If you want to attract attention right now in the world of fashion, you have two options: Make it giant, or make it tiny.
This is not a metaphor. I do not mean extremely emotional or very intimate, or a big, expensive production or a low-key and low-budget presentation. I’m talking about the simplest, most obvious, dumbest version of the idea: The coolest designers on the planet are either making their products extremely big, or making their products extremely small. If you want your brand to penetrate beyond the highfalutin runways of Paris, if you want the most fashionable rapper in the world to give your shoes a cool nickname, or you want the Today show to dedicate a segment to your handbags, you better make them giant or tiny.
Here is the state of giant things and tiny things:
Giant: shoes, outerwear, hats, shirts.
Tiny: sunglasses, bags, jewelry.
Only one item defies the dichotomy, and that is men’s pants. But the way in which they defy it only furthers the giant-or-tiny paradigm: Men’s pants themselves can be either giant or tiny. They thrive in exaggerated proportions, from Louis Vuitton’s flowing trousers to Celine’s leather leggings. There is no standard-issue silhouette. Even Versace’s latest swim trunks know they have to be giant or tiny.
As with everything else in fashion, we have Instagram to thank, at least in part. Something off—too big or too small—is going to make you pause in medias scroll. Fashion, of course, conspires to bring the extremely online experience to life, and if you’re dressing around one statement piece—like a sneaker, or a designer hoodie—playing with its size ensures everyone will pay more attention to it. This dovetails with fashion’s current romance with meme culture, and in fact there is an entire Instagram meme account, @itsmaysmemes, dedicated to making celebrities’ fashion outerwear really big. Likewise, the scale of men’s bags and tiny sunglasses proved to be swift fodder for merry meme-making. Fashion is funnier than it’s ever been, and what is funnier than something that is inconveniently big or ludicrously small? L—and I cannot stress this enough—OL.
But that is too simple. Why is scale the preferred language? Why not color, for example, which is another juicy type of Instagram bait, or simply putting normal clothes on Instagram-famous people? These are all tried-and-true methods of marketing that designers are currently using, of course, and that is why the Giant or Tiny Dichotomy has roots beyond Instagram.
As drop-culture increasingly drives fashion, scale is also a great way to keep people hungry for the next jawn. Every season, the Jacquemus bags get smaller, and Balenciaga’s shoulders get bigger, allowing you to stunt on whoever is still trotting around in last season’s gear. Fashion used to work this way: When a new season appeared, the previous season was immediately ruled passé. But consumers now have much more control over what is and isn’t cool, meaning that that capricious attitude became less sustainable, made less sense. Now, scale is a clever way for designers to revitalize it.
Other visual mediums have had success in the past making things giant or tiny. There are the Kardashians, for example, who have captivated us in the past decade by manipulating various body parts into giant and tiny proportions. On the more highbrow side of things is Claes Oldenburg, who has landscaped America with giant versions of very quotidian objects: lipstick, clothespins, matches, safety pins. “Through sheer size and dramatic visibility,” wrote the Los Angeles Times in a review of one of the first surveys of his work, in 1995, “Oldenburg’s monuments enshrine the mundane stuff that surrounds modern daily life.” In other words, making sneakers big gives them gravitas. Making shirts huge reminds us (or tricks us into thinking) that shirts are extremely important. It makes them look more expensive (bigger stuff = more money, right?). The Triple S looks like a more significant shoe than a sneaker. The Kapital Sloppy Shirt becomes a statement item instead of a thing you put your arms in and tuck in so you can appear in public without attracting stares.