Pedal to the metal: how TikTok and cheugy culture have accelerated toxic trend cycles 

It’s 2021, you are dressed in a parka, Timberland boots and your phone case reads “Live, Laugh, Love”. Unbeknownst to yourself and your aesthetic, there is a TikTok trend brewing that is ready to label and tag you as ‘cheugy’ before you even get the chance to oppose

Used to describe out-of-date trends and those who follow them, the origins of the term can be traced back to Los Angeles 2013, when it was first used by Software Developer Gaby Rasson. The word quickly gained momentum throughout Rasson’s Beverly Hills High School, but did not hit the mainstream until March of this year after going viral on TikTok.

Fast forward six months and “cheugy” has not only wormed its way into the everyday vernacular of Generation Z, but added fuel to the fire of the trend cycle that is searing its way through the fashion industry. 

The concept of cheuginess is heavily encapsulated in millennial/girlboss culture. However, due to the subjective nature of the term, 25-40 year old women are not the only cohort who may fall victim to the cheug and there is not a set list of trends that fall into this category. That being said, ugg boots, double-G Gucci belt and Friends fanatics are amongst the primary suspects of cheugy’ness.

Although it has somewhat of a mean-girlish feel surrounding it, the term itself was not designed to provoke any negative connotations. In an interview with the New York Times, Abby Siegel, an acquaintance of Rasson, said that the word has gained popularity due to its relatability.

“Everyone has something cheugy in their closet. We didn’t intend for it to be a mean thing… It’s just a fun word we used as a group of friends that somehow resonated with a bunch of people,” she said. 

However, no matter how good-spirited its intention, the term has negative consequences, particularly within the fashion sphere. 

The ascension of TikTok itself to the holy grail of Gen Z existence greatly accelerated the rapid pace of the trend cycle, with the emergence of cheugy culture only perpetuating this phenomenon. According to Trend Cycle Analyst and TikToker, Mandy Lee, the 20 year cycle that has governed fashion trends for decades is fast fading and viral microtrends are swooping in to fill the void.

“While we have these overarching trends buckets, like Y2K, avant basic and Zara chic, it’s the microtrends that are moving at the blink of an eye and causing mass over consumption and over production,” Lee explains in one TikTok. 

However, these microtrends only stay in vogue for a couple of months, if not weeks, before they are deemed “out”, or God forbid, cheugy, after which they are tossed aside and replaced by the next trending garm. 

Even some of the biggest fashion houses are beginning to feel the wrath of this toxic cycle. 

When speaking about collections that appeared on the SS21 New York Fashion week runways, Lee explains how many of these garments were put into production almost a year ago and that since then, trends that once dominated TikTok and Instagram, such as crochet and print landscape knits, became dated, and looked so on the catwalk. 

“I’ve heard people call [those trends] cheugy on this app,” Lee explains 

 The only real winner of the trend cycle and cheugy culture are fast fashion brands. And they will only keep winning as long as we allow it. While many trend forecasters such as Lee are hopeful that as microtrends continue to spawn, the cycle will reach new speeds to the point of disintegration, and once everything is a trend, nothing will truly be trending, resulting in a renaissance of fashion freedom. However, judging by the cheugy-chockhold TikTok has over Gen Z and millennials, we seem to be a little ways off that point. 

I won’t go totally cheug and part with the sentiment of “Live, Laugh Love” when it comes to your fashion endeavors, but I do think that the less head we pay to toxic trend cycles and the ferocious fast fashion machine, the more content we will be in ourselves and in our wardrobes. 

Sarah McGuinness

Image credit: May Gauthier on Unsplash