On March 30, a TikTok user posted about a made-up word she and her friends use to describe things that encapsulate millennial, girlboss, out-of-style energy: Cheugy. Since then, gen-Z-ers have embraced the term, making TikToks and other social media posts about certain cheugy staples––think minions, millennial pink, graphic T-shirts, Rae Dunn home decor, and apparently, jean jackets.
Admittedly, the term is a fun addition to our ever-growing arsenal of internet vocabulary, and some may argue that those critical of its use are too sensitive. But below the surface, the word represents a worrying pattern amongst youth to subscribe to popular trends—which are almost always rooted in overconsumption—until they are no longer thought of as cool, at which point those who still enjoy them are seenas out of touch.
The term cheugy can be tied to another phenomenon––micro-trends. Also known as fads, micro-trends in the fashion world refer to garments or aesthetics that rapidly gain popularity but then just as quickly fall out of style. Some examples of recent micro-trends include exercise dresses, the Y2K “coconut girl” look, and even specific pieces of clothing such as the House of Sunny Hockney Dress.
Since these kinds of trends come and go so quickly, keeping up with them can be extremely expensive. This exposes the privilege that comes with being able to adhere to them and, ultimately, to avoid being declared “cheugy.” Of course, the average person who throws around the term is likely not doing so with any intention of making others feel tacky. But the joke risks making lower-income people who are not able to stay on-trend feel inadequate. Especially as young people return to more in-person activities, the pressure to dress a certain way can be amplified.
The impulse towards this approach to fashion also encourages people to turn to fast fashion more often. Surely, some need to make use of fast fashion due to financial restrictions or limited selection at thrift stores due to sizing. But some who feel the pressure to dress a certain way are more likely to make use of businesses that are notoriously unethical, like SHEIN, to keep up with trends.
Of course, individual young people cannot necessarily be blamed for this phenomenon. Companies are known to stage elaborate social media campaigns to push their products toward trend status, and most larger businesses make use of psychological manipulation tactics to encourage consumers to purchase the latest new item. Beyond these direct campaigns, the rise of social media influencers plays a role in this as well. For example, Emma Chamberlain, a popular YouTuber, posted a picture on Instagram flaunting yoga pants and Ugg boots—a combination that would have been considered cheugy two years ago—and almost overnight, the influencer had sparked a new trend. This situation is only one of many illustrating how easy it is for tides to change when it comes to fashion.
But regardless of blame, young people who care about social justice, reducing waste, and overconsumption should be more mindful of their decisions to make fun of those who may be “behind” when it comes to trends in clothing, media consumption, or anything else. Rather than subscribing to fast-paced micro-trends, McGill students should try and hold on to clothing staples they have and like, even if the internet is telling them they have to replace them with something new and shiny. Students can also make use of clothing exchanges and McGill’s free and for sale group. These kinds of individual choices may not end this cycle on their own, but they may be able to influence others on campus to stop caring so much about being on-trend.