The Rag | Style

One Way Gen Z Is a Lot Like Millennials

Generational trends often marginalize people of color

Different generation, same influencer culture? Photo by Mateus Campos Felipe on Unsplash

For some reason, I can’t stop thinking about the Gen Z and millennial wars that kicked off in February when Gen Z canceled our skinny jeans and side parts. Initially, I thought my persistent annoyance came from being an Old who just can’t let things go, a distinct possibility given that my anxiety often presents as rumination. But then I remembered that I also felt alienated from all the millennial in-grouping of the aughts and 2010s.

In America at least, we overwhelmingly defined millennialness in terms of what young, white, and privileged people were doing, or saying they were doing on social media. It seems like the same thing is happening now with Gen Z. I felt left out then and, as a WOC, I feel doubly irrelevant now.

Gen Z is America’s most diverse generational cohort, but influencer demographics and the trends influencers are mainstreaming via social media don’t necessarily reflect that. Although they are often associated with TikTok, this rising generational cohort is actually more active on Instagram, a social media ecosystem that has been criticized for prioritizing white influencers, birthing blackphishing, and using shadow bans to marginalize content from already marginalized groups.

Black and brown members of Gen Z are creating content with strong social messages on Instagram and TikTok. They are influencing fashion and beauty, but they’re probably not getting paid as much for it as their white counterparts are. If media coverage is any indicator, their content isn’t trending with the same virality as, say, #cottagecore, a.k.a. the whitest thing since Wonderbread.

When it comes to their jibes at millennials, mainstream Gen Z’s whiteness starts to show. Take avocado toast, that delicious Insta-worthy meal that really is only millennial in the sense that Latinos have been eating it for thousands of years since the Aztecs. It makes sense that Gen Z wouldn’t know because avocado toast keeps getting colonized. It doesn’t make sense for a lot of brown folks to give up our beloved avocado toast. Also, joking-not-joking that if we did we could afford to buy houses gives me bootstrappy boomer vibes.

Diagonal, triangular, and box-shaped parts are used in locs, cornrows, and other braided styles. Photo by Chris Benson on Unsplash

Then, there’s the hair part debate, sad little straight-single-part conversation that it is. Black and Puerto Rican women like me have been parting our hair every which way since we could hold a comb, just like our ancestors did. Center versus side part? Please. We’re over here trying to decide between geodesic and patchwork parts, Zoomer! And before you get too excited about “bringing back” the center hair part, remember that BIPOC of all ages need actual legislation for society to even tolerate our preferred hairstyles.

Gen Z is praised for their supposed wave-making sartorial sense. They look cute. So did millennials when we wore those exact same bucket hats and logo t-shirts and baggy jeans when we were exactly the same age zoomers are now. I agree that time was up for skinnies—and I’m thrilled that low-rise jeans are making a comeback—but I can’t give Gen Z influencers cookies for realizing what hip-hop culture always knew: baggy jeans with functional pockets are fantastic.

Billy Eilish’s loose-fitting matchy-matchy garb may seem peak Gen Z but African American men have been creating oversized print-on-print looks (Burberry, anyone?) since forever. POC invented and popularized trends like the baggy patterned ensemble and many never stopped wearing them, despite the fact that, Black men, in particular, were often dragged for doing so.

Gen Z’s shopping habits don’t seem super novel to me, either. Affluent suburban teens may have just discovered the joys of thrifting, but my family has always hit the thrift and upcycled our “hauls” at home. By my teen years, I knew how to pick out quality clothes that would last, identify unique vintage pieces by their construction, and deconstruct or tailor garments that weren’t my size.

Thrifting and upcycling just isn’t new for families from poorer backgrounds. I wish more people would acknowledge that fact while they’re reflecting on the ethics of thrifting on TikTok, something I actually do give Gen Zers props for.

Gen Z is cast as so stylish, so conscious, so authentic. But, with a few exceptions—PU foam mirrors and that sea shanty thing were delightfully unexpected—I feel like mainstream Gen Z trends are just iterations of millennial innovations like me-made wardrobes and “flared leggings” and documenting too much of your personal life online. Adopting trends with roots in POC culture sans attribution is particularly unoriginal since every generation ever has done it.

Time will tell if Gen Z proves to be the generation that finally gets the big things right and ends racism and homophobia and climate change. Until then, one way Gen Z can differentiate from previous generational cohorts is by actually acknowledging and amplifying Black and brown folks’ contributions to shaping their favorite trends. I can’t wait to see that in my TikTok feed.

American freelancer in Istanbul writing about culture, mental health, race & travel. Bylines everywhere from Al Jazeera to Zora. Tw: @Ruth_Terry | IG: @ruth.ist

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store