I’ve always believed that fashion is far from frivolous. Yes, you can sometimes look at a celebrity donning an odd trend and be like, “Girl, what are you doing?” But on the whole, clothing has always been a visual indication of where the culture lies at any given moment. You can see the role fashion plays in subverting oppression through the iconic white suits donned by suffragettes, the Black Panther party’s uniform, or even the rise of the micro miniskirt in the ’60s. The pulse of what people value, what television shows they’re watching, and what’s happening in the world is often on display on the runway, on the red carpet, and even in our own shopping carts. So if fashion has always indicated where the zeitgeist of culture, where are we right now? Not to be trite, but we’re living in unprecedented times. The world is more unpredictable and even drearier than ever, and that instability is reflected in the rise of one fashion aesthetic: villain-era dressing. Before the vision of a cartoon villain’s style pops into your mind, hear us out on this. The term “villain era” first emerged on TikTok and has been endorsed by fellow industry veterans. It’s essentially a person prioritizing their own needs over pleasing others or following society’s expectations. It’s not to be confused with the Hot Girl aesthetic or with being “selfish” (though in a society that often devalues women’s bodily autonomy, asserting agency is seen as an offensive act). Rather, it is a mix of younger generations’ general exhaustion and angst about the state of the world, paired with them taking back the powers they do have. And that shift in power manifests itself in numerous ways. It’s evident in what economists call the Great Resignation—aka everyone quitting jobs they hate in search of something better. It’s encapsulated in pop-culture moments like when Cassie Howard in Euphoria (played by Sydney Sweeney) screamed, “If that makes me a villain, so fucking be it.” But most noteworthy, it’s visible in the rise of specific trends that define this aesthetic. So ahead, I’ve done some digging through runway collections and recent celebrity outfits to identify the 10 trends that show what villain-era dressing is. From chaotic good to chaotic evil, these trends are causing all the trouble, and we’re here for it.
Living in one’s villain era may be a term coined on social media, but its visual representation found its roots on the runway. You can see how designers themselves are grappling with their angst about the digital world and the pandemic through Demna Gvasalia’s last few dark Balenciaga collections that turned heads for their usage of face-obscuring latex masks and handbags shaped like trash bags. Christian Siriano also dedicated his entire F/W 2022 collection to the idea of exploring The Matrix and sent models down the runway in patent latex dresses while the soundtrack for the late ’90s film boomed in the background. The fundamentals of this aesthetic are all about grappling with your anger and transforming it into art (or a great outfit). It’s visual power like black suiting with sharp lines and large shoulder pads; head-to-toe latex; and leather gloves even when it’s hot out. It’s basically anything that Trinity from The Matrix would wear.
As stated before, the miniskirt has always been a way of subverting society’s norms around how a woman “should” dress, so it only makes sense that it would be a quintessential part of the villain era aesthetic. But don’t be fooled—this micro mini isn’t the subdued preppy versions spotted in the collection of Miu Miu; these skirts are doing the most. This was best seen through the biker-inspired leather miniskirts at Courrèges and Blumarine. Celebrities have even been wearing plaid and denim printed miniskirts that pay homage to the grunge era. These aren’t the cute little miniskirts from your school days—they’re meant for maximum impact with the least amount of fabric possible.
Another staple that stands out as an essential part of embracing your villain era is the focus on tie-up pieces. It’s not to be confused with the flossy pieces championed by Nensi Dojaka or even the frilly tie-up corsets that are an essential part of the “regencycore” movement—this is something else entirely. Admittedly, the ultra-sultry lacey pieces feel like they derive inspiration from kink culture—just look to Kourtney Kardashian wearing black leather lace-up pants. But there are less frisky versions in-between where small lace-up details take a simple piece and spice it up (No Sesso’s F/W 2022 denim lace-up dress or Dion Lee’s iconic lace-up corsets). So whether you’re ready to truly strap yourself into this aesthetic or just want to dabble in it, there are no strings attached to how you have to wear this trend.
While some may be clamoring at wearing ballet flats or Barbie heels this summer, the true “villains” bring the chaos by wearing their knee-high boots year-round. After all, you can’t walk away from situations or relationships that no longer serve you if you don’t have the right shoes. The key to really making this feel like you’re dressing for your villain era comes down to opting for the right boot style and the styling itself. Opting for a sleek version paired with a short dress (see Coperani’s F/W 2022 collection) or taking hardware-adorned boots (like Balenciaga’s Cagole boots) and styling them with a leather skirt and moto jacket will not fail you. You want it to feel a little rock ‘n’ roll–inspired so that you can shake up their lives in true villain fashion.
Chains have long been a part of the punk aesthetic, but their new iterations have taken this formally neutral design detail into darker terrains. Long gone are the days of cliché chunky chain necklaces or utility chains—this is now all about embracing one of the tenants of being a vilian: exuberance. You can see that exemplified in Balmain’s S/S 2022 collection and in Versace and Ambush’s F/W 2022 insane chain-adorned pieces. The vibe is wearing a chain-link minidress to Carbone on a Sunday night like Olivia Rodgrio and showing up to the Met Gala dripping in chains like Zoë Kravitz or Cardi B. It’s about doing the most because the times call for it.
Summer for some may be the start of linen season, but for the baddies, it’s all about lace. As counterintuitive as the idea of lace seems, it’s actually a pivotal part of the villain-era vibe (hello, gothic grunge is a still thing). You can just look at how designers like Dion Lee, LaQuan Smith, and Kim Shui turned this fabric from nice to naughty by using the material’s opacity to play with all-nude looks, pairing the lace with leather, or even using it to create jumpsuits and corsets. Or how celebrities like Rihanna and Gigi Hadid have been spotted in racy lace numbers. If these looks don’t make you want to cross over to the dark side, then you might not be cut out for the villain lifestyle.
Chokers have a long history of coming in and out of fashion, but it’s believed that they were invented as a form of protection for warriors during battle. And considering how brutal it is out there, you need something to keep your guard up—enter the modern take on the choker. This isn’t the fabric chokers that reigned supreme in the mid-2000s; it’s extra like all things relating to this aesthetic. See, for example, the chunky floral chokers in Roberto Cavalli’s F/W 2022 collection or the layered chokers at Versace’s F/W 2022. Even celebrities are sporting new iterations of this jewelry trend (see: Willow Smith in an Alexander McQueen necklace). This trend is all about heading the call of the battle to embrace your inner warrior queen.
Call it a side effect of living in the matrix, or even the fact it feels like time is moving way too fast, but another essential part of villain aesthetics is a killer pair of shades. But you don’t want any old sunglasses—you’ll want to opt for sporty-inspired, ’90s-like lenses. Think of the shades spotted in Rick Owens, Bottega Veneta, or ACNE Studios’s recent collections. You want these sunglasses to almost feel like they’re too much because they are; you want to think about styling them in ways that point to the fact that you really don’t care to be cute because you’re trying to take over the world. Think of how Rosalía saved the Met Gala in a Givenchy gown and sporty sunglasses or how Madonna regularly serves up a look in the shades.
Part of what makes embracing your villain era appealing (besides being able to get grungy with the fits) is that it’s all about emotionally freeing yourself from the performance of it all. You don’t have to pretend you’re okay, you don’t have to over filter or overshare, and you don’t have to do anything that’s serving your higher self. It’s not about abandoning all your adult duties but owning what your baggage is and embracing all of those dark parts of yourself. . The physical manifestation of that ethos is fittingly the return of those oversize tote bags. It’s not your mother’s leather tote—rather, it gives off a “messy” look with a focus on heavy hardware, odd shapes, and ’00s touches. Frankly, you could be living out of this bag—whether you’re using it as an overnight bag or everyday carryall—and there’s no shame in it because you own your baggage.
And finally, to fully embrace villain-era dressing, you have to lean into the ethos of genuinely caring what other people think of you. No, it’s not a hall pass to like not be accountable for your actions, but instead, it’s the freedom to release the pressure to keep up with it all. Forget the 10-step skincare routine. Forget feeling the pressure of virtual signaling and just grieve. Your villain era is releasing all of that and embracing the beautiful mess of life right now. And what better way to throw caution to the wind than getting grunge with your beauty looks? Why not do an insane cat-eye situation like Julia Fox? Or skip wash day and slick back your hair with tons of gel? In a society that’s constantly telling us how to be beautiful, there’s nothing more antiestablishment than defining what beauty is for yourself. Let them think you’re a Disney-like villain with a red lip. Let them judge you for skipping washday. And don’t feel like you have to maintain a polished image because when you’ve truly become the “villain,” you won’t care what they think.