Tomato Girls, Lemon Girls: How Food Took Over Gen Z Fashion

Tomato Girls, Lemon Girls: How Food Took Over Gen Z Fashion

This summer isn’t just any summer; it’s Tomato Girl Summer. The Tomato Girl, a young woman who sports linen maxi dresses, lace trims, and sun-kissed makeup, is gallivanting about the cobblestone streets of the Amalfi Coast. She’s wearing strappy sandals and her dress is billowing in the warm, salty breeze as she makes her way to a luxuriously simple dinner of handmade pasta and local olive oil. To achieve Tomato Girl’s whimsy, tomato-red and tomato-printed outfits are acceptable, but by no means required.

We’re also in the throes of Lemon Girl Summer. The Lemon Girl wears flowy dresses too (sometimes, though not necessarily, hued in yellow), but on sunset strolls to the fruit stand two blocks from her coastal European AirBnb—you know, that one with the little balcony. Her joie de vivre is complemented by an ankle-length dress and one of those mesh produce bags slung over her shoulder. Somehow Vanilla Girl Summer is also all around us, epitomized by clothing in creamy neutrals (beige, gray, or, even better, ecru), though the Vanilla Girl is less geographically or phenologically circumscribed—that is, she is not legally required to be on a warm-weather Euro vacation. Lurking in the background, the Cherry Girl wears a red lip—mandatory—and she’s sheathed in a black or crimson slip dress as a little black leather bag dangles from her shoulder, channeling Lana del Rey’s moody visuals. We can’t forget the Strawberry Girls either—glowing, freckled, and rosy, the cream-blushed image of their patron saint, Hailey Bieber.

As specific as these style personas appear to be, the Venn diagram between them is, for all intents and purposes, a circle: their vernacular (“girls,” all of them), their target demographics (actual girls), and their broad references (girlhood, femininity, the like). In TikTok, they share a birthplace and, by extension, a common genetic makeup. According to their TikTok collages, they are all effortlessly elegant and enviably chic. They all wear no more than tinted moisturizer and a swipe of mascara to dinner. At their most essential, they are all a Reformation dress.

The interchangeability of these aesthetics may, in fact, be why they’ve been so rapaciously co-opted by brands. Princess Polly, a fast-fashion brand popular among Gen Z, has sent marketing emails with the subject line “TOMATO GIRL AESTHETIC,” containing the words “DREAMY LOOKS FOR YOUR SUMMER EURO WARDROBE” inside. Fashion media has spilled plenty of ink on pieces explaining what these aesthetics are and how to adopt them: “Tomato Girl Summer Explained, Plus 3 Foodie-Forward Aesthetic Alternatives,” writes InStyle. From Cosmo: “Everything you need to know about “tomato girl summer”, TikTok’s latest vibe obsession.” “This Summer I’m Embracing Lemon Girl Style,” writes Glamour.

Food has become one of the most popular ways to label these trends—a food-themed aesthetic clearly propels to dominance in the Darwinist landscape of internet virality. Food is sensory and visual, optimal for eclectic moodboarding and convenient for playfully ambiguous ad marketing: Tomato Girl Summer sounds fun, but what the heck does it mean? Let’s click open this email to find out. “These supposed ‘girl trends’ aren’t really trends at all,” notes Vox writer Rebecca Jennings in a recent newsletter. “They’re marketing campaigns.” Creators have gestured toward the absurdity of it all by coining tongue-in-cheek food-fashion aesthetics like “baked beans girl” and “hard-boiled egg girl.” According to Insider, a baked beans girl is at once a fiend for chaos (see: Crocs filled with, yes, baked beans) and a skincare devotee; a hard-boiled egg girl also opts for a lengthy skincare routine and gravitates toward an eggshell-tinted palette.

You see, until fast fashion discovered that these trends were a handy way to sell clothes to young women, they were never that deep. Aesthetic moodboards defined much of 2010s Tumblr, and it’s as if they’ve moved to TikTok, where they now dictate to the internet what’s in vogue. Before they were sniffed out by commercialism and spun into Trends with a capital T, they probably began, as many TikTok trends begin, as the innocent, randomly named brain-children of teenage girls. These trends are savvily generated by, optimized for, and picked up by Gen Z, who are natively online and well-versed in sharing their fits of the day through TikTok slideshows and vlogs. And just as girls are the organic creators of the trends, they’re the most likely to participate in their branded appropriations. “What was once the province of marketing teams or journalists or magazine editors to christen cultural trends is now up to the public, and, it turns out, the public does a much more efficient job at this than the traditional gatekeepers ever could,” writes Jennings.

Their rise neatly parallels what went down with this summer’s girl dinner phenomenon, which affixed an oddly gendered term to a dinner plate consisting of a smattering of things from the fridge—a snack plate, if you will—and then quickly snowballed into a blizzard of headlines. Last year’s Clean Girl Aesthetic took a slicked-back bun and glossy lips and packaged them into a marketable vibe, with plenty of hair gels and claw clips and lip oils to be sold alongside. And, going a few years back, food aesthetics aren’t even new—the Coconut Girl Aesthetic, apparently, was all the rage a couple summers ago, defined by Y2K tropical patterns and lots of crochet. The “[insert descriptor] girl” framework has cemented itself as a genre of its own, taking rhetorical root in 2019’s song-and-meme hit “Hot Girl Summer.”

Once the sun sets on Tomato Girl Summer, another fruit will be waiting in the wings to take its place—and you probably won’t notice the difference. The more microtrends that proliferate, the more ephemeral they become. For our oversaturated internet, every aesthetic is the moment of the summer, at the same time, all the time. It’s completely contradictory, of course, which makes it completely on brand.

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