If you haven’t noticed, ugly is having a moment in fashion right now and commentators everywhere have been writing extensively over the last 12 months trying to decipher this seemingly contradictory movement. At first glance, it appears there’s some sort of inside joke going on that most of us aren’t aware of, but it turns out the trend isn’t perhaps as befuddling as it first appears and the line between beautiful and ugly isn’t so clear-cut.
As Quartz’s Fashion Reporter Marc Bain concluded, “It’s probably not even fair to call ugliness the opposite of beauty at all. They’re interrelated, each seductive in its own way.”
The latest in a long line of designs that fit this current zeitgeist are Oakley’s Flight Jacket and Field Jacket sunglasses which, much like Christopher Kane’s Crocs collaboration or Gucci’s high-fashion bum bags, are rooted in practicality. As a leading sports performance brand, Oakley designed its latest eyewear models with the world’s top cyclists in mind and the bold products that come as a result are perfectly suited to the trend that favors the Instagram-worthy.
Keep in mind that referring to something as part of the ugly fashion trend isn’t a criticism of its well-intentioned design and it certainly isn't a negative when it comes to Oakley’s latest products. The difference between ugly fashion and ugly design, celebrity stylist Dani Michell explains to Fashionista, is that “Ugly fashion speaks towards a certain trend, decade or design that may not be the most flattering nor aesthetically stunning in the moment. Ugly clothing is just badly designed garments.” And no one in their right mind could possibly suggest Oakley’s frames and lenses are badly designed. Both the Flight Jacket and Field Jacket models are equipped with leading innovations such as airflow technology that fights fog and overheating and Prizm lenses that enhance colors and visual details.
And while flattering may not be the way to describe them either, they’re not built to be, they’re built to perform. The offshoot of this is a product that demands attention and borders on garish but that’s precisely what the trend is all about. For a long time, what was deemed tasteful minimalism— Apple products, Scandinavian furniture, and Common Projects sneakers— but we’ve now entered an age of maximalism that endorses overload and embellishment. On our social media feeds, sleek silhouettes against monotone backdrops are replaced by a clash of cuts, colors, patterns, and styles.
Oakley’s Flight Jacket and Field Jacket sunglasses come in a mismatch of fluorescent colors that appeal to current ‘90s nostalgia. The bulky, jutting frames are at first offensive to an eye used to small and sleek silhouettes but in running counter to the Matrix-style eyewear that’s now hit the mainstream, they’re of instant appeal to anyone looking for a striking alternative.
The biggest and most obvious question about the trend is: why? Why and how has ugly become attractive? Why would people want to wear things that are traditionally unattractive? The answer comes back to Marc Bain’s comment and the complex relationship between ugliness and beauty. But, of course, the trend is also part of a broader contemporary context too.
Right now, everyone is fighting for attention. So much so that influential entrepreneur and internet personality Gary Vaynerchuk has argued time and time again that we’re in the midst of a war for attention. In fashion alone, brands, designers, influencers, publishers, and content creators—which is essentially anyone that shares things on social media—are all battling for people’s attention and the winning concepts are those that generate headlines and memes.
There have been multiple success stories from brands and designers taking this approach. Balenciaga’s Triple S silhouette played a large part in starting the chunky sneaker trend; Birkenstocks have made orthopedic-looking sandals en vogue partly through collaborations with designers, most recently with Rick Owens; and even the once heavily ridiculed Crocs clogs have been refashioned by both Christopher Kane and Balenciaga. In each of these instances, brands have played on virality and other mechanisms of internet culture to get their name to the top of trending lists, forcing people to pay attention.
For the fashion influencers that are adopting these trends and products, the appeal lies not just in the potential to make people stop and look but the promise of continuing to grow their personal brand that is heavily reliant on one elusive trait: cool. Taking something that traditionally epitomizes distaste, elevating it to the height of fashion, and subverting the status quo makes a person an insider, a tastemaker, and one to follow. People like Jazzelle Zanaughtti, or @uglyworldwide as she’s more commonly known, have built their brands on turning conventionally repugnant garments and looks into something aspirational and desirable.
“The power of ugly combined with function can’t be undermined,” Christopher Kane told The Business of Fashion, and this pairing has only just begun flexing its muscles. While trends cycle quicker today than ever before, this one is still in the shock and awe stage. Plus, the ultimate killer of cool known as the “mainstream” is going to struggle to adopt this particular trend because, by nature, it’s unappealing to the uninformed. For those that are informed, however, this trend is a chance to take fashion less seriously, have some fun with clothing choices, care less about conventional good looks, and embrace guilty pleasures. And that’s a trend we can get behind.
Oakley’s Flight Jacket and Field Jacket glasses are available worldwide from oakley.com, Oakley stores, and selected premium retailers. Stay up to date with all the latest from the brand on Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter.