If the summer of 2021 was all about tinned fish as “hot girl food,” the summer of 2022 is shaping up to position tinned fish as “hot girl clothes.”
What might have felt like a one-off when Rachel Antonoff announced her newest collection — which includes a shift dress patterned with caviar tins and spoons, and a breezy athleisure set stamped with sardines — is proving to be a whole summer mood. At Lisa Says Gah, the fashion brand synonymous with the current “cool girl maximalism” as the Cut writes, the new “Italian summer” collection is adorned with an illustrated print featuring tomatoes, lemons, and wine, but also oysters, fish, and canned sardines that say “gah” on their label. For its part, the fashion brand Clare V. sells a t-shirt with a street art-inspired drawing of a sardine that states “Liberez les Sardines,” or “free the sardines.” Clearly, we aren’t just eating tinned fish, but wearing it too.
All over the internet are pieces that conjure up clam bakes and suggest that what we want to dress like now is seafood towers. I mean that literally — Rachel Antonoff now sells a tablecloth-esque dress splashed with artist Hazel Lee Santino’s large, colorful illustration of a jam-packed seafood tower; Steak Diane sells a similar collection featuring seafood art in front of blue-and-white checked backgrounds. Just this week, the pricey slipper purveyor Stubbs & Wootton launched a line of shoes in partnership with the brand Chefanie; embroidered onto velvet slippers is caviar on one shoe and a blini on the other, or an oyster and a lemon wedge. Of course, there have long been the popular Susan Alexandra earrings: a pair of dangling, beaded shrimp with lemons. Shrimp is so hot right now, in fact, that Vice recently ran an entire shopping guide of just shrimp-themed lifestyle pieces.
Admittedly, my ad algorithm is more attuned to these items than most; I’ve been coveting designer Erin Robertson’s no-longer-available oyster pieces for years. But the seafood kitsch aesthetic is clearly having its big fashion moment beyond my feed alone. So, why is the idea of wearing seafood — or filling our homes with it — so broadly appealing right now?
I’d wager that part of it is the inherent luxury in eating seafood. Wearing these seafood-themed items, many of which are very pricey, conveys on multiple levels a comfortable lifestyle: Not only can you buy the $275 seafood tower dress or the $650 oyster shoes, but you also signify that you’re familiar with a kind of eating that includes seafood towers and tins of caviar. Unsurprisingly, many of these items also look distinctly vacation-y, like a terry cloth spaghetti alla vongole-themed set from Tombolo that feels transportive to a high-end resort. When the seafood in question is cheaper (sardines), it still suggests that the wearer is aware of a cultural moment in which eating tinned fish is decidedly cool.
The kitschiness of these designs — which are realistic, but maintain a level of surrealism — also brings to mind nostalgia, like the lingering trompe l’oeil wallpaper in your parent’s house or a mural on the wall of an old-school red sauce joint. But unlike those examples, which exist without irony, these designs wink at that sense of datedness to reclaim what might otherwise be considered tacky. In all, it feels a bit like what GQ’s Jason Diamond has called “bistro vibes,” an aesthetic and lifestyle shift that embraces the ’80s and ’90s.
Of course, food-themed fashion has been having a moment for a while. Lest you forget that 2020 was the summer of the hugely viral strawberry dress, first created by designer Lirika Matoshi and then ripped off by fast fashion sellers. Katie Kimmel’s shirts — blocky text stating “CHICKEN PARM” and other food words — have been popular since at least 2017 and similarly imitated. There’s food fashion as merch from food stars like Molly Baz (a shirt with an abstracted BLT, for example) to companies like White Castle, which recently collaborated with the luxury fashion brand Telfar. Prior to all the tinned fish, Antonoff sold plenty of other food designs, including pasta-printed puffers and olive dresses. As Matthew Sedacca wrote in Eater in 2018, clothing communicates who we are and what we care about, so it makes sense that some people who care about food or hot restaurants might also want to signify those priorities with what they wear.
But maybe it’s simpler than that: Seafood kitsch is fun and silly, and we need more fun and silly.