The Rise and Fall of the Coquette Aesthetic

On the longevity of trends, online and IRL, & how the coquette aesthetic turned a corner into “cheugy”

The “coquette aesthetic” first popped onto my feed in 2014 – on Tumblr, where I was an active user, scrolling through angsty photos of the Arctic Monkeys and Lana del Rey lyrics.

Screenshot of a moody, blue Tumblr wall from 2014, featuring Lana del Rey and cacti plants in various pictures.
A snapshot of my Tumblr wall from 2014.

Coqueticism is pretty much the same now as it was then – a smorgasbord of soft, muted pinks, hair ribbons, bows and ballet shoes. At its core, the coquette aesthetic is an expression of girlhood femininity (think Britney’s “I’m Not a Girl, Not Yet a Woman” Y2K pop ballad).

The difference between the aesthetic ten years ago compared to today is that it was largely not-for-profit. It was a subsection of internet imagery that inspired a mood, more than a desire to obtain objects. Sure, I bought into the American Apparel circle skirt trend and big, clip in velvet hair bows that the trend championed, but it wasn’t a lifestyle as much as it was an inspiration.

Today, with TikTok shops and targeted Instagram ads, the coquette aesthetic poses a chicken-or-egg question: what came first, the coquette aesthetic or the coquette girl?

Coquette bows and soft style

On the rise of the aesthetic in 2024, ASA’s resident Gen Z designer and bonafide internet It girl Stella Green-Rhoades said:

“As an adult woman, everyone wanted to be a girl and accept girlhood. Everyone is getting . . . to that stage where you’re no longer a girl and [people] want to tie back to that.”

There’s a sense of time travel at play with the coquette aesthetic: if the price is right, you can be a girl again. Note the language surrounding the aesthetic online – No Doubt’s iconic “Just a Girl” was trending on TikTok, accompanied by videos of “girl dinner,” “girl room,” “girl core.”

The internet’s obsession with “girlhood” can be loosely connected to the release of the Barbie movie and ongoing discourse about fourth wave feminism – we are tired, we are told to buy X and Y to reverse ageing, we just want to crawl into bed and wake up 13 again (sorry, Jennifer Garner).

If you weave a ribbon through your ponytail, you still have to pay taxes (this was a bitter pill to swallow during tax season this year – I’m just a girl!).

In this light, the coquette aesthetic benefited brands like Wildflower Cases, that boast hyper feminine designs, and Glossier, with its signature light pink and cherry red packaging, complementary branded stickers and hot pink bubble gum wrapping.

Throughout 2023, it felt like the trend would never end. So what happened?

The cycles of fashion trends

The trend being over doesn’t mean that it ceases to exist – it just means that it lost the magical, secret club feeling that I felt scrolling through TikTok and Instagram, seeing the legions of Lana and Addison Rae and glossy girls posting cute pics with im just a girl captions.

The first time that I thought the coquette aesthetic was done was when I saw a TikTok by GO Transit. It was a clip of pink bows stuck to train cars and Presto refills.

Oh God, I remember thinking. I guess that’s over.

But what was it about this video specifically that signalled the death of the trend’s authenticity?

For starters, it was the mis-handled application of a concept by a corporation that defies the ethos of girlhood.

Girlhood is free of responsibility and calls to mind a magical dreamworld where there are no problems and everything is easy. GO Transit, with its unrelenting fare inspectors and the threat of danger that is being a woman on public transit, is not conducive to this aesthetic.

Not only is it not conducive, it undermines the integrity of both parties: the sanctity of the hair bow and what it stands for (remember in Barbie when the world starts turning and she sees generations of girls grow into women), and the severity of the issues plaguing public transit systems.

Moreover, GO Transit’s TikTok represents the cheugy, slightly out of touch brands that try to harness the raw power and authenticity of trends sparked by real people creating authentic content online. It’s always obvious when a brand reaches for a sense of connection with an audience that it simply should not try to connect with, as it will not play out well. Or rather, it’s extremely clear in a way that is *cringe* when a brand’s marketing team tries to take on an aesthetic that is not applicable to the ethos of the company itself.

The rise and fall of the coquette aesthetic speaks to the ephemerality of trend cycles, and the essential question that brands attempting to co-opt trends and aesthetics should ask: can we really sit with them?

It’s questionable – but you can sit with us. At ASA, we consider ourselves TikTok experts (and we’ve never put a bow on a bus). Looking to hone your brand’s voice and tap into trends without coming across as outdated or “cheugy?” Check out our services !

Image shows Karen in Mean girls saying “You can’t sit with us” in the high school cafeteria.
My reaction to GO Transit pasting pink bows on its trains. Image courtesy Medium.


Q: What is the coquette aesthetic?

A: The coquette aesthetic is a feminine way of dressing, styling and presenting oneself that emphasises a return to girlhood innocence. Its signature elements include ballet-style shoes and skirts, hair bows, soft shades of pink and muted pastels. Think of Sofia Coppola’s movies and Petra Collins’ photography.

Q: Why have trend cycles gotten shorter?

A: The short answer? Technology and social media. Trend cycles have five phases – introduction, rise, peak, decline and obsolescence. The virality of trends online, coupled with faster-than-ever consumer cycles and rapid turnover, have dramatically shortened the length of trends. Online, we’re always looking for the new best thing – it’s giving Regina George.

Q: Should brands not capitalise on trends that don’t work for them – and miss the boat?

A: This is a grey area – sometimes, brands see unexpected success when they take up trends that may seem outside of their comfort zone. Take Duolingo’s TikTok for example – who would have thought that bringing the bird logo to your iPhone screen would take on such a life of its own?

Q: What about social issues? Should brands post about trending world events, etc?

Unlike trends, social issues, however, should only be taken on by brands in meaningful, thoughtful and compelling ways – in our opinion! Our rule of thumb: don’t hop on the social issues bandwagon unless you’re prepared to back it up with aligned values or action.