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  • Writer's pictureMacy Berendsen

Girls, What Shoes Are We Wearing This Summer?

Or, a better question: why should we care at all?


If you are anywhere in the digital fashion mediascape, you have no doubt been bugged by one overwhelming question: “Girlies, what shoes are we wearing this summer?”

I know my answer: the same white Nike Air Force 1s I’ve been wearing from summers past that can barely be considered white anymore. When did we need to check in with the larger, parasocial fashion community to confirm what shoes we will all wear collectively this summer? I appreciate discovering new brands and styles as much as the next fashion acolyte — but these questions constantly circulating the Internet are just another black void of capitalism and contribute heavily to our loss of individuality. 

The digital fashion landscape is a double-edged sword, much as the wide extent of social media. It’s no secret that social media can be a trap for overconsumption and conspicuous capitalism (e.g. TikTok Shop and Instagram Shop), so the sharing of items that proffer no value beyond their trending aesthetic qualities is just part of the deal when you choose to engage with digital fashion spaces.  If you’re seeing an item promoted on TikTok Shop or Instagram Shop by a creator, there may be a chance they are getting a percentage of the commission. Creators may be more enticed to sell an item to their audience if a reward is involved. On the flip side, consumers are rewarded with a hot, trendy item that will deem them fashionable Buying more also rewards consumers in having more things on hand, a la Carrie Bradshaw’s closet— which I can admit I would also love to have — through collecting more and more trending pieces to ensure a top-notch wardrobe for the next season.

As someone who is definitely not a minimalist but still has an extensional crisis thinking about the capitalist mindset, the “What are we wearing this season?” question — one invented by fashion magazines of the 1950s and has not died off yet — is a conflicting and somewhat disheartening one. 

That question is Gen Z’s version of the iconic Miranda Priestly (Meryl Streep) speech about cerulean blue trickling down from the runway to consumers like Andy (Anne Hathaway). The fashion theory about how trends float through society, also called the trickle-down theory, can be traced back hundreds of years — social media now just adds another layer to this theory. Before immediate access to social media, consumers got their trend inspo from the runway and the upper-class, once it arrived at accessible department and bargain-bin stores. Consumers with the connections to get to trends early had unique pieces that begged, but frequently stymied, recreation.  Now, with the advent of social media and livestream capabilities, it’s easier to skip entire steps of trickle-down theory and immediately share with everyone what the “it shoe” of the summer will be. No need to wait for the bourgeois to tell you — you can make your own decisions.

20 years ago, garments used to be much more intentionally designed — and purchased with repeat wear in mind. A bag was meant to be worn until an eventual rip happened; shoes weren’t meant to be replaced until the soles fell off. As the consumer landscape of the United States shifts towards oblivion, clothing is made cheaper, but there’s also a limited amount of people with enough disposable income to buy the latest seasonal shoe. By intentionally focusing on the longevity of items in our wardrobes, we can already combat half the issue of the “What are we wearing this summer?” question and focus on building more sustainable, responsible closets — instead of falling down the black hole of capitalism.

On another note: why are we constantly checking in with our online communities about what’s “cool” and what’s not? Sometimes logic overtakes coolness. If you live by the beach, choose some sandals you already have (which are most likely something you like!) as your summer “it” shoe. If you live in the city, find a pair of sneakers (might I suggest any colorful sneakers from the brand Gola?) that you can actually walk in. You don’t have to let your feet sweat in a pair of GANNI ballet flats if you don’t want to. As someone who lives in a snowy, cold climate, you better believe I pull out my thick gray winter boots on the daily, even though they do nothing positive to any of my outfits. They keep my feet warm and dry — and that’s what I call a style win.

However, there’s a comfort in considering whether an item is “cool” or not. How you want to present yourself to society is up to you, and that power is scary — especially based on where you live and who you interact with on a day-to-day basis. In my experience, starting to explore style in rural Wisconsin was not an easy task. It felt safer to fit within the socially-acceptable realm of what others were wearing, like mom jeans with a thrifted crewneck, because it was one less thing to worry about during the day. 

For me, there was this barrier of style expression that was acceptable somewhere “cool” like the east or west coast, but not so cool in small-town rural communities. Part of that barrier was also that there aren’t as many opportunities to showcase style or connect with those who have a unique sense of style like there are in major cities. Fashion shows, art gallery openings, or events that seem intune with big city living aren’t as readily accessible in the Midwest. 

But discovering my personal style and learning to slowly inch outside sartorial boundaries, is rewarding, uplifting, and worth the feeling of being uncomfortable for a day.

Earlier this year, popular fashion TikToker, analyst, and fashion writer Mandy Lee introduced the 75 Hard style challenge in an effort to combat overconsumption and instead focus on using what’s already in your closet. By forcing you to mix and match last season’s items, you can discover new ways to wear the items you already own — and maybe even take that dress you loathe in the back of your closet and give it a second life. This challenge specifically targets social media as a place to share results — encouraging participants to share each outfit each day not only adds a layer of accountability but inspires others to participate, too.

Styling is quite possibly the most important tool in fashion, and it’s easy to fall into the trap of thinking that only those NYC FIT girlies with the Simone Rocha ballet sneakers know how to style because they paid the money to learn it. The great thing about styling and social media is that it costs nothing. All you have to do is discover some new creators whose style you admire and try to recreate it with the items you own — thereby creating something completely different that is also completely individual to you. For some inspiration, here are some of my own personal favorite fashion creators who focus on styling what you already have accessible in your wardrobe: Chloë Felopus, Natasha LopezEsther Medina , Percia Verlin, Heather Hurst, and Kate B

Next time you find yourself going down the latest fashion must-have listicle void, do yourself a favor and remember what Diane von Fürstenberg once said: “Style is something each of us already has — all we need to do is find it.” 🌀


Macy Berendsen is a writer based in Chicago. She can be found online at @macyberendsen


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