Sundresses, Bows and Sonny Angels: Little Girl Core Is Helping Us Heal Our Inner Child

If Coco Chanel’s oft-cited motto was to take one thing off before you leave the house, Sandy Liang’s could be to add one (or many) ribbons to your ‘fit.
The latest trends have had an unlikely inspiration: the fashion we donned when we were children. From an overindulgence in ribbons to knee-high socks and Mary Janes, and silhouettes reminiscent of schoolgirls' uniforms (or in the case of Liang, an entire clothing line inspired by uniforms), 'Little Girl Core' is here.
The aesthetic is distinctly feminine — and unapologetically so. This is a shift from the fashion of the past several decades, in which femininity was demonised. We grew up during a time when the worst crime a woman could commit was being 'basic', and being like the other girls — or showing interest in anything traditionally feminine — was a sin.
Over the past year, there has been a seismic shift in the way women’s interests are regarded in society. As fashion commentator/YouTuber Mina Le put it in her video Why is everyone dressing like a little girl?, she says, Girls are girling, hot girls are walking, girls are blogging, dinner is girl, 40-year-old men are babygirl. We are in a girl economy”. Women referring to themselves as “girls” and "girl trends" are everywhere, and have unquestionably had an influence on the rise of a more childlike aesthetic.
Women are reclaiming styles that are considered traditionally feminine and youthful such as lace, pink, skirts and bows. These styles have previously drawn ire from earlier-wave feminists, who viewed it as women subjecting themselves to the patriarchy and leaning into fragility, innocence and domesticity in order to comply with the male gaze. But the irony of that outdated belief is how feminism is about fighting for women’s ability to make choices for herself and yet our culture will vilify a woman for liking traditionally girly things (helloooo ‘pick me’ girls).
This is not the case in 2023. This hyper-feminine childlike aesthetic is a feminist reclaiming of things considered girly and childlike. We seem to be at this unprecedented time in society where women are actually allowed to enjoy the things that make us happy, without having to justify it to anyone. If we actually like cooking and hosting lavish dinner parties, we are no longer doing it out of patriarchal obligation. If we want to engage in media that is reminiscent of our youth, then that is perfectly okay (especially seeing as men have done this same exact thing this past decade with superheroes achieving mainstream success). If women want to wear pink, frills, ribbons and lace, then they can be our guest. 
For far too long, 'girly' clothes have been met with either hyper-sexualisation from men who infantilise feminine and youthful things, or condemnation from other women for supposedly upholding the patriarchy by liking the colour pink.
Where we last saw a rise of a hyper-feminine style that had ties to childhood aesthetics was during Tumblr’s prime in the early 2010s. This was the ‘nymphet’ subculture which favoured red heart glasses (à la
Vladimir Nabokov’s Lolita), red lollipops, cherries, lace and a Lana Del Ray brand of ‘all American’ white girlhood. This subculture has been met with criticism due to how it inadvertently sexualises children in a world that is already too quick to objectify them. However, this subculture existed largely online, and was not as mainstream as the current girly trend.
The 2023 iteration of hyper-femininity and childlike aesthetics however has an element of healing one’s inner child. Women are dressing in a manner that they would have been ridiculed for dressing in in the 2010s. They are finally able to don Mary Janes and plaits adorned with ribbons and not be called anti-feminist for doing so. 
It's not surprising, as many women are yearning for a simpler time in their lives through their fashion choices returning to girlhood. This is evidenced in the popularity of cutesy childhood toys as accessories such as Miffy, Sonny Angels, Hello Kitty, Sailor Moon, etc. And due to the collective societal trauma of the past few years, the girlies are nostalgic for what they perceive as a calmer time.
This sartorial moment is being led by trendsetting women of colour, Sandy Liang and Simone Rocha. This is a contrast to previous western hyper-feminine trends and subcultures that traditionally uphold whiteness as the norm (nymphet, twee, preppy). This aesthetic has vast ties and draws inspiration from many different Japanese subcultures such as Lolita, Nanchatte Seifuku and Kogal, all of which draw inspiration from the aesthetics of children’s fashion.
This current state of girlhood feminism is intrinsically tied to the little girlification of current fashion. Women calling themselves girls and partaking in things that heal the little girl inside of them is a beautiful thing to witness. Let us all put on our best dresses, grab our Sonny Angel of the day, adorn ourselves with bows, listen to Taylor Swift, read an Emily Henry book, see the Barbie movie again, frolic in a garden, buy ourselves a fun little drink, and honour our inner — and outer — child.
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