Sustainable Maximalism

Dissecting the Oxymoron

Every fashion movement is a response to what came before it, creating a design cycle that alternates between maximalist and minimalist. Minimalism and maximalism differ in their design approaches, but connect to broader movements of sociocultural, economic, and technological change. Comparable to the 1920s, the 2020s are beginning to be a fashion period of exuberance. However, unlike the 1920s we are a more climate conscious society, with their being many movements and lifestyle changes to combat global warming. This has brought  sustainable fashion to the forefront for the past few years in fashion media and amongst designers. There’s talk of using natural materials and deadstock fabric, upcycling, repurposing, and thrifting. This Maximalist style of the 2020s can and is being done sustainably. It’s called sustainable maximalism. This oxymoron describes the practice of maximalist fashion being done sustainably. 

Maximalist fashion philosophy is summed up simply by the phrase “more is more.” Eighteenth century Rococo fashion is an early example of this philosophy played out. Colonialism at the time influenced European fashion, with cultures being able to observe each other. This multicultural influence bred theatrical fashion made up of embroidery, various patterns, and exaggerated silhouettes (Cullen, 2003).

Robe à la Française, 1740s, British 

Throughout the 20th century maximalism rose and fell time and time again. In the Jazz age of the 1920s, post pandemic and post war, maximalist tendencies arose. Although the silhouettes of women’s dresses were simplified by a tubular, shorter cut, the beadwork, sequins, and embroidery were ornate (Reddy, 2020).

Norma Talmadge, 1920s

In the 1980s Christian Lacroix’s designs were the epitome of maximalism. Lacroix didnt shy away from mixing colors that otherwise may have been considered clashing. And in the 1990s, Versace was one of the best examples of power clashing, with outlandish prints and jewelry complimented by the famous gold medusa pendant. 

Christian Lacroix Haute Couture Fall-Winter 1987 
Gianni Versace, 1990s

21st century fashion was graced by the work of Dior under John Galliano. Galliano’s Maximalist tendencies inspired the era of y2k fashion, that today has become widely popularized once again. 

Christian Dior F/W 03 Show

The history of sustainable fashion does not date as far back as that of maximalism, considering global warming wasn’t much of a discussion outside of the science community until the mid 19th century. In the 80s, Patagonia and Esprit were two industry leaders that began to research the environmental impact of clothing materials. Both brands are known for pioneering some of the first models of sustainable clothing production. 

As the 21st century unraveled, technological innovations have informed design-led strategies to enhance traceability, shorten the supply chain, and even upcycle materials. Pushing the agenda are primarily today’s Millennials and Gen Z buyers, who demonstrate an unprecedented inclination toward eco-fashion and environmental advocacy. 

Most of the sustainable maximalist style today is created through recycled fashion, thrifted clothing. Vintage maximalist looks from previous fashion eras, although deadstock, are still circulating throughout the second hand market. The excess clothing crises in the US permits for that. According to the Council for Textile Recycling, approximately 10-20 percent of the 2 million tons of textiles donated in the United States end up on the racks of domestic thrift stores. This excess of clothing gives consumers of varying economic backgrounds the freedom to style their own maximalist looks with pre-existing clothing.

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