The relentless rise of the avant basic



“Vintage without the effort.”

Instagram means that we no longer need to rely exclusively on fashion magazines and haute couture runways to know what’s ‘in’ right now – our algorithms can tell us that for free.

And chances are, if you’re even remotely interested in fashion, you would’ve noticed a distinctive style dominating your feed which I can only describe as generic-meets-psychedelic (think: the love child of Jean Paul Gaultier and Brandy Melville).

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So what do we call this look that’s so ubiquitously captured the zeitgeist with its geometric digital prints, vibrant palettes and whimsical patterns? Late last year, writer Emma Hope Allwood christened the trend “avant basic”, an oxymoronic but fitting name for an aesthetic that’s trying so hard to be “vintage without the effort” as she aptly added.   

‘Avant’, of course, is borrowed from the term avant-garde, which exists in all fields of expression and denotes the ground-breaking and boundary-pushing. Translated literally it means to be “ahead of the guard”, but in the context of the arts, it goes beyond that.

To be avant-garde is to defy norms and rather than simply being ahead of trends, to be immune to them entirely. And on the other hand, basic means the total opposite. To be common, generic and eye-rollingly predictable.

I personally don’t think there’s anything wrong with liking what is typical to like (I mean, it’s called popular culture for a reason) but somewhere along the way, basic became a pejorative term. You see, those who poke fun at ‘basics’ will tell you that basic isn’t just something you can be. It’s something you are.

And the name for someone who is basic naturally evolved to being the ‘basic bitch’, because alliteration and misogyny is… funny? (The fact that there’s no equivalent naming convention for a male basic is a conversation for another time).

On one hand, calling someone basic feels quite restrained. It doesn’t mean to be cruel or elitist and comes across as more of an observation than an attack. An insult? Yes, but a non-threatening one. An insult you may offer to a friend who wants to whine about someone you only know at face value.

But, there’s also something very arrogant about mocking the ‘less sophisticated’ who trustingly follow the trends presented to them. To call someone basic suggests that you’re superior in some way, as if to recognise it in someone else absolves you of being basic yourself.


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In my unqualified opinion, to be basic in 2021 is to have a penchant for sharing birds-eye pictures of brunch, posting a photo of your book stack on Instagram, wearing skinny jeans and captioning a photo of your soy cappuccino with “But first, coffee” in a non-ironic way (all of which I have done before).

In 2015 Kate Moss, the gatekeeper of cool, called a pilot a basic bitch after she was escorted off a commercial flight for drunk and disruptive behaviour. The lyrics to Kreayshawn’s 2011 single, Gucci Gucci, read “Gucci Gucci, Louis Louis, Fendi, Fendi Prada… basic bitches wear that shit so I don’t even bother”.

Replace those brand names with Paloma Wool, House of Sunny, Poppy Lissiman, Holiday and Gimaguas (all likely to have been donned by your favourite Scandi influencer) and you have the blueprint to 2021’s avant basic.

It’s “Algorithm fashion… quirkiness in the age of mechanical reproduction… if Summer from 500 Days of Summer was an insta gal with a mullet,” continued Allwood.

Instead of being funky statement pieces in their own right, disco pants, kaleidoscopic prints, checkered co-ord sets and hibiscus dresses have become an unofficial uniform, dictated by what will perform well on Instagram. And as a result, the same few outfit formulas begin making the rounds on the streets of New York, Copenhagen and beyond.

The allure of the second evolution of basic is that it’s relatable enough to imitate but aspirational enough to, well, aspire to. There’s still a sense of exclusivity when shopping from the brands I’ve mentioned because they are sustainably minded (and rightfully more expensive due to ethical sourcing and manufacturing) and are produced in small drops, meaning they’re always on fucking pre-order (I would know, I’m on the waitlists for all of them).

Don’t let the quirky patterns fool you, the fashions you see online will all, eventually, become the new basic disguised by (insert trend here). I know that the Yin-Yang sandals I’m lusting after from Paloma Wool will become boring and that bold mosaic prints will become beige.

All of a sudden, they will no longer be the statements they were intended to be. They will become relics – cultural signifiers of a once-popular Instagram algorithm. So maybe, in honouring the true sense of avant-garde, it’s time to start existing outside of trends altogether.

Want to dive deeper? Find more on the avant basic trend here.

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