Gen Z Brought Twee Back and It’s Here to Stay

The “adorkable” trend from the mid-aughts is reportedly back from the dead thanks to TikTok and gen-z – with some important updates distinguishing Twee 2.0. Unlike “hip” fashions, twee is more delicate, dainty, or quaint – often with a feminine flair. But in the 2010s, the label also carried an air of affectation. For all its strategic uncoolness, twee was perceived by many as artificial and pretentious. Gen Z’s new version of twee may still be into the ballet flats and knitting, but the vibe is a lot less smug and more unfiltered – striving to embrace the DIY creativity in a realer way.


You may have thought that twee culture peaked with Wes Anderson movies, The Moldy Peaches, and Zooey Deschanel’s whole vibe in the 2010s, but the “adorkable” trend from the mid-aughts is reportedly back from the dead thanks to TikTok and gen-z, – with some important updates distinguishing Twee 2.0.

“Here is the church and here is the steeple, we sure are cute for two ugly people.”

- Juno

Twee was originally a branch-off from the indie-hipster subculture that dominated the 2010s. They may have shared a love of mustaches and black-rimmed glasses, but where hipster culture was notably obsessed with “knowing something before it was cool,” twee was proudly and unabashedly “uncool”...and that made it cool.

Unlike “hip” fashions, twee is more delicate, dainty, or quaint – often with a feminine flair. But in the 2010s, the label also carried an air of affectation. For all its strategic uncoolness, twee was perceived by many as artificial and pretentious.

Enter the Gen Z version: Twee 2.0. This new version of twee may still be into the ballet flats and knitting, but the vibe is a lot less smug and more unfiltered – striving to embrace the DIY creativity in a realer way. Here’s our take on what makes twee 2.0 different, and why maybe this version has staying power.


Twee is a kind of cutesy whimsy that sits on the edge of saccharine and cloying

and the word is typically used as an insult for anything that’s sickeningly sweet or a little too calculatedly cute.

“I brake for birds. I rock a lot of polka dots. I have touched glitter in the last 24 hours.”

- New Girl

Actually, the term twee goes back much further than the 21st century, originating in the early 1900s as a baby-talk version of “sweet”. As a fashion, Twee takes retro inspiration from the 60s and 70s mod styles, while the label as an aesthetic was first used in the 80s around the punk music scene, where radically feminist bands contributed to its colorful, DIY, female look and sound. Then, in the 2000s and 2010s, Twee was a reaction to the baring-it-all party-girl Y2K look. It became defined by nostalgic, alternative features like ukuleles and baby-ish voices in music, cardigans and tea-dresses in fashion– think the manic pixie dream girl trope in movies. Author Marc Spritz refers to twee as “the fetishization of the nerd, the geek, the dork, the virgin.”

“Blah blah blah, I make a noise or I do something that no-one has ever done before and then I can feel unique again even if its only for like…a second.”

- Garden State

In 2011, New Girl launched with star Zooey Deschanel, with marketing that leaned heavily on her twee adorkable vibe. And in movies, perhaps no director was more associated with the style than King of Quirk Wes Anderson – in 2014, The Atlantic called Anderson “Cinema’s primary auteur of Twee”. Like twee, Anderson’s nostalgic – often innocence-focused – storytelling was imbued with a DIY sensibility, pastel color palette, and buttoned up, bowtied, vintage costumes.

“Poems don’t always have to rhyme, you know. They’re just supposed to be creative.”

- Moonrise Kingdom

But from the beginning, this style associated with Anderson and Deschanel had its detractors that found the aesthetic overly fake and stuffy – masquerading as fun quirkiness while really being exclusive and full of itself. Meanwhile, the aesthetic quickly moved from “indie” to mainstream. The style that felt so unique to Anderson was so distinct that it was easy to copy – and was poached by big brands like Stella Artois and American Express, as well as countless movies outside of the indie auteur bubble. Take a look at 2018’s To All The Boys I’ve Loved Before, which makes use of Anderson-esque intertitles to help move the film through the school semesters, and also makes use of the same kind of color palates and symmetrical framing that Anderson has become so known for.

With popularity comes over-popularity, and eventually fatigue and even disgust. People resented the air of self-righteousness and icky smugness to hipster and twee subcultures

They also became hip to the fact that these subcultures were mostly comprised of privileged, college-educated, liberals who often contributed to the ever-gentrification of urban neighborhoods.

But the nature of all this backlash is also why gen-z is perfectly postured to take on twee 2.0 – in contrast to individualist millennials, they tend to be much more collectively oriented, and politically and socially aware. If millennials were all about the Instagram aesthetic and curating an image of perfection online, gen-z is their younger, more laidback cousin – posting photo dumps of blurry photos and filter-free selfies. Writer Ian Wang says, “a once radical subculture has the chance to recover…and make a DIY socialist pop movement fit for this century’s struggles.” Gen Z are also decidedly more careful in avoiding “cringe” – or anything that would cause secondhand embarrassment – than their millennial predecessors. While using the 2010s trend for inspiration, gen-z is set to bring us a less “adorkable”, more mature version of the trend…hopefully without quite so much ukulele playing.


Twee culture is inextricably intertwined with fashion – Peter Pan collars, cardigans, Mary-Janes – and the 2000s style is now considered vintage, at least according to the definition put forth by fashion designer Patricia Dillon, who put the timeline from “new” to “vintage” at around 20 years

We’ve already seen Y2K fashions like low-rise jeans and juicy couture making a comeback, so it makes sense that twee fashion would also find its way back into people’s wardrobes.

But there are other reasons beyond fashion’s cycle of repetition that explain twee’s comeback. Miranda Holder argues that after spending the majority of the pandemic cooped up in loungewear, consumers are seeking fashions that lean toward the feminine, which twee does — with its floral patterns, knitted cardigans and ballet pumps.

It’s also relevant that gen-z, more than previous generations, consider sustainability as something that governs their consumer choices. One of the knock-on effects of this has been a surge in vintage stores, thrift shops, and online marketplaces like Depop.

With the resurgence of twee, so comes its many criticisms — namely, its lack of inclusivity, and its prioritizing of thinness and whiteness. During its heyday, Tumblr was filled with photos of tiny, white women donning the latest twee fashions. But gen-z is already making pleas to make the trend more inclusive this time around.

“I love the fact that twee is resurging but can we pls make it better like not just catered to emaciated white girls <3”

- @fionaaplebottomjeans2, Tiktok

Like with any aesthetic, mass consumption and popularity also led to twee’s ultimate downfall. Once every girl you knew owned that owl necklace, it was all but over for the trend. But today Tiktok is creating “microtrends” – pushing fashion cycles to shorter lengths – making more room for past fads, like twee, to reemerge. So maybe without one trend to rule them all, twee 2.0 can be enjoyed without getting overplayed.


While having a distinct look, twee was also driven by a specific kind of indie-folk music popularized by bands like She & Him and Kimya Dawson, who coincidentally enough became her own TikTok trend as of late. And one thing that underpinned the twee aesthetic in the early aughts, particularly when it came to music, was a real DIY vibe. Bands like Bright Eyes, The Moldy Peaches, The Boy Least Likely To, Noah and the Whale and Laura Marling all found huge success with home-recorded, lo-fi music that often felt charmingly amateurish. And that deliberate amateurishness was another reason the scene thrived. There was a real low barrier to entry for twee, coupled with a child-like innocence and naivety, which made it very accessible and welcoming.

As a trend, tweeness went hand-in-hand with creativity. And TikTok has taken off because of how it fosters creativity, giving rise to niche subcultures and allowing weird and wonderful examples of creative processes to go viral. It’s also gen-z who are revitalizing Tumblr – a site that peaked in 2013 when it was purchased by Yahoo, and had been in decline ever since – seeing in it more opportunities for creativity, as well as associating it with that same retro nostalgia.

During the pandemic, there was a big surge in therapeutic, playful activities like crafting, crochet, and sewing.

In addition to this nostalgic craftiness, lockdown pushed many to seek comfort in the idea of nostalgia itself. In a more metaphorical, deeper sense, gen-z seems to be trying to recapture the feelings of youth, childlike wonder, and whimsy that twee is so good at providing.

And what’s implicit in the twee revival is this pursuit of realness. What’s more “real” and unedited than shooting something on an instant camera? This generation seems to yearn for the days before filters, when the first shot was the only shot – moving away from curation and back towards low-fi. BeReal, the latest social media app to go viral, doesn’t have a twee aesthetic but predicates itself on being as in the moment as possible. Users can post once a day, only during a small window after they’re prompted by the app, and don’t have access to any filters or editing software.

Twee, at its core, has historically vacillated between being too affected at its peak – but also being the ultimate critique of authenticity.

“It kinda plays with that idea of authenticity, it ridicules it, it’s irreverent and it ridicules that idea of being an authentic rockstar.”

- Sentimental Garbage

So when we look at how valuable authenticity is as a currency in today’s culture, for Gen Z, it’s vital that Twee 2.0 is executed in a way that rings true and not as posturing. Bon Iver’s emergence and success was all about how his first album, For Emma, Forever Ago, was written in a period of solitude in a cabin in the woods. Since then, his sound has become far more experimental and less folksy, but based on those roots, his artistic integrity remains respected. Meanwhile, that aesthetic of going back to nature to capture some element of truth has become something of a stock trope others have tried to channel. Justin Timberlake did it on 2018’s Man Of The Woods, citing his Tennessee heritage and collaborating with country musicians to mark a shift from his previous pop sensibilities. More recently, Taylor Swift has fully shifted into her cottagecore era with the pandemic duo of Folklore and Evermore — as well as her appearance on the last Big Red Machine album, itself another Justin Vernon collaboration, and her album Midnights, which too feels like it’s aiming for a minimalistic aesthetic. But what could have kicked things off more than Taylor Swift’s re-release of Red, the soundtrack to her own twee era? Swift, like many other mainstream artists, has also collaborated with Ed Sheeran, whose global superstardom has been built on the back of a very stripped back, very DIY, very twee sound. See also the mid 2010s popularity of bands like Mumford & Sons or The Lumineers. These bands may have come post-twee’s heyday, but still had a huge influence on today’s culture. So arguably for gen-z, twee never really went away. It was always there, going by another name, or woven through the things they were already consuming. Twee 2.0 may just be a matter of crystallizing an aesthetic that’s long been present around us.

“We’re happy, free, confused, and lonely at the same time.”

- Taylor Swift


The biggest difference between old twee and new twee is the fact that now, it really doesn’t feel like it’s being used as a pejorative. What may have felt too sweet or too cutesy just a few years ago now really can be down to earth, charming, and unselfconsciously quirky.

Is it really so shocking, that with the constant cultural and political unrest, the doom and gloom, and uncertain future that gen-z is looking for a little nostalgic joy and whimsy?

“The world’s been broken into pieces and it’s everybody’s job to find them and put them back together again.”

- Nick and Nora’s Infinite Playlist

Twee has always championed curiosity, playfulness, and trying new things —a perfect fit for a generation that seeks originality and embraces eclecticism. So maybe twee’s moment in the sun will be longer this time around, and people will at last be able to wear that term more as a badge of honor.

“I made a story up in my head”

- God Help The Girl