Why 2024 will be the year of ‘curated chaos’

Why 2024 will be the year of ‘curated chaos’

Greasy hair, overspilling bags and crumpled clothing. The mood on the spring/summer 2024 catwalks last September was anything but polished. Who cares, some might say. But after having stealth wealth shoved in our faces for months, this was quite a vibe shift.

Fashion's Clairvoyance

Fashion is often hailed as a clairvoyant, using its hemlines and, more recently, hairline indexes to predict everything from economic downturns to rises in populism. While it would be unwise to rely on it as a sole indicator of the general direction in which the world is going, just like music and art, fashion does indeed reflect the times we are living. And for 2024, that mirror effect is looking quite distorted.

Curated Chaos

A Shift in Zeitgeist

To put it frankly, it’s chaotic. But it’s not exactly chaos. Instead, it’s a type of curated chaos as celebrities, influencers and brands attempt to be more relatable through faux realism. The paradigms of this shifting zeitgeist are abundant.

Paraphernalia Illusions

It’s models walking down the catwalk with unzipped, overflowing bags cradled under their arms at Miu Miu. Look a bit closer and you realize this so-called paraphernalia is only a singular high heel poking out and some stylish branded pants. A real commuter knows the reality is orange-stained Tupperware, smelly gym socks and a half-squashed box of tampons that will inevitably fall out.

Media Moves

Then there’s GQ putting Kim Kardashian on the front cover of its men of the year issue eating a bag of Cheetos while wearing an expensive, luxe suit. While she’s supposedly licking orange dust off her thumb, the rest of her fingers remain clean – an impossible feat, anyone who has eaten the corn-puff snacks will know.

Online Chaos

It’s happening online, too. Gone are well-lit DSLR photos of avocado on toast. In their place are blurry shots of smeared dinner plates and wine-stained tablecloths and plenty of unfiltered crying. This laissez-faire attitude is spearheaded by influencers such as the 22-year-old Emma Chamberlain.

The Messy Aesthetic

“Everyone is a little scared of being too perfect online,” says Rachel Lee, a global insights strategist at the London-based agency the Digital Fairy. “We have reached the tipping point. Being messy is now the default.”

Chaos as Coping

Shift in Mood

This new chaotic mood is less of a surge and more of a gradual shift. In December last year, the public chose “goblin mode” as its Oxford word of 2022. The term refers to “a type of behaviour which is unapologetically self-indulgent, lazy, slovenly, or greedy, typically in a way that rejects social norms or expectations”.

Styled Disarray

Some hail it as echoing a wider tumultuous mood. Lee describes it as “a coping mechanism” yet also a backlash against the “clean girl” and “boss bitch” aesthetics of being carefully controlled and advocating for 4 am starts, latte dressing, and mouth taping. “There’s an idea of undoneness. It’s an evolution from the blinginess of Y2K to its darker side.

Authenticity Warning

However, just as millennial pink, doughnut walls, and terrazzo tiles became synonymous with a certain Instagram look, curated chaos is not without its own style signifiers. It may be hailed as an anti-aesthetic but it is still an aesthetic. Every blurred selfie involves taking a selfie. Every photo dump means selecting and ordering up to 10 images from a camera roll. On TikTok, there are even guides on how to curate a feed that looks messy. The fact that brands and individuals are now co-opting it to sell product feels even more chaotic. Ultimately, the aesthetic should come with a caveat: buyer beware, authenticity cannot be bought.