. Our fashionistas have three very different shopping motivations: emotional, professional, and coming of age. You’ll notice that Sophia Pirkey describes the motivation behind her fashion choices in helping her recover from a depressive episode: “I wore white almost daily and used color and joyful patterns and pieces to connect with my newfound inner light.”

While Pirkey is dressing for the intrinsic emotion her clothes evoke, Stinnett is a generational anomaly in her black ensemble. She’s touched on the common 90s nostalgia with her loose black fits and brazenly Bowie-esque silver footwear. The choice to put her own spin on “timeless” apparel choices shows an awareness and mastery of the expectations of the corporate landscape that’s rare amongst next gens.

Hoffman, on the other hand, is breaking into the adult social sphere at the age of eighteen. She’s focused on showcasing her newfound “maturity” with a form-fitting ensemble with a debutante energy. Most of us who have been eighteen-year-old young women fondly remember this time in our own lives. Despite the trials next gens face in coming of age––a global pandemic, extreme weather events, and a tumultuous economy, among others––they’re still growing up with enthusiasm.

Key Takeaways

Is it hard to draw parallels among between our next gens’ outfit choices and motivations? It should be. Gen Z is more flagrantly diverse than any generation that came before them. While technology is partially to blame for this diversity, and the challenge retailers face in light of it, it also holds the key to effectively sourcing products in today’s environment.

No two next gens are exactly the same. As such, brands and retailers need to do the work to understand the purchase motivations of their unique Gen Z consumer base. Is their priority on showcasing their newfound adulthood or on climbing the corporate ladder? Or, like so many next-gen consumers, are they dressing in hopes of improving their own mental health? There’s no one-size-fits-all answer for this unique demographic.

Retailers need to do consumer research on the front-end and create buyer personas that cater to each faction of their consumer base. By doing so, brands and retailers can see, source, and sell to each unique next-gen buyer persona that they need to target with their offerings.

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