Dec 31 2020
In a crazy year for Gen Z and Millennials, what was our most-read article? Our most popular content this year included rankings of young consumers’ favorite TV shows, favorite social media platforms post-COVID, and their favorite things to do for fun (which showed their homebody status well before quarantines). But our most-read article of 2020 was:
Between the rise of ugly fashion, the return of 2000s style, and the proliferation of social media fueled niche styles, it can be hard to pin down what exactly cool looks like to Gen Z and Millennials. It doesn’t help that they’re two generations that proclaim not to follow fashion trends. According to our fashion and shopping survey, 73% of 13-37-year-olds agree with the statement “I don’t care about fashion trends; I just wear what I like,” and only 18% would call their personal style trendy.
So if these groups believe their style isn’t defined by trends, what does cool look like to them? The New York Times, calling Billie Eilish Gen Z’s fashion role model, suggests it’s the “new generation’s rejection of the flirty babe aesthetic in favor of something more crazily improvised and less strenuously sexual.” YPulse’s music survey found that Gen Z and Millennials see Billie Eilish as one of the top 10 musicians who represent their generation—in large part because of her “individuality and genre-defying style.” Eilish has become an icon with her signature oversized clothing, crazy hair color, and pairing of high- and low-end aesthetics. Uniqueness, personal comfort, mold-breaking, and creativity are the hallmarks of her look—and part of young consumers’ current definition of what cool actually looks like today.
But what brands are capturing this ethos—or helping Gen Z and Millennials to express it? Young consumers are turning the tables on luxury and leaning into authenticity, and while some brands struggle to understand how to reach them, others continue to win them over—and we’re tracking what fashion brands are staying cool with Gen Z and Millennial consumers. The YPulse brand tracker, available to Pro subscribers, collects 100,000 interviews with 13-39-year-olds annually, tracking over 400 brands across 16 distinct diagnostics. We ask young consumers everything from what brands help support the causes they care about to which, you guessed it, are cool.
Here are 15 of the coolest clothing brands in the eyes of young consumers right now:
Many brands make it onto both lists, including Nike, which once again tops the coolest fashion brand ranking for Gen Z and Millennials. But there are a few key differences. Hot Topic, consistently a Gen Z favorite for catering their individuality and their fandoms, doesn’t even make it into the top 15 rankings for Millennials—and Aeropostale and UGG are also unique to the younger group’s list. (UGG’s appearance on this list is a clear example of ugly fashion and 2000s resurgence at work.) Meanwhile, some brands that Millennials rank as the coolest, like Fashion Nova, Levi’s, and Puma don’t rank in the top 15 for Gen Z, showing a slight difference between what the generations think of as cool.
But at the same time there are clear commonalities, and trends connecting the top brands that both groups consider cool right now:
ATHLEISURE MAKES COMFORT COOL
Nike, Jordan, and Adidas, long-time favorites, rank highly at the top of the list of the coolest clothing brands in the eyes of young consumers. These athleisure brands understand what young consumers are looking for—shopping as an experience, a sense of community and limited-edition products. Their drops are legendary, with Air Jordans featuring as a large part of pop culture. These brands have created new trends in retail, and at the same time appealed to a top fashion priority among young consumers: Comfort. Comfort is key for Gen Z and Millennials with the majority telling YPulse they would describe their personal style as comfortable and over half saying they describe it as casual—and the brands and trends that allow for both win with these generations. Athleisure brands have come to define style and cool for young consumers, and they aren’t slowing down. The athleisure market was valued at $155.2 billion in 2018 and is expected to reach $257.1 billion by 2026. They’ve also expanded their reach far beyond their “athletic” roots, following the cultural trends set by their young audience: Adidas, Puma, and Nike (among others) all sell apparel featuring gaming icons or have partnered with gaming celebrities over the last year.
IT’S COOL TO CARE
Several of the fashion brands on Gen Z and Millennials’ cool ranking are well-known for their efforts to make the world a better place and support causes that matter to young consumers. Nike’s Kaepernick campaign is a huge example of course, but the brand also hits the mark on the sustainability front, with their recent line of NASA-inspired “Space Hippie” shoes, which use scraps of material that Nike has collected from its factory floors. Close to nine in ten 13-39-year-olds tell YPulse that buying products from brands that have social good components makes them feel better about spending money, and they are willing to spend 10%-50% more on products that perform similarly to others but are eco-friendly. Speaking of eco-friendly, Patagonia is #15 on Millennials’ cool ranking. While the generation likely has fond memories of wearing the brand growing up, the brands’ clear environmental efforts are keeping them cool in the eyes of this group.
BRAND COLLABS CAN BOOST COOL MEASURES
Supreme is in the top 10 ranking for both groups, and we’ve talked about the ways this brand is winning with young shoppers. Eighteen-24-year-olds are the biggest fans of Supreme, which has maintained its status as one of the hottest and coolest fashion brands among young consumers for years. Gen Z shoppers have fueled a return of logomania, and Supreme has become a top logo they say they would be proud to wear. The brand has strategically played off of their famous logo for years, and collaborated with many brands, including high-end labels like Luis Vuitton, showing the power of brand collaborations. They’ve also likely boosted the cool factor for some of the brands they’ve paired with that also appear on this ranking: North Face, ranked #7, has teamed up with Supreme every season since 2007, and stores have dedicated space to “urban wear.”
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