Euphoria is one of those zeitgeist-y shows that was just made for obnoxious online discourse. Even people who haven’t watched it have still seen it, and they most definitely have something to say about the commanding wardrobe of the teenage main characters. There is Maddy with her stringy pants and crop tops, Cassie with her fitted skirts and two hour getting ready routine, Jules’s Orseund Iris skirts and amazing sparkly makeup, Kat in colorful crop tops and skirts, and Rue’s baggy shirts and board shorts. Everyone’s style is confusing, daring, and also so fun to watch. For some reason, though, adult watchers (mainly Millennials) lose their minds over it. There are endless TikToks with 30-somethings comparing photos of their awkward teen years with pictures of Cassie and Maddie walking through the halls of Euphoria High, full blown arguments and meltdowns on Twitter, and of course, responses begging everyone to shut up and stop being so embarrassing.
While the wardrobe is clearly influenced by Y2K, I don’t think the fact that the style is borrowed from a different generation is the only thing striking a nerve. In the 15-20 years since tube tops and tight spandex flare pants were popularized, attitudes toward teen fashion, especially for young women, changed drastically. The permission young people give themselves to embrace style in any way they want, whether low cut tops or baggy shirts, is just different from when we were in high school. Sure, schools still have plenty of sexist clothing rules that often unfairly target girls, but this also applies to what they are wearing outside of the classroom. Wearing a halter top and white eyeliner was messy and awkward for me. For the Euphoria kids and Gen Z more generally, it seems polished and purposeful.
“Our clothing rules in high school prevented us from showing skin past a very moderate point without getting a demerit, so I love to see the girls living it up,” journalist Faith Cumming told me after I posted a question on Instagram asking for people’s theories on this phenomenon. “We actually wanted to dress like they did but knew that it would write a story that we didn’t want back then,” another person who asked to remain anonymous texted me. “If you did anything like this in a real way there would be zero confidence coming from the person wearing it. It would be like: are you wearing a pop star costume? And then people would laugh at you.”
Fashion journalist Julia Gall has another perspective on the inevitable wardrobe panic that comes to Twitter after each episode airs. “I think many millennial viewers are “shocked” by the adventurous and sexy fashions on Euphoria, but I don’t see many differences to their wardrobe than the familiar silhouettes of my early 2000’s high school era: micro mini skirts from Abercrombie and Hollister, low slung Miss Sixty jeans with a 2” fly and girls shopping “kids size large” vintage tees and polo shirts for that perfectly snug across the chest and mid-drift bearing fit. Hardtail rollover waist-band stretch pants were eventually banned from my high school, and very similar to the stretchy fits that Maddy seems to covet,” she said, adding that Millenials have a very hard time recognizing their own age and so it manifests in a weirdly competitive way.
“For whatever reason, I think Millennials don’t see themselves as old, which is why they love to say things like “adulting” when having to be responsible, obsessed with the idea of “wellness” rather than just taking care of themselves and are always so shocked when something is actually 20 years ago and doesn’t think it’s weird to still be into something from 20 years ago, i.e., Harry Potter,” she said. Gall went on to explain that Gen Z can’t be marketed to in the same way the generations before them had been and trying to “figure them out” comes across as inauthentic and quite frankly, cringe. “I think the biggest struggle Gen Z’ers seem to have is not fitting into a crowd or playing into societal norms, when they are more focused on their generation’s pressure of accepting and expressing themselves in their most authentic way, ie Kat’s Youtube tutorial freakout fantasy,” she went on to explain. “I think it’s fun to see each character’s style unfold in their self-awareness (Rue: totally disheveled, Jules: inventive and pulled-together, Maddy: confident and elaborate, Cassie: overcompensating and mimicking Maddy, Lexie: polished and sweet) and makes me wish that dressing to fit a genre “preppy, emo, goth” in my high school was less of the focus.”
If anything, I think the panic comes from the fact that they’re doing it better and with more confidence. If Euphoria is at all a reflection of Gen Z style in a real way, then they are so much better at finding clothing and making it look unique and interesting. They understand makeup and experiment with it instead of simply following trends. The story they allow clothing to tell is written by them, not by the person perceiving them.
As we settle into the new episode tonight, maybe that’s the lesson is your old, and kids in high school are cooler than you. Maybe those of us who are fully adults watching the shoe need to learn a lesson in style risk and let them live.