2023 won’t be remembered as the year that the Titanic tour submarine went missing, or even the year that Maya Jama and Stormzy got back together. No, it will be remembered as the year we put a bow on it. Because each time I think we have finally hit the summit of the bow trend cycle, where surely - surely - we have grown sick of the bow-ification of hair, clothes, nails, technology and beauty; we find yet another thing to tie up. On TikTok the #bows has had over 1billion views (not kidding); high street bell weather John Lewis has seen online searches for "pink ribbon" quadruple.
“I’m a magpie for ribbons, picking them up whenever I find special ones in local haberdashery or on gift wrapping, and stuffing them into my dedicated ribbon bag,” says style influencer Luvyute, who regularly posts bow-adorned outfits to her 108,000 followers “Sometimes I add a bow to something that’s just so unnecessary that it’s almost ridiculous, but that’s the point, it’s just about being cute and making things your own.” Who adds that her followers are equally obsessed. “I’m always being asked where I find my ribbon and trims from,” she adds.
She’s not the only one delving into the absurd, with the latest TikTok trend encouraging creators to attach bows to random objects like wall beams, ice cubes, TV remotes, gherkins and even sertraline bottles. With over 11,000 posts partaking in the trend already, it’s late stage bow-ism at its finest - a fitting tribute to a year where the motif dominated runways, red carpets and Instagram OOTDs.
A case in point: across both the autumn/winter 2023 and spring/ summer 2024 fashion month circuits bows featured heavily in an array of collections, including Miu Miu, Simone Rocha, Sinead Gorey, Commes des Garcons, Selkie, Sandy Liang, Max Mara, Moschino and many, many more. This year has also seen celebrity devotees such as Gen Z mega star Olivia Roderigo be extremely loyal proponents - having worn a Fanci Club bow corset to the Driving Home 2 U premiere in March and a cutesy Chanel 1994 mini dress heavily decorated with bows just a few months later. Blackpink’s Jennie is also hardly seen without a bow in her hair, nor is newfound literary It-girl Julia Fox, who wore multiple bow-themed outfits during her latest Down The Drain press tour.
Although historically the bow was viewed as an utilitarian accessory in the middle ages to keep garments in place, it has since become a symbol for all things girly, giddy and coquette. With perhaps the biggest bow influencer of all time, Marie Antoinette (who reportedly spent 20,000 francs on hair ribbons) being revived in TikTok edits of Sofia Coppola’s Marie Antoinette, Dilara Fındıkoğlu’s Dark Versailles Halloween Ball and Gen Z’s enduring obsession with the coquette obsession.
Now, you may be wondering why an 18th century figure is a 2023 It-girl, but having become Queen of France at just 19-years-old, she has been immortalised as the eternal teenage girl - and in a year of “girl math”, “girl dinner”, “hot girl walk”, Barbiemania and the Eras Tour - that makes her a hot commodity.
“The ‘girlhood’ trend was everywhere this year; from TikTok styles to Barbiecore taking over in the summer,” agrees Natalie Dickson, Head of Women's Luxury at FLANNELS, who has found brands including Miu Miu, Commes des Garcons and Ganni, "who do the uber girly aesthetic in a way that makes it feel perennially cool and not too sweet,” performed extremely well this year. Rental platform has Hurr also saw a massive uptick in bow-related clothing, with a ferocious appetite in particular for bestseller Saloni Camille Dress and Miscreants' Crepe Cupid Dress with bow-detail gloves, which they once again peg to "a rise in kitsch (and nostalgic) trends across TikTok and popular culture.”
“In the past it felt as though we had to reject anything “girlie” to be taken seriously, so I think wearing a bow - which is arguably the pinnacle of “girlie” - is like a reclamation of girlhood,” says 26-year-old Jasmine, who has been wearing non-stop bow to her corporate marketing manager job this year. “Last year I couldn’t imagine presenting in a Friday round-up meeting, as the old me would think I looked young and naïve to my bosses. But now it makes me feel confident,” she adds.
However in the ever-viral echo chamber of TikTok trends can quickly collapse unto itself. “Often, in fashion and life, women are required to distance themselves from girlhood in favour of austerity in order to justify further intellectual pursuits, as if both can’t exist at the same time,” says fashion commentator Alexandra Hildreth. “Unfortunately I think it’s gone from something that originally began as an inside joke and been twisted into an infantilisation of women’s interests.” Hence the aforementioned nonsensical, spoof trend currently doing the rounds on TikTok.
Then there’s the capitalist co-option of anything viral, with girl empowerment catnip for brands to commodify (after all, Barbie was just one big Mattel advert). In September The Cut published an article investigating the so-called “Bow Tax”, wherein almost identical items (albeit an added bow) will have a huge price difference. See Miu Miu selling a white cotton T-shirt for $650, and almost the same shirt with a black bow around the neck for $950. Or Balenciaga selling a pair of black shoelaces for $15, but those same shoelaces knotted into bows and set on a pair of silver posts for $250.
With these two things in mind, perhaps it's time to accept we've reached peak bow and leave them at home next year. I for one can't look at a piece of ribbon the same after seeing them tied around a phone screen showing someone's break up text.