Understanding TikTok’s obsession with the ‘thneed’ and why it’s cool

Preparing for the avant-apocalypse.

In recent years, fashion trends – micro, macro and in-between – have taken a new and complex shape. Our collective upswing in social media usage and the meteoric growth of ultra-fast fashion (think Shein) has given rise to a flood of hyper-specific, internet-inspired sartorial movements. 

Our basics are ‘avant’ or ‘subversive’, our looks are influenced by a variety of ‘cores’ (‘regencycore’, ‘normcore’, ‘cottagecore’) and we’re even bringing back the 2014 Tumblr ‘indie sleaze’ aesthetic. It’s a lot. 

For more on Australian fashion, check out our Fashion section. 

As writer Lizzie Reed explains, instead of trends defining a decade – ’90s grunge, ’70s disco, ’80s shoulder pads and spandex – they’re representing something much smaller. A subculture, a moment, a tiny blip on the fashion radar. 

It’s understood that micro-trends are generally not brilliant for the environment. Most of the time, they encourage overconsumption, excess waste and – subsequently – a spike in carbon emissions. But when a micro (or macro trend) is hitched to the wagon of a sustainability trend, it can mean more awareness, less misinformation and positive change. And this is where the thneed comes in.

Wait, what is a thneed? 

Let me clarify: the thneed itself is not a trend, but the concept has slowly trickled down into the contemporary wardrobe. Plucked straight from the Dr Seuss book (and following movie) The Lorax, a thneed is a “highly versatile object knitted from the foliage of the Truffala tree. Its shape can be changed to suit different purposes, but its default form resembles a sweater”. 

So why do we suddenly care about a fictional magic sweater from the animated movie The Lorax? TikTok, obviously. The ‘thneed girl’ (@rachleahx) started gaining popularity for her videos calling out ‘blatant thneedery’ in other users’ videos. Anything pink, sweater-like or multifunctional gets hilariously stamped as a ‘thneed’. 

@rachleahx##stitch with @cherienesss Very clever but this is a blatant act of thneedery ‼️ ##thelorax ##theonceler ##thneedtok ##Sing2gether original sound – Thneed Girl

As explained by Rachel herself, “it’s an extremely versatile clothing item that can be used a million and ten different ways, according to its inventor, the Once-ler… I’ll decide if something counts as a thneed by either visuals or functionality”. As ridiculous as this all sounds, I promise you it’s leading somewhere. 

Contemporary thneed vibes

Personally, I believe the thneed is symbolic of something much bigger – the fashion movement of thrifting, flipping and envisioning the clothing we buy in different and inventive ways. 

In July of this year, 87 per cent of Australians were reported as wanting to change their fashion consumption habits – and this doesn’t just mean purchasing from certified ethical brands. It also means changing the way we perceive our wardrobes (and the way we use them) as a whole.

No longer a descriptor reserved for cheugy convertible bridesmaid dresses and interchangeable strap flip flops, multifunctional fashion pieces (thneeds) are the future of sustainable fashion. Popularised by Simonett’s beloved Nanu top, multifunctional (also called ‘metamorphosis’) fashion has been reimagined in a very 2021, DIY way – by pieces worn in a way they’re not intended. 

Tights cut into tops, T-shirts slashed into dresses and singlets worn as skirts, usually all incorporated into a hyper-layered, neutral-toned look. And this is where our thneed finally becomes cool – with the new-age trend, ‘avant-apocalypse’ fashion.

Avant-apocalypse fashion

Believe it or not, the line between Dr Seuss’ magical Truffala tree sweater and a Rick Owens-influenced fashion movement is not that dramatic. Even if it is, it’s a line I’m drawing regardless. And you can’t stop me! 

According to trend forecaster and researcher Mandy Lee, the ‘avant-apocalypse’ trend is “an evolution of the subversive basics trend… a Rick Owens and Margiela love child, this style is characterised by neutral maximalism, lots of deconstructed pieces, asymmetry and wearing clothes the wrong way”.

While it’s a trend you likely won’t spot frequently on the streets (particularly when it’s sweltering – it’s all about layers), you can find a slew of avant-apocalypse poster children on the internet. For reference: Arabella B, Marvin Korang and any recent look from Berlin-based label Ottolinger.

Most notably, you can find DIY avant-apocalypse looks on the page of TikTok user Nora Gallagher (@n0rab0ra). She’s an NYC fashion student, an experimental dresser and the receiver of hundreds of ‘this has to be satire’ comments under every outfit video she posts.

For Nora, a typical outfit includes leggings, a singlet rolled down as a skirt, some kind of twine or fabric laced around a puffer jacket and ultra-platform ski boots. It might not be for everyone, but it’s undeniably inventive.

As Mandy Lee explains, “the magic [of avant-apocalypse] really happens in styling and layering. Parallel to the rise of DIY, thrifting and archive collecting, I like how thriftable and creative this aesthetic is. There’s really no right way to achieve it”. With no rules and a wardrobe full of undiscovered thneeds, what are you waiting for?

For more on dressing for the avant-apocalypse, head here.

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By fashonana

Fashonana is a fashion blog for the fashionable woman of this era.

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