I Have a Love-Hate Relationship With "Avant Basic" Influencer Style

Recently, I encountered a viral tweet that perfectly encapsulated a concept I'd been trying to define on my own for months.

"I hereby christen this style: avant basic," writer Emma Hope Allwood declared in the tweet. Attached was a screenshot of an Instagram feed belonging to Lisa Says Gah, a trendy e-commerce fashion website known for carrying small brands whose vibrant colors, vintage-inspired silhouettes, and whimsical patterns can be spotted in many a microinfluencer's closet.

"It's algorithm fashion," Allwood continued. "Quirkiness in the age of mechanical reproduction... vintage without the effort." My exact thoughts, explained more eloquently than I ever could.

I hadn't seen a single brand adored so vehemently by so many wealthy white women since I was a middle schooler walking among a sea of Abercrombie. And while I, admittedly, genuinely like many of the pieces Lisa Says Gah sells, I can't help but be fascinated by the sudden ubiquity of its aesthetic — and don't even get me started on the home decor style that typically gets wrapped up in this.

Lisa Says Gah was founded by former Nasty Gal buyer Lisa Bühler, whose company has evolved from a blog she began in 2009. While the site carries a slew of female-owned It brands — Paloma Wool, House of Sunny, Susan Alexandra — Lisa Says Gah also carries an in-house line, with a focus on ending the fast fashion cycle (new collections are typically released seasonally). In 2020, Bühler's design team began collaborating with Stockholm-based artist Katherine Plumb — who sells cutesy-meets-psychedelic clothes and home goods on her website — for Lisa Says Gah's bold, trippy winter collection. When I Slacked Allwood's tweet to my coworkers, one editor responded: "I need a seizure warning for that image."

In contrast to the Everlane-core blandness that has become associated with "sustainable fashion" — earth tones, wardrobe staples, an overall air of minimalism — the clothes sold by Lisa Says Gah are anything but boring. At least, that seemed to have been their original intention. Now that microinfluencers — AKA everyday people with a few thousand followers — have latched onto the brand and its aesthetic by the numbers, its presence has become overwhelming in the Instagram fashion world. All of a sudden, checkerboard pajama sets and cow-print trousers are no longer the statement pieces they were designed to be.

Don't get me wrong — I'm not trying to yuck anyone's yum, especially because I myself have followed Lisa Says Gah for quite some time. I heavily identify with the brand's ethos, as I've spent the past few years of my life gradually cutting out fast fashion.

A focus on sustainability is growing increasingly popular among fashion bloggers, a trend with obvious benefits. But with this also comes a sense of exclusivity — you have to have a certain level of wealth to shop from sustainable fashion brands. Of course slow fashion brands like Lisa Says Gah are going to come with a bigger price tag than their less ethical counterparts. In order for laborers to be paid fair wages, brands need to charge more.

But, because the pieces from Lisa Says Gah and many of the brands they sell are instantly recognizable, it's easy to know how much a microinfluencer's outfit is worth if they're wearing them. Instead of being just fun statement pieces, these clothes have now become a uniform status symbol. As a result, a hotbed of the same three or four outfit combinations begin making the rounds, until the next season's collection drops: "Quirkiness in the age of mechanical reproduction."

While I've had a nebulous interest in fashion for all my conscious life, I'm certainly no expert, and I absolutely don't have the authority to tell people what to wear — especially when they have ten times as many social media followers as I do. And I'm thrilled to see sustainable, female-owned small businesses thrive on such a mainstream scale. But, after seeing the 50th cow-pant-and-sunrise-cardigan combination on my Instagram explore feed, I can't help but feel incredibly uninspired.

Of course, not everyone has the same luxury of being able to rummage through vintage stores in search of the same styles that the companies I've mentioned emulate. But I'd bet my money that the women who shop at Lisa Says Gah definitely do; one would think there'd be a little more variety as a result.

With all this being said, I'm wrapped up in the hype, too. I think many of the pieces Lisa Says Gah sells are very cute, and I would likely own a small collection of them if I had the budget for it. I've scrolled through their inventory pining over pixel-print pants, yin-yang sandal slides, smocked blouses, and even sweaters emblazoned with a line drawing of a (tastefully!) nude woman. Hell, I still follow them and Plumb on Instagram.

Actually, I heavily considered purchasing my first piece from Lisa Says Gah late last year as an early Christmas present to myself. For a humble $119, I could own a mesh long-sleeve blouse in Plumb's iconic flower-checkerboard print: just sexy enough for a going-out ensemble, but still whimsical enough to fulfill my self-assigned role as the quirkiest girl at the bar.

After deliberating over the purchase for weeks, I found a nearly-identical dupe for the top at a thrift store in small-town New Mexico. It had a tag that was clearly from the late '90s or early 2000s, and I paid $3.50 for it: "Vintage without the effort."

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