Jess D'Agostino: The rise of the Gucci belt

Sunday, February 2, 2020 - 9:56am

In the wake of the University of Michigan’s first Winter term sorority recruitment, a picture has surfaced with a line of underclassmen girls all wearing Canada Goose jackets. Memes aside, this picture reflects a much bigger story that has affected college campuses around the country. Encountering groups of couture-wearing college students is becoming more and more common. Why is it that over the past few years millennials and Gen Zers have witnessed the rise of the Gucci belt? What does it mean that the haute couture clothing brands once sought after by working professionals are now commonplace for college students?

I find it’s difficult to discuss this topic without making some concessions: I’m a proud owner of a Gucci belt. I will also concede that I do, in fact, feel as if I’m slowly inching closer to hell with each buckle around my waist. There’s nothing wrong with owning couture, unnecessary things. It’s OK to want them, to purchase them and to wear them. It’s the resulting attitude and increased self-worth that is not.

I look at myself in the mirror that hangs on the back of my dorm room door before leaving for class every day. Often, it’s hard to look beyond the clothes I’m wearing and focus on me. Do I look happy? Do I look comfortable? I have pushed questions like these to the side in pursuit of a societal inclination to feel self-assured through what I'm wearing. What I want to explore is “why?”

With social media at our fingertips, younger generations are left to strive for an Instagram-able life. We crave an aesthetic that will bring us likes and attention. This aesthetic is comprised of expensive, brand-name clothing, artificially tanned skin and airbrushed makeup. The rise of microcelebrities makes these lavish lifestyles much more attainable than the past celebrity culture of movie stars in Tinseltown. On a daily basis, social media users interact with content posted directly by Kylie Jenner and James Charles. We model their behavior, whether we are fans of them or not. It’s human nature to subliminally desire acceptance from our peers and our idols.

When a celebrity posts pictures with designer brands on every inch of their body, we applaud before checking our debit accounts wondering how much deeper we can go before PNC Bank comes to hunt us down. On the flip side, when Selena Gomez flaunts her DIY tie-dye shirt, the world simultaneously gasps. It’s as if celebrities are not allowed to be real people, and if they try to be, we deem them “down to earth” or “relatable.” The problem lies here: Why are fashion choices such a grand statement in the first place? Why do we continue to grow more fixated on the money you spend instead of the money you save, sustain or donate? 

Business Insider’s Jessica Tyler analyzed Gucci’s recent surge in success, noting that in the first half of 2018, nearly 55 percent of Gucci sales were made to consumers under 35 years old. Do we even like the Gucci logo? Do we like what it stands for? Do we like what it suggests about us or our wallets? Do we like that it reflects our ability to keep up with the chaotic culture we live, tweet and breathe in?

Maybe it’s time to ignore the noise and genuinely wear what makes you feel good about yourself. I’m not suggesting we all dive headfirst into the #makeinstagramcasualagain movement, though I do think there is a lot to say about it.

I am all for keeping up with trends, whether it be fashion or otherwise. It is curious, however, to analyze why Gucci, in particular, has skyrocketed in the past few years. Recently, fashion has seen a resurgence in ’90s style. Gucci certainly has noticed this and capitalized on it, even headlining their campaign with the modern Mick Jagger, Harry Styles. When Gucci was originally founded in 1921, it was meant to appeal to the upper-class for horseback riding. Since its equestrian beginnings, Gucci became largely popular with glamorous people like Jackie Kennedy, and now is transitioning to appeal to the modern millennial audience. This means a heavy emphasis on pops of color, patterns and the signature looped “G” symbol. This all ties into the societal pressure to establish an Instagram aesthetic: Gucci has simply paid attention, done their homework and become the brand to beat.

In writing this I’m walking a fine line between sounding like a hypocrite or a snob, but I don’t think there needs to be a Gucci-burning ceremony just yet. Instead, ensure that you’re wearing something because you want to and not because you feel you need to. Life is more than posts on Instagram, despite how hard it is to remove the lens of filters, friend requests and followers that fill our eyes even when our phones are out of sight. I love my Gucci belt, among other superfluous, unnecessary things. I acknowledge my ownership of these items, but it does not come close to comprising who I am. I am extremely grateful that I have access to couture products, but I’m unapologetically much more than the brands I choose to wear.

I find that on a college campus as eclectic and elite as U-M, balance has to be a priority to avoid falling into a pit of needing to fit in. At the end of the day, we don’t need Gucci to be a member of Lil Pump’s “Gucci Gang,” nor do we need a (Canada) Goose to be part of the flock. We’re here and whatever clothing or accessories we choose to display do not have to be in accordance with the latest celebrity trend, though it’s certainly OK if they are.

Jess D'Agostino can be reached at jessdag@umich.edu.