Over the past year, Y2K-inspired cut-outs have taken over fashion, encompassing everything from tops with moon crescent-shaped holes to "ovary pants." While this is happening in part because of a resurgence of early 2000s styles, which also includes going-out tops and bandage dresses, fashion forecaster Agustina Panzoni says it also points to a larger societal phenomenon.
A few months ago, Panzoni coined “subversive basics” on her TikTok channel, @thealgorhythm, where she analyzes fashion trends and how they translate into social and cultural movements. What does the term mean? Think: leather pants with hipbone cutouts, mesh turtlenecks, and cardigan tops missing essential buttons. “This trend is all about basics that rebel up to the point of losing their utility,” explains Panzoni, who used to be a WGSN fashion forecaster before going freelance.
Amid an ongoing pandemic, an economic crisis, the accelerating impact of climate change, and the uprising against racial inequality, she says it's no surprise that fashion is likewise starting to rebel against the status quo. “We are in a defining moment when we are all realizing the world we live in makes no sense,” she says. “Last year’s big systemic moves made everyone realize this just isn’t working.” Neither is our plain white T-shirt, if you ask the fashion industry.
Basics — see: little black dress, blue jeans, etc. — have been the core of people’s closets for the past century, serving as essential building blocks around which the rest of the wardrobe is created. Brands have based their entire legacies around articles of clothing like the T-shirt; the styles have spanned from everyday utility wear (Fruit of the Loom) to luxury statements (Dior’s $900 “The Future Is Female” top).
This rebellion comes at a time when the industry at large is gravitating toward the late ‘90s and early '00s. While fashion is cyclical and often looks to the past, it's noteworthy that designers right now are finding inspiration in eras marked by cultural disruptions in the form of the dot-com boom and the rise of celebrity. In 2021, the story is not so different.
“People are leaving their jobs and looking for flexibility out of a capitalist system that is eating everything up,” says Panzoni.
Designers like Chloé, Eloquii, Dion Lee, and Brandon Maxwell are reimagining what basics could look like with asymmetrical shapes that align with Panzoni’s forecast. While some cut-out designs end up looking like elegant slits, others are downright NSFW, exemplifying society’s thirst to tear through the quarantine sweatsuit cocoon it’s experienced for the past 16 months.
On the spring runways, cut-outs were presented in monochromatic styles, with black, white, and navy dominating the lineups. This choice is not coincidental, says Panzoni, adding that it’s easier for a "subversive" top to take the place of a T-shirt if its neutral colour can mask the fact that your boob could pop out at any minute. This summer’s pin-top trend is a great example of how subversive basics are being inducted into street style. Only suited for those that live on the edge, this top is one pop of a pin away from public nudity.
For proof, see the recent pin-top sweater top worn by Bella Hadid. Held together by nothing but a metallic string across the chest, this ribbed cardigan might be considered church-appropriate, if not for the fact that it’s missing one too many buttons and has nothing underneath it. While Hadid has the liberty of wearing such a top solo, Panzoni says that for the rest of us, who may soon have to adhere to office dress codes again and don't want to risk indecent exposure, subversive basics are more likely to become layering pieces rather than building wardrobe blocks.
“You can’t go as exposed in your real life,” says Panzoni. “I have some pieces that if I wear them with nothing underneath, TikTok wouldn’t let me upload the video.”
This trend isn't fashion's first attempt at obliterating basics as we know them. Named “avant basics,” this trend was popularized last year by unabashedly optimistic, print-heavy brands like Lisa Says Gah, providing people with a colourful escape amid one of the gloomiest years of their existence with checkered-printed denim, pastel-coloured ribbed sweaters, and a psychedelic aesthetic that hearkens back to the ‘60s and ‘70s.
“Avant basics have an underlying theme of surrealism,” says Panzoni, referring to the early 20th-century art movement, which was born out of a need to incorporate fantasy into a less-than-optimistic reality.
With their vintage-looking aesthetic and granny-chic style, avant basics also flourished out of the thrift and resale boom happening today. While many seek a 1960s look by wearing pieces from the era, others rely on brands like Paloma Wool and House of Sunny to provide a capsule closet inspired by a mid-century aesthetic.
Just like their subversive counterpart, avant basics fill Instagram and TikTok feeds of today. But unlike subversive basics, these styles aren't aimed at fighting the status quo; they existed to create an alternate world — one filled with bold colours, asymmetrical graphic lines, mismatched pieces, and lots of cow prints — as a way to escape our current one. "We are coming to terms with what’s happening and the need for rebellion," Panzoni says.
What will your fashion uniform look like?