The Maximalist Fashion Trend: Where Did It Come From and Where Is It Going?

The Maximalist Fashion Trend Where Did It Come From and Where Is It Going

What makes fashionistas “do the most”?

If you Google “maximalist fashion”, you will be swamped with dressing guides dedicated to this “the more, the better” trend published by leading fashion magazines in 2022. Rapidly gaining popularity in the last couple of years, maximalist styles are breaking out of the runway of an Haute Couture fashion show, a red carpet event or a K-pop performance to conquer streets in high fashion neighborhoods. 

In fashion, maximalism refers to a phenomenon of artistic or aesthetic excess. This style utilizes a wide range of colors, textures, silhouettes, patterns and materials in an outfit. Some call it bold, some call it bad taste—but more and more people are seeing it as an art form. Let’s look at what the maximalist fashion trend entails, its origin and future.

The era of go-big-or-go home
Harajuku fashion as documented by the FRUiTS Magazine
Image courtesy of Japan Nakama

Many believe the prototype of the maximalist fashion trend as we know it now comes from the Harajuku district of Japan. Those familiar with the Harajuku style recognize it as colorful, eccentric, childlike and maxed out on all possible accessories. The Harajuku style is a blend of many different subcultures, like Decora, Lolita, Visual Kei, Goth, Gyaru etc. It focuses on mixing and matching various aesthetics, materials and silhouettes to create outfits that may appear rather outlandish to the casual viewer. 

Emerging in the 1980s, Harajuku fashion was adored by youngsters in the region to rebel against mainstream fashion and the collectivist social norms, which they believed to be oppressive and monotonous. They began adopting alternative styles as a means of self-expression and individuality while identifying as members of a like-minded community. 

Maximalism has evolved considerably since. While Harajuku styles have remained relatively popular since the 80s, newer styles of maximalism where people around the world put on their cultural spins have emerged over the last few years. The foundation of maximalism is to blend traditional and modern clothing and layer outfits with various garments and accessories. Also, enthusiasts of maximalist fashion love to scout around for second-hand, vintage and recycled clothing. 

The psychology of maximalism

Maximalism as a phenomenon has a tendency to re-emerge after a prolonged period of hardship, tragedy or economic distress. The latest vein of maximalism turned up after the economic recession in 2008, which conformed the 2010s to minimalism when clean-cut, chic, no-fuss silhouettes dominated the millennial fashion scene. Designer logos were relegated to small embossings and initials, as excessive displays of wealth were viewed as tactless and lacking good taste.   

In the post-recession time, a more opulent sentiment started to surface, and many luxury brands (like Gucci, Fendi, Louis Vuitton, and Dior) began to bring their logos back to center stage, be it emblazoned across clothing or made into chunky or blingy accessories—as long as they drew attention to the wearer. The trend continued to trickle down from high fashion to street style.

At the beginning of 2020, the pandemic trapped the world indoors, and many seized this time to experiment with their wardrobes to beat boredom. People took the liberty to be adventurous with their style choices because they felt secure in their bold clothing attempts at home, without the pressure of being seen in public and judged for what they wore. This created an opportunity for teens and young adults to express themselves as vibrant beings amid mundanity, confinement and isolation. They also feel a sense of community with other like-minded individuals by sharing curated looks and attempts at new styles on social media.

Like the 2008 economic recession, three years of a global pandemic has brought forth a “who cares what I wear?” attitude towards fashion. After making many sacrifices, people are unwilling to pass up the luxury of outfits they enjoy.  

TikTok—the center stage of maximalism

TikTok—the center stage of maximalism
Left to right: Thalia Castro-Vega (Instagram:polychrom3), Wisdom Kaye (Instagram:Wisdm), Sara Camposarcone (TikTok:saracampz)

Out of all the social media platforms, TikTok has almost become synonymous with the trend due to the steadily growing magnitude of Maximalism-related content on the site. Creators, like Wisdom Kaye, Thalia Castro-Vega and Sara Camposarcone have popularized the maximalist fashion trend with their regular “outfit of the day” (OOTD) and “get ready with me” (GRWM) posts on platforms like TikTok and Instagram. 

While Gen Z makes up the center demographic of this trend on TikTok, fashionistas of varied age groups also embrace maximalism. For instance, the 101-year-old Iris Apfel (@iris.apfel on Instagram) is a prominent maximalist who has over 2.4 million followers on Instagram—quite a legend within the community!

Is this too much?

One of the major criticisms of the maximalist style is that it encourages materialism, hedonism, hoarding, lack of taste and a general consumerist mindset of senselessly buying more and more. After all, how can owning so much apparel be sustainable?

Today, maximalists are more socially and environmentally conscious than in any other historical period. Maximalists invest in vintage pieces, recycled items and second-hand clothing to put together their outfits. It is ultimately beneficial for fashionistas to own pieces they can utilize in as many ways as possible. Moreover, thanks to technology, we can now thrift online, like threadUP, Depop, and Thriftsome, which creates easy access to second-hand pieces and gives the average individual more budget-friendly freedom to indulge in their maximalist style choices. 

It is, of course, not all about salvaging old garments; creativity is a massive part of the culture of maximalism. Many maximalists take pride in DIYing their clothes and accessories. Some create pieces from scratch, while others alter and revamp thrifted or second-hand finds. Instagram and Etsy are some of the platforms that are home to many small businesses that cater to this desire for unique, handmade pieces, like beaded jewelry, custom dresses, crochet pieces, knits, tiaras and crowns.

Does the rise of maximalism mean the death of minimalism?

No, not really. While maximalism is exciting and versatile, it’s still not for everyone. Classics remain classics for a reason.

For many, a simple, quick, put-together outfit is the requirement and the best-case scenario. Classic, minimalist outfits are fail-safes that many rely on to look presentable without putting in too much effort. Sometimes, a minimalist, capsule wardrobe works better for the average individual.

Does the rise of maximalism mean the death of minimalism
Left to right: items from retail websites of brands ASOS, Lime Road, Nykaa

However, a middle path is not out of the question. That there is no set rule for putting together a maximalist outfit is one of the major appeals of the widespread trend. Some may prefer the chaotic feel of multiple layers and colors, patterns clashing and heaps of accessories, but those looking for a formula to their outfits are just as valid—think sleek dresses, structured suits in vibrant prints or neutral tones and ruffled silhouettes. 

Thus, many brands, like Louis Vuitton, Gucci, Urbanic, Nykaa, Lime Road, ASOS and Shein, are rolling out new product lines for those who wish to dip their toes into maximalism but are not quite ready to take the plunge. To do so, they are integrating pieces into their clothing lines that are bold enough to entice the maximalist niche but also capture the essence of simpler outfits that work for the general public. 

For now, it looks like maximalism is here to stay, and minimalism will not vanish overnight. With the development of technological wonders, like the metaverse, augmented reality, virtual reality and artificial intelligence, fashion is not just limited to the physical plane. Going digital in virtual spaces brings forth a whole new world of fashion opportunities, where factors like temperature, local norms or even physics hold no sway over your outfit. As more and more brands and individual creators lean into the freedom of the maximalist aesthetic, it is likely to continue making its way into mainstream culture and (virtual) wardrobes around the world. 

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Banner image courtesy of Unsplash


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