Revisiting youth fashion in 2018

Students Serena Ngetho, Amour Agei and Sommelier Melissa Mwende at the Thrift Social Nairobi, at Alchemist, Westlands, on March 22, 2018. PHOTO | FILE | NATION MEDIA GROUP

What you need to know:

  • Fashion among the youth this year has been especially groundbreaking.

  • We have seen a total turnover in the way young people adorn themselves.

Fashion has always been a controversial topic – at times causing a rift between generations. MERCY KAVUTHA looks at this year’s trends that have had some older folk shaking their heads in disbelief, and decodes what they mean to the youth.

Famed fashion designer Coco Chanel once said that in order to be irreplaceable, one must be different. Fashion among the youth this year has been especially groundbreaking. We have seen a total turnover in the way young people adorn themselves.

Now, never mind that back in the day many wore hipster jeans, undersized checked shirts and plastic jewellery and thought they were the bomb, 2018 has brought about the age of ugly fashion. While it is a fact that trends come and go and the one thing they have in common (at least to the wearer and designer) is that they look good at the moment, the single unique quality this year brought was the acknowledgment that “ugly” was the keyword.

An article by The British Vogue titled “Why And How Have Ugly Boots Become A Thing” said: “In 2018’s socio-political climate, the word ‘ugly’ feels passé. There are now very few places in the fashion world that that word can stick.”

‘Ugly’ has become a luxury item, a high-end fashion statement in 2018 and since the internet has turned the globe into a small village, Kenyan youth have not been left behind. Vibrant-colour latex material, leather, oversized pieces, embellishments, vinyl, you name it, these are the trends that have been ruling the streets of Nairobi, attracting statements like “brilliant”, “revolutionary” and “making my eyes bleed” in equal measure. As this year winds down, we've recapped the biggest fads and crazes to bring you the good, the bad and the ugly of fashion among the youth in 2018 and what has influenced the insurgency.



“Extra” and “woke” were some of the most used words when it came to fashion. Used as slang to mean social awareness, “woke” generally describes those who are up for social change with a particular focus on social injustices and use various media to instigate change. Fashion was not afraid to get even more political than it already was. T-shirts plastered with strong words concerning the economic and political state of the country determined that the youth were not afraid to wear clothes that broadcasted their strongest beliefs and opinions. Certain colours such as red, orange and green were statement colours as well, not only meant to express their personal credence but also served a purpose of encouraging fellow youth to be more involved in the ongoings of the country politically and advocate for peace instead of being passive bystanders.



The word power came into the fashion limelight as many young fellows took their clothing into their own hands as a method of initiating the Kazi Kwa Vijana movement by self-employing. Young designers went all out this year, coming up with unique and impressive pieces, unapologetic and proud to show the extent their creativity from hand-decorating their own shoes to sewing their own clothes with their own distinctive tastes. This has proved to be a year that youth fashion has grown exponentially in terms of individuality, exploration, assertions, and acceptance.



Slang for “exciting”, it describes itself. The youth are wearing enormous neon princess gowns with sneakers, gym clothes to music concerts and men are wearing dresses too (as evidenced by Lupita Nyongo’s younger brother Peter Nyong’o in a dress that caused a huge stir on social media). Fashion has pushed and broken the boundaries of colour-coordinating (even colour blocking) and matchy-matchy outfits. Basically, as far as fashion is concerned, anything goes.



Believe it or not, 2018 was the year that “ugly” actually meant a good thing. Many aghast industry insiders in the country specifically those of an older generation who were still attached to high heels and proper fitting garments found the younger generations’ clothing atrocious.

However, as mind-boggling as it seems, these so-called fashion massacres – mixed prints and ugly shoes – are certainly here to stay, not because they are pleasing to the eye but they have become statements of confidence. In other words, this trend has become a win for feminism and equality, a signal that self-confidence, good sense, and freedom are hot whereas vanity, amorousness, and discomfort are not.

Despite the constant rebuttal by many non-millennials in terms of the fashion being injected slowly and steadily into society, the popularity of “unacceptable” fashion should probably come as a great relief to all. It is proof that clothing doesn't make the man or woman and that sitting easily in one's skin is the best look.