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Aesthetic Detective: Vaporwave

Aesthetic Detective: Vaporwave

Each month, Jenessa Williams explores fashion trends that are appearing across our social media. This month, she explores Vaporwave, a double-edged homage to retro-internet imagery

Where does this trend come from?

Vaporwave aesthetic

Outfit: Funostee T-Shirt, Reebok LX8500 Trainers, Vapor95 Hat, Ultralight Outdoor Gear Shorts, Glass Animals Dreamland Album, Fila Bag 

Aesthetically speaking, vaporwave is thought to have begun with the early inspirations of the Memphis group, a gathering of post-modern designers led by Ettore Sottsass in early 1980s Milan. Memphis design, as it is more colloquially known, was a direct pushback against the structure of 1970s minimalism, aiming instead for something that fell between the opulence of Art Deco and the vibrancy of Pop Art, all topped off with a hint of 1950s kitsch. With global brands like PlayStation and Pokémon coming to the fore in the 1990s, Japanese Culture and Memphis design coalesced to form early iterations of vaporwave, bolstered by ever-growing interest in anime/manga, video games and the nostalgic TV shows of Kidcore

"Vaporwave speaks to a tone of anti-consumerism, poking fun at excesses of late capitalism"

As the influence of the internet grew, so did a whole movement of electronic music, and a burgeoning fashion aesthetic. Borrowing heavily from millennial internet culture, vaporwave has some troubling connotations with 4Chan or "Incel" masculinity, but more widely speaks to a tone of anti-consumerism, poking fun at excesses of late capitalism and the wilful denigration of modern consumption—think disembodied heads of Greek statues superimposed over unnaturally tinted colours, warped Pepsi and Adidas logos, barren cityscapes that look as if they have been wracked by climate change. Depending on the interpretation, it is unclear whether vaporwave aficionados are actively calling for the decline of capitalism, or rather simply recognising its seeming unavoidability in our modern age.  

What does it look like?

Vaporwave aesthetic

Outfit: Neomatchi Hoodie, Weekday Socks, Kavinsky "Nightcall" Single, Neomatchi Shorts, ‘Box Of Light’ Manga, InControl Clothing Sliders  

A trend that is reviving with Gen-Z, there are several different ways to aesthetically interpret vaporwave. The first is through nostalgia—imagery of the 1980s and 1990s such as PlayStation consoles, dolphin motifs and Windows 95 logos are superimposed over Miami Pastels, Memphis Prints and Surrealist Bright Patterns. British band Glass Animals are often known for incorporating elements of this approach into their videos and lyrics, creating sonic worlds that feel as immersive as a video game.  

"There are several different ways to aesthetically interpret vaporwave"

At the other end of the spectrum, a darker interpretation of vaporwave leans even more heavily on anime and street style, often layering large motifs, illustrations and brand names on simple jersey silhouettes, almost as if designed for the comfort of the dystopian city dweller. With vaporwave’s penchant for glacial, almost robotic synth music, you might imagine the aesthetic as differing between day and night, revealing the more ominous underbelly to the trend.

How can I embody it for myself?

Vaporwave aesthetic

Outfit: Zara dress, Download Festival Glitch backpack, MoonLambo Trainers, Bad Handwriting Hairclips, HalosLondon Cuff Bracelet, Spiderman Into The Spider-Verse DVD, Waterstones "Great Wave" coffee cup 

There are a great many ways to embrace the vaporwave aesthetic without logging onto the dark web. Summer palettes can be easily achieved by sticking closer to the Memphis origins of the trend, but you can also look at the colour pairings of lesser-known video game characters, or the huge wealth of cutting-edge animation and manga techniques that are out there in cinema and television. Spiderman: Into the Spider-Verse delighted fans worldwide with its integration of glitch and vaporwave aesthetics into the animation style, bringing an otherworldly element to the New York streets in which Miles Morales swings.  

"For a more toned-down approach to vaporwave, look for fashion items that embody a feeling of both detail and decay"

For a more toned-down approach to vaporwave, look for fashion items that embody a feeling of both detail and decay. Heavily embellished or unusually cut items, such a striking evening dress, create discordance that feels inherently "glitchy" while still glamourous. Throw in some pop-cultural accessories and neon notes, and you’ll be well on your way to an internet-age aesthetic. 

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