Photography courtesy of Imaxtree

Cartoon Fashion Is In

The anime to clothing design pipeline is stronger than ever.

Are you tired of feeling like the world is ending? Do you wish all your problems could be solved with superpowers? Well, you’re in luck. (Kinda.) Today, we’re discussing a growing trend that infuses a little daydreaming, imagination and levity into the world: the rise of cartoon fashion.

With gravity-defying accessories and outrageous proportions, cartoon fashion (cartooncore, if you will) is rooted in suspending your disbelief and rejecting rules of traditional sophistication. More and more, trending styles are taking visuals from animated series — specifically Japanese anime — and turning them into wearable art. And while this inspiration in fashion is by no means new, it does seem to be on an upward trajectory.

Photography courtesy of Jimmy Choo

On February 6, Jimmy Choo announced its capsule collection with the iconic anime series Sailor Moon. With studded hot pink boots, glossy platform pumps and a clutch decorated with comic illustrations, the already-coveted collaboration invites wearers to embody the ’90s-era characters.

That same day, Brooklyn-based art collective Mschf shared the forthcoming release of the “Big Red Boot,” a pair of fire-hydrant-coloured shoes that bring the Japanese manga personality Astro Boy to life. Though met with lots of confusion and even better memes, the oversized footwear design gave exactly what any good cartoon should provide: entertainment. But more than that, it pointed to a larger sartorial plunge into the pool of animated fantasy.

Not convinced? Allow us to direct your attention to the 2023 Grammys red carpet, where cartoonish chaos reigned supreme. We had Shania Twain in a Harris Reed ensemble adorned with massive sequined polka dots. Sporting exaggerated proportions (including a dangerously tall top hat and electric red wig), Twain looked like she strolled right out of a child-friendly comic strip. Then there was Harry Styles, who doubled down on his passion for dressing like a clown caricature in a bedazzled motley-patterned jumpsuit courtesy of Egonlab x Swarovski. It’s been but over a month since 2023 began, and viral cartoon fashion has already been dominating the sartorial scene.

grammys red carpet 2023
Photography by Getty Images

It first began in January, when Loewe announced its (now mostly sold out) collaboration with the Studio Ghibli movie Howl’s Moving Castle. With a campaign modelled by Taylor Russell, the collection materializes the beloved Japanese animated film, from a bag that mimics the titular fortress to capes embellished with fan-favourite scenery. This marks Loewe’s third collaboration with the studio and points to a long history of anime as a source of sartorial inspiration.

From runways to capsule collections, the imaginative artwork of Japanese animation has influenced fashion spaces for decades. But for mainstream brands, leaning into the eclectic visuals of animation is more in vogue than ever. And it’s been on the rise for a while.

Take the Spring 2023 runways. Moschino’s collection celebrated nonsensical delight with pool float accessories and cartoons plastered on dresses, boots and hats. Thom Browne delivered gravity-defying hairdos, polka-dot motifs and inflated silhouettes that had models like Bella Hadid resembling comic book-worthy villains. If the aforementioned fashion collections are any indication, it would seem we’ve reached peak cartoon dressing. But why?

Well, at the risk of stating the obvious, we’re not exactly living in the best of times. As such, in recent years, playful maximalism has been on the rise as a rejection of pandemic-induced ennui. Now, as pared-down, subdued designs are creeping back into pop culture in light of a looming recession, the sudden urge to dress like a cartoon character symbolizes a quest for joie de vivre.

After all, cartoons are steeped in comforting nostalgia. For many people, these vivid TV personalities gave us our earliest fashion inspiration. (Shoutout to Ms. Frizzle from The Magic School Bus! She had range.) Not to mention, with their exuberant attitudes and often re-worn wardrobes, animated characters reliably emit individuality. Today, these inspirations are all over the fashion landscape. The popular “kidcore” aesthetic pulls directly from vibrant cartoons. And the viral “weird girl” look is rooted in a growing love for Harajuku fashion, which is tied to anime visuals.

Is cartooncore the way of the future? Perhaps. Is it emblematic of the world’s current strange state? Arguably so. Above all, though, cartoon fashion invites us to find the uncomplicated — occasionally silly — joy in getting dressed. And if someone decides to make a Magic School Bus-inspired handbag, we certainly won’t complain.

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