How do you know when a trend is truly on the rise? It’s very easy — someone will try to sell it to you. But if this someone is Vetements, then you’ve got a certified whopper on your hands.
This January, Vetements dropped a range of horoscope-themed T-shirts. The design was as simple as it gets: black T-shirts with a small zodiac sign on the front and a brief description of the related character traits on the back. That’s how we finally got to know that Libras are peaceful, fair and sociable; that Scorpios are passionate and assertive; and that the new astrology craze is well and truly upon us.
Over the last couple of years, you probably noticed a growing presence of heavenly bodies in your social media feed. Things like birth chart apps and jokes about Scorpio season and abstaining from buying electronics during mercury retrograde (for real).
Zodiac signs also have become handy material for Insta and Twitter bios — Kehlani once nailed it with “your oversharing Taurus friend with a Pisces moon.” Finally, the astrology obsession started coming through in the most earnest form of expression the 21st century knows — memes. Not only is everybody everywhere laughing at Leos for being arrogant assholes, you can now also find out what your sign is as a pizza topping, or, better yet, Kanye West tweets.
Even a decade ago, the main place for horoscopes was at the back of women’s magazines and dodgy websites for checking your compatibility with your crush. Astrology for millennials, however, comes with some depth, sophistication and a sense of humor. With 255K followers, Astro Poets merge their celestial knowledge with contemporary poetry. There are also gems out there like Astromemequeen, for your worst procrastination moments. If you’re not buying it, Rosa Lyster’s “Astrology is Fake” column lightheartedly unpacks the dubious nature of the obsession.
Last time astrology happened to be at the forefront of a broader cultural wave was during the New Age movement of the ’60s and ’70s, and was particularly prominent in California. At the time, it came with a slightly different aesthetic: hippie style, linen robes and acid-colored mandalas. Certain tropes (like an obsession with crystals and tie-dye) have returned, but the 21st-century astrology craze is much darker and more angsty.
The contemporary obsession with astrology is part of the return of broader mysticism, which owes a lot to the ’90s aesthetic of adolescence. It’s easy to imagine Vetements’s Zodiac T-shirt in the witchcraft classic The Craft, styled with military boots and black eyeliner. The work of London-based designer Dilara Findikoglu also fits to this image of rebellious witchcraft: with its goat heads, stars and crimson red color, it creates a perfect symbol-infused aesthetic for a modern-day coven. In this context, witchcraft, astrology and a ’90s aesthetic all serve as tools of contemporary feminism — reclaiming both the girly aesthetic, and astrology and magic from being conceived as nonsense girly interests.
At the same time, the current resurgence of astrology is about something much bigger than just style. For the media, the trend has quickly become one more tool to define a generation. The Independent, Refinery29 and even The Atlantic, ran lengthy features that involved interviews with numerous millennials navigating their daily lives with the help of horoscopes.
They all came to a similar conclusion: in times of uncertainty, astrology offers much-needed reassurance. Global political crisis, economic instability, news-induced paranoia, the strain constant connection has on mental health — millennials certainly have to handle a lot of stress on a daily basis. Horoscopes offer a perfect blend of emotional relief, personal connection and potential clues for how to actually deal with the stuff in one’s life.
Astrology as a coping mechanism is an idea I can certainly get behind. Although for most people the esoteric trend is associated with the sun-drenched sidewalks of San Francisco, I remember something similar from my childhood in 1990s Russia. After the collapse of the Soviet Union, people ended up in the midst of a social and economic crisis, with the future uncertain and nothing tangible to believe in. Religious practices had been outlawed for decades and the communist ideology certainly didn’t hold up. It was a fertile ground for a new spirituality, a cocktail of all kinds of superstitions: horoscopes, the ideas of fate and karma, and a rising demand for palm readers, healers and psychics.
One of the most high-profile ones, Anatoly Kashpirovsky, was on TV claiming he could charge water with positive vibrations through the screen — and people were ready to believe him. Two decades later, I’m an owner of array of jewelry in the shape of my astrological sign I got from my mother, and she still sends me updates about the Chinese zodiac year every January (2018 is the year of the dog, hello Gucci).
For millennials, astrology is something of a coping mechanism, and a part of the new spirituality. At the same time, it seems to have taken a more ironic and flexible shape than the similar obsessions of the past. We all know that the New Age was built on the abundance of hallucinogenic drugs. But for us, can something expressed with a meme be entirely serious? Why do we still turn to astrology if we don’t actually truly believe it?
Today we’re supposed to exist in the era of astonishing technological and scientific progress, and yet thoughts of the automation of labor and facial recognition technology somehow don’t bring a lot of comfort. It looks like millennials have lost trust in the very idea of progress, which was one of the key values of the 20th century. We’ve learned the hard way (i.e. through the refugee crisis or the low prices of our sneakers) that progress for some means exploitation for others. Rational knowledge recedes in the time of fake news. The prospects look bleak, so we might as well run for the woods and look at the stars — and try to learn some alternative wisdom there.
Next up; this photographer’s new zine exposes creepy Instagram DMs.
- Main & Featured Image: SSENSE