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  • Priya Mukherjee

The Tween Fashion Vacuum, 11-Year-Olds at Sephora, and the Future of Young Beauty and Fashion

Justice. Delia's. Claire's.

For the average young woman born before the 2010s, these names are synonymous with trips to the mall, discovering age-appropriate fashion, and exploring a world marketed specifically toward young women. Fast forward to 2018 and Claire's has filed for bankruptcy. Delia's is no where to be found in your average suburban mall. Justice is relegated to the shelves of Walmart.

What exactly happened to the industry niche marketed toward tween youth ranging from 9-13?

Basic supply and demand is the answer; there has been little to no demand for this helplessly outdated supply.

Arguably the biggest culprit in producing this pre-teen fashion/market vacuum is, you guessed it, social media. Through the evolution of trend cycles on platforms like Tiktok and Instagram, we see the aggressive blending of what's "new" and "cool" into one age-agnostic blur blanketing over young people from ages 9 all the way to 25 and beyond.

Fashion historian Shelby Ivey Christie points to the "algorithm" as what is to blame. "Its wanting to belong and be positioned as cool...with the rise of these 'cores', they're not just pressured into choices, they're almost over-pressured into identity."

And you may have seen such cores on your feed: "mermaidcore", "cottagecore" are two examples that have trended in recent times. There are infinitely more "cores" that niche down various styles into neat packages of aesthetic and define fashion as less of an age-specific choice and more of an identity choice.

It brings us to a place in youth fashion and beauty where what you wear defines you on a whole new level. Who are you, actually? A clean girl? A vanilla girl? A blue-berry milk latte almond-nail girl?

As someone who is, for better or worse, chronically online, I'm no stranger to these cores or aesthetic niches. In fact, getting to play in between different aesthetics and jump into different genres of style is arguably one of my favorite hobbies of all time.

But I wasn't able to just do this until much later in my life.

As a proud 1998er, when I was growing up my fashion choices were pretty limited to what my mom let me wear which included: Aeropostale logo tees and skinny jeans from Hollister. Fashion was much less about a niche or a core and much more a privilege to even partake in. "School isn't a fashion show," my mom often reminded me. As far as makeup went, I grew up dancing so I was no stranger to eyeliner and stage makeup. But it wasn't until much later in my life that I developed a makeup routine or a skincare routine.

Yet the experience of the average 9-13 year old girl today is vastly different from the experience of my youth and the youth of my peers. And we can point directly to online influence as the cause.

While I was growing up, I looked to Disney channel stars, Nickelodeon stars, the Miley Cyruses, the Selena Gomezes for style inspiration and a gauge of what was "cool". While the influence was direct, it was subtle and in-actionable - masked by the clear unattainability of celebrityhood.

But now we seek entertainment and inspiration from online platforms. Tiktoks that digest like a Facetime call with a close friend flood the feed. Content creators with hundreds of thousands of followers hold the influence in today's era.

No longer are today's biggest influences living lives that are unattainable. To achieve a look or a lifestyle, just hop on their Amazon Storefront!

When this is the atmosphere for every young person seeking inspiration and direction for personal style and identity, the dearth of a Justice or a Delia's equivalent for today's tweens starts to make so much more sense. These department stores or brands have simply not kept up with the changing tides. The average 12 year old girl is not seeking a G-rated Disney channel star's wardrobe, she wants to emulate the Addison Raes of today's world.

Mocking the "11-year olds in Sephora" seeking retinol based anti-aging skincare and Drunk Elephant products is the latest bit circulating on Tiktok. It represents a despondent reflection of how the perils associated with womanhood can start so young and manifest in these premature obsessions.

It's shocking, sad, and downright scary that this is where algorithms and internet influences have led many young girls - into fielding and preventing insecurities that do not even exist purely because it is, like Shelby Ivie Christie described, "cool" to do so.

So where do we even go from here?

It can begin to feel really hopeless when viewing the direct negative impact that influencer culture and industry marketing has on young people. These are industries that rely deeply on content creators to market their products, to appeal to the masses, and to even prey on insecurities when necessary.

While I don't think there is any sort of magical reversal of this phenomenon, I think its up to influencers/content creators to begin to hold themselves more accountable, me included, to the impact that our work has. There is no reason a child should think they need an anti-aging retinol serum and if you're in the business of advertising something like that, that should be made abundantly clear.

Ultimately this blog-post is a drop in the ocean of the psychological effects and general impact of social media on our society, economy, and collective generational psyches.

But this conversation like many others needs to be more on the forefront of how we let children consume content and how we let influencers advertise content.

I do have hope that there are influencers and do-gooders who spread the right information out there and are helping to bring back a lot of young girls from this precipitous edge of incorrect information spread and age-inappropriate fashion/beauty.

Will the already impacted tweens that were lead astray from early ages by the internet find their way back to age-appropriate senses of personal identity and style? Fingers are tightly crossed.



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