The “more is more” fashion philosophy – maximalism – has returned.
This aesthetic makes apparel a spectacle, and expresses beauty through audacious and abundant styles with intricate details. Its reemergence is a response to the long reign of minimalism – the less is more philosophy that values functionality, simplicity, and restraint.
The History of Maximalism vs. Minimalism in Fashion
Image from Vogue
Throughout history, fashion has fluctuated between minimalist and maximalist trends. Forty year ago, maximalism dominated the 80s. The styles of this decade flaunted extravagance by going bold and bright. Statement silhouettes and accessories dominated the mainstream, from power suits, to big earrings, to leg warmers, to large glasses. People donned neon colors and animal prints with acid wash jeans, and proudly displayed the designer brand logos of their clothing.
The 90s, however, pared down many of the 1980s flashy styles. Body conscious silhouettes with clean lines began to lead the trend cycle. Top designers and brands Donna Karan, Calvin Klein, Helmut Lang, and Miuccia Prada pioneered the minimalism of this era. It-girls like supermodel Kate Moss defined the look of the period in casual and effortless slip dresses and cardigans.
The mid-1990s and 2000s saw a return to louder and more colorful trends like bright, blinged out Juicy Couture tracksuits, large belts, chunky sneakers, and rhinestones
However, when the world and fashion encountered the 2008 recession, Christina Binkley, fashion writer at the Wall Street Journal wrote that, “Fashion had been really loud and it was a huge party, and then that shifted literally overnight.” People lost their jobs, damaging customer spending power. Retailers turned conservative with their inventory and limited their stocks to only those products that had sold well before. While the wealthiest customers could still afford luxury, most people were less likely to sport large logos. Furthermore, tech CEOs like Steve Jobs gained praise for their minimal and grounded outfits regardless of the pieces’ exorbitant designer price tags.
During this period, minimalism reemerged as not just a clothing aesthetic but also a popular philosophy endorsed by figures like Marie Kondo and bloggers like Matt D'Avella. This updated minimalism reflected a fall in materialistic values and greater awareness of environmentalism. Cultural influencers like the aforementioned advised people to buy fewer, higher quality items that were more timeless than trendy and were less likely therefore to be discarded into landfills. Brands like Uniqlo and Everlane gained popularity during this period for their great basics, while trendy statement pieces came to be something reserved for special occasions.
The next big global event, the Covid-19 pandemic, similarly impacted fashion trends a decade later. However, now the fatigue of pandemic minimalism has turned people back toward maximalism, though the current maximalist aesthetic differs from previous iterations thanks largely to the internet offering up a plethora of new resources for inspiration. For example, TikTok has become a major platform where influencers like Anna Golka-Yepez and Sara Camposarcone show viewers how to make eclectic outfits by mixing textures and colors. Also, despite the new maximalism including outfits composed of several articles of clothing, the escalating risks to the planet from climate change have made customers of this newest iteration prioritize ways to balance the maximalist aesthetic with sustainability and social responsibility. A big part of this updated version of maximalism includes customers finding clothes second hand or buying unique pieces from small, high quality businesses that they discover online.
During this transition period from maximalism to minimalism, it’s essential for forward looking fashion designers to hop on the trend. While it won’t be possible to find success by completely replicating the maximalist trends of the past, it’s now possible to create a maximalist clothing line that serves the unique customers of today.
6 Keys to Creating a Modern Maximalist Clothing Line
Fashion designers seeking to get ahead on the maximalist trend can incorporate 6 simple fundamentals into their clothing collection planning. The following principles will guide designers to create a modern maximalist collection that has the potential to earn them, not only sales, but also positive brand recognition from followers, influencers, and fashion press.
1. Know Your Color Theory
Maximalist styles can be wild and experimental, and risk appearing thoughtless and reckless. However, understanding color theory, color schemes, and balance can help make something that is outlandish work. Furthermore, it also can help to know the psychological effects of color to help formulate what you want to express through clothes.
2. Consider Different Ways to be a Maximalist
Even though maximalism can be showy and detailed, it does not mean that every aspect of the clothing or styling must be bold and outstanding. Balance is important. A garment could have a neutral color or pattern but have a wild silhouette or have a simple silhouette accented by statement patterns.
3. Challenge Fashion Gender Norms
With our evolving understanding of gender, we better know that no gender can be confined to limited silhouettes, colors, or articles of clothing. Women can wear tailored suits while men can wear floral patterns and pink. Genderless clothing is also a growing trend, and clothing brands like Telfar and 69 have unique pieces that they choose to market to more than one gender. Part of pushing past norms involves not only creating audacious clothes, but also challenging outdated views of who can wear them.
4. Prioritize Size Inclusivity
Maximalist fashion trends have sent people to vintage and thrift store racks. However, vintage is notorious for lacking fits for bodies larger than a modern size 12. This is due to systematic fatphobia as retailers historically prioritized producing garments to fit the idealized slender physique. Plus sized people at the time were forced to make their own clothing. Therefore, size inclusive retailers that sell vintage inspired clothes such as Unique Vintage have discovered a profitable and much needed niche in service of giving all sized customers bold, unique looks that references earlier periods of fashion.
5. Sustainability is Still Crucial
Maximalism is often associated with consumption and excessiveness. However, as discussed previously, attitudes around maximalism have changed. Today’s customers often prefer to use secondhand items to add to their outfits’ excessiveness alongside new, innovative garments. After all, customers still prefer to see high social responsibility and sustainable sourcing practices from the businesses they shop.
6. Garment Quality Still Counts
While many shoppers will always want or need cheap clothing, most customers prefer to purchase high quality clothing with longevity. Maximalists may want to use a single garment in several different outfits, so if you’re designing for the maximalist trend, it is important to produce garments with quality manufacturers who can assure that your products can withstand time and work in a variety of outfit executions.
This new period of maximalism is still in its early stage, and retails and brands are catching on. While minimalist outfits will always remain, the modern maximalist trends are a call for designer innovation for a growing market.