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This Ain't Texas: The Internet's Identity Crisis

The "country aesthetic," the latest in the internet's identity crisis, has been everywhere, fueled, in part, by Beyoncé’s newest genre-bending record, Cowboy Carter. Two years after her previous disco/house-inspired record, Renaissance, her latest album has defied much of what was commonly expected of Miss' Yoncé, as she has fully repatriated to her St. Louis roots with this pop-country jam. 

While the casual listener was left stunned by the sudden change to Beyoncé’s music, her devoted Bey-Hive has been coyly aware of the many references she had left in her previous album, hinting that this second-act of her alluded three-album project would most likely be heavy in the yeehaw-department. Beyoncé’s record-breaking Renaissance world tour transformed stadiums into a sea of leather and chrome, with fans donning cowboy boots/hats and assless chaps (for the brave), as was the compulsory dress code in anticipation of the mythicized Cowboy Carter

By the time Beyoncé kicked off her tour in May 2023, Taylor Swift had already begun her long-awaited Era’s Tour in March, and, much like Beyoncé’s fans, Taylor’s fans had brought their twist on the “classic cowgirl.” Swifties bedazzled the cowgirl in fringed tinsel jackets over sequin dresses with cowboy boots, and bright pink flare pants with matching vests and cowgirl hats (à la western Barbie). T-Swift’s uncompromising and unapologetic femininity brought the cowgirl to an uber-girly level, whereas Beyoncé fans kept it sleek, sexy, and silver (but still cunt to the feminine). Some see the outfits as an homage to Beyoncé and Taylor’s country roots; others see it as more of a cosplay of a modern cowgirl. But this quick adoption of Western aesthetics should not shock most terminally online folks.

The "cowgirl/boy" aesthetic has been on the rise since the early months of COVID-19 when everyone was forced to watch life pass by from their bedroom window, seeking some semblance of community by participating in trend after trend. Typically, TikTok trends have a shelf life of 90 days, but this cowgirl flare has quickly become the exception, with its influence finding itself in daily wear. Pre-TikTok, we were used to trends reemerging 20 years after their inception; now, the trend cycle has grown shorter and shorter with each appropriated trend of yesterday.

We are witnessing a rise in the Southern comfort wear of the down-to-earth cowgirl. She represents a natural, homey, and fearless je ne sais quoi that is the antithesis of another popular fashion trend, the coquette girl. However, unlike the coquette, the cowgirl can keep up with the boys while not sacrificing her femininity. She is often seen in dirt-covered flare jeans, point-toe cowboy boots, a big leather belt with an even bigger belt buckle, and that trademark wide-brimmed Stetson. During the early days of quarantine, this neutral, low-maintenance vibe was ideal for many who were not into the maximal fashion trend, which was also popular during this time. Soon, early adopters began implementing a southern twist into their wardrobes, but with a microtrend-y pop of color.

Nightlife quickly became a barrage of tiktokified pseudo-southern fits, dripping in fringe, feathers, and jewels. The "jeans a cute top" look was elevated by cowboy boots instead of the traditional going-out bootie and a boho belt to tie it all in. At that point, throw on a bedazzled hat to up the sparkle factor. The casual cowgirl look became the go-to going-out outfit. We all have a shared memory of drunkenly walking down a city street during the summers of 2020/1, fighting for our lives in a swarm of pink cowboy hats. 

As this year’s Coachella, the Instagrammer Olympics, comes to a close, we are getting a sneak peek at what in-trend styles we should expect to see come summertime. Among the most popular items littering the valley (and our feeds) were ruffle-tier skirts, concho belts, chunky jewelry, anything denim, loose/flowy tops, and cowboy boots/hats.  

Besides fashion, vices like tobacco have become southernized as more twenty-somethings drop their e-cigarettes for the latest dipping tobacco successor, the Zyn. Similar to Dip in both cowboy influence and consumption methods, these tobacco-filled plant-fiber pouches are meant to be lipped for 5-30 minutes (depending on nicotine percentage and the user's tolerance). Think Nicorette, but with less chewing and more gum recession. Zyns are increasing in popularity, particularly in the nightlife scene, in part due to an increase in federal crackdowns on flavored e-cigarettes and public perception of traditional cigarette smoking continuing to nosedive.

The discourse on trend-cycle decline overconsumption continues as Gen Alpha kids are pining over an uncanny nostalgia for pandemic-era style. Dubbed "Pandemic-core," it is a repurposed infatuation with the fashion, music, makeup, and lingo of a time most of us remember like a PTSD flashback. Everyone old enough to have their social lives permanently disfigured by the shutdown talk about it like a biblical slight, a modern-day Noachian Flood. But while most of us sheltered in the Ark that was TikTok, the Gen Alpha kids only experience this shared trauma through our recollection of it. Their FOMO is now bringing back Bella Poarch-style videos and whipped coffee a mere four years after its initial popularization. 

At this rate, we will soon run out of things to overconsume if we haven't already. Once the next "it" (re)style comes around, its fate might be that of the cowgirls: regurgitated until it is a parody of its history, community, and cultural values. Yet, we all wait with bated, Zyn-laced breath for the next over-manufactured trend to please the drop-ship-buying masses. 

Written by Daniella Fishman Creative Director, Production Manager, Photographer: Ben Pfeifer

PA: Mark Bluemle

Talent: Ariana Catalinotto (@aaariana.c), Diamond Durant (@diamondurant), Sen Zacarias (@senzacarias)

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