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Fashion trends ebb and flow like the ocean’s tide. However, Tiktok aesthetics — micro-trends usually ending with ‘core’ — can come and go in the blink of an eye. Most of these aesthetics are too niche to make a ripple effect of impact like a traditional fashion trend. That’s not the case with this under-the-sea aesthetic. Mermaidcore has swam against the TikTok core-ification tide with a 736% spike in recent Google searches for “mermaid style,” and Pinterest search data has seen a 614% uptick in searches for “mermaidcore.” There must be something in the water.
Mermaidcore has a number of elements that encompass the oceanic vibe of the moment. The mermaidcore colors range from seafoam green to ultraviolet, the shorter light wavelengths of the color spectrum that penetrate the depths of the dysphotic zone of the ocean. Iridescence and metallic sheen are also part of the mermaidcore color palette that are obviously inspired by mother-of-pearl lining inside shells. If you’ve watched your fair share of David Attenborough-moderated coral reef documentaries or Netflix’s ‘Night on Earth’ series, you know the extraordinary glow of bioluminescence aptly fits the folklore of the aquatic creature.
Under-the-sea symbolism also runs deep in the mermaidcore aesthetic. As Hans Christian Andersen’s “The Little Mermaid” describes the marine life landscape, the sea king’s palace is made of coral, surrounded by mussel shells that open and close with glistening pearls inside. Sea crustaceans, starfish, along with other marine creatures are prevalent figures in the mermaidcore aesthetic.
Mermaid romanticism is another key aspect of mermaidcore; tentacles translate to dangling ruffles, scales become scalloped edges and trims, crochet is figurative of fishing nets, and cascading fins of fabric create the effect of fluidity in motion.
Mermaidcore hair looks come straight from the fairytale, as Andersen emphasizes the long length of the princess mermaid’s hair that blows in the sea-salted air and clothes her naked body outside of ocean, matching the visual of Sandro Botticelli’s ‘Birth of Venus.’ With freshly-soaked, slicked-back elegance or majestic hair waves, the beauty look is completed with mermaidcore-colored makeup and dewy skin that shines under moonlight, when mermaids can swim to the sea’s surface.
As we explore mermaidcore fashion and beauty, it’s important to note that there’s little chance you’ll want to amalgamate all elements of the aesthetic into your daily style. We suggest dipping your toes into varying elements of the ocean deep-sized world of underwater inspiration. That’s the fun of today’s aesthetics; they’re not meant to be taken too seriously. We are discussing mermaids, after all.
Unlike the fable creature’s physical anatomy, the trend has legs to stand on. Ahead, we dive deep into the history of under-the-sea inspiration in designer fashion after the November 1989 box-office debut of Disney’s “The Little Mermaid,” which was a crucial win for Walt Disney Animation Studios, as documented in “Waking Sleeping Beauty.”
In the spirit of upcoming live-action film release of “The Little Mermaid,” in particular, the “Part of Your World” scene where Ariel exemplifies tendencies of a shopaholic with her “gadgets and gizmos a plenty,” we compiled some of our favorite mermaidcore fashion, accessories and beauty products to shop now, a list full of “whozits and whatzits galore.”
Let’s dive in.
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Mermaidcore Aesthetic 2023: Fashion Trend
The sea-inspired aesthetic is here to stay — and the internet is going crazy about its ethereal and romantic allure. On TikTok alone, searches for “mermaidcore,” “mermaidcore aesthetic,” and “mermaid core fashion” have racked up over 15B views in total.
Offline, mermaidcore is just as prevalent, predominantly seen on the recent fashion runways. During many of the spring 2023 shows — from New York and London to Milan and Paris — collections included aquatic-themed elements, providing a full aquamarine fantasy in sartorial splendor. Spring 2023 collections from Blumarine and David Koma were prime examples of this, where body-skimming gowns were complemented with fishtail hems and shell accessories. Other labels like Tom Ford, No.21, and Valentino showed dresses with scale-like maxi sequins drenched in sea-like shades, playing into mermaids’ shine and wet effect. Gabriela Hearst, Khaite, and Simon Miller also nodded to the memermaidcore aesthetic with slinky crochet gowns.
Even celebrities have caught the mermaid fever, with many looking to Ariel’s signature aesthetic and recent runway looks for their red carpet attire. For example, at the 2023 SAG awards, Quinta Brunson donned a fringe gown with seashell detailing, while at the 2023 Golden Globes, Michelle Williams wore a one-shoulder ruffled gown with silver trim. Even at the 2023 Vanity Fair Oscars Party, style stars like Miranda Kerr and Naomi Campbell nailed the mermaidcore fashion look, showing the fun of the aesthetic in festive fabrics like tulle, sequins, and ruffles.
Away from the runways and red carpets, the muted sea-blue hues, ruffles, sparkles, shells, and pearls have made their way to street style. Fashion tastemakers like Rosie Huntington Whiteley and Blake Lively have subtly leaned into the trend, donning seashell necklaces with their everyday wear. Others like Hailey Bieber and Charlize Theron have been spotted fully embracing the trend by borrowing pieces from the runways and making the designer looks their own.
From mild to wild, there’s plenty of mermaidcore fashion on the market to incorporate into your signature style. For some, this may be pairing a starfish motif cocktail dress with a seashell crossbody purse. For others, it may be pairing a sleek and sexy haltered top with baggy jeans or a ruffled skirt. Before we start singing ‘look at this stuff, isn’t it neat,’ keep scrolling to embrace the mermaidcore fashion with style. – N.C.
Mermaidcore Fashion to Shop Now
Pucci Swarovksi Crystal-Embellished Earrings
If you’re familiar with Pucci artistic director Camille Miceli’s work at Louis Vuitton and Dior, then you know she is a master of accessories design. These earrings feature two intertwining fish silhouettes in the shape of a ‘P’ that nods to Pucci’s house emblem. The Swarovski crystals sparkle like the sun glistening on the water’s surface.
J.Crew Starfish Cuff Bracelet
Simply add this Starfish Cuff Bracelet to your wrist for an easy way to add the mermaidcore aesthetic to your look. Wear it with your summer whites to let these starfishes shine.
Whatever sandy beach you find yourself on this summer, Marysia’s vacation-ready dress will help you maximize your out-of-office mindset. This halter neck, seashell-printed frock with ruffle trim is light and airy enough to wear on the hottest summer days for cool style.
Related: Best Summer Dresses
Mermaidcore Aesthetic 2023: Beauty Trend
Iridescent eyelids, pearly nails, wet-looking skin with hair to match — mermaidcore is wading its way into all aspects of beauty. 2020 runways were a harbinger of today’s aquatic beauty trend: Sopping wet hair looks shined at Versace’s 2020 fall show, and Simone Rocha’s fall 2020 collection featured fish bone-inspired braids and flushed, fresh-from-a-bracing-swim makeup looks. More recently, Off-White’s spring 2023 collection showed oceanic spins on classic smokey eyes, done beautifully in blue. Models walked with silver shimmery eyelids at Jil Sander’s spring 2023 collection. And Blumarine’s spring 2023 show was dripping in long, shipwrecked strands, some even dyed cerulean.
Celebrities and tastemakers are also casting their nets for creative mermaid-inspired beauty looks. Take makeup artist Isamaya Ffrench’s work on Rita Ora for the 2022 British Fashion Awards, which included fin-like prosthetics around Ora’s eyes. Hailey Bieber regularly serves below-sea-level beauty with glossy skin and iridescent eyelids. At this year’s Met Gala, Michaela Coel’s glam included dewy skin and a coral-inspired gold hair piece. We’d be remiss to gloss over Kim Kardashian’s 2019 Met Gala beauty look, which included soft, loose curls with a wet sheen. Megan Fox modeled a similar ‘do at the 2021 VMA Awards. That wet hair look was seen on Milan Fashion Week’s fall 2023 street style stars, showing the wearability of the trend.
Mermaidcore beauty doesn’t require a full glam squad — you can easily play up the trend for everyday wear. Mermaid waves are a low-maintenance style for humid summer days, and they’re easy to achieve with the right hair waver and a dry texture spray. Go with glossy skin for daytime a mermaid look; all you need is a hydrating makeup base and highlighter on the high planes of your cheekbones and the inner corners of your eyes. Mermaid’s night out? Be a fish out of water with scintillating eyeshadow, pearl facial gems, and wet, wavy hair. Shop the best mermaidcore beauty products below. – C.S.
Mermaidcore Editor’s Note: Under-the-Sea Inspiration in Designer Fashion
Fashion has a long, rich history with oceanic inspiration. Tracing the origins of coral jewelry will lead you back to ancient Egyptian and Roman times. The mermaid dress silhouette, as we know it today, was designed by Marcel Rochas in the 1930s, but it’s been noted that the style takes its inspiration from the 1880s with the popularity of the cuirass bodice and longer dress trains. Along with Botticelli’s ‘Birth of Venus,’ the Renaissance period brought us enameled gold jewelry in the shape of fish. But let’s scale our mermaid aesthetic deep dive back to the 1990s, shortly after Disney introduced the world to Princess Ariel.
Marine life-inspired jewelry adds a complimentary touch of whimsy to summer fashions and resort wear. Linda Evangelista exemplifies this in a vintage Emilio Pucci ensemble accessorized with Christian Lacroix sea-inspired, rhinestone-adorned, clip-on earrings in American Vogue’s May 1990 issue, photographed by Irving Penn and styled by Carlyne Cerf de Dudzeele during the height of “Puccimania.”
“This photo hasn’t aged at all,” says Evangelista of the iconic look in a 2022 British Vogue video. “I would definitely wear this today. It’s giving you south of France, Capri — I mean, it’s beyond chic.”
In 1949, Emilio Pucci opened his first boutique on the island of Capri, Italy, which makes the inclusion of these reef-inspired Lacroix earrings a fitting tribute to the island’s wondrous coral grotto.
Another fashion brand, Blumarine, beloved by Mermaidcore and Y2K aesthetic fanatics, was also launched in Capri by Anna Molinari and Gianpaolo Tarabini in 1977. The fashion label’s parent company Blufin S.p.A. says the brand’s name, “suggests an open blue horizon: that of the sea, a symbol of infinite journeys and possibilities,” on its Linkedin page.
For a less ostentatious aquatic-inspired ensemble, Azzedine Alaïa’s spring 1990 collection featured belts, sandals, and knit skirt hems with cowrie shell embellishment. “Real shells have never had a sophisticated image — until Azzedine Alaïa plucked them from the sand and set them into his knitwear,” described a full look from the collection featured in American Vogue’s June 1990.
For the spring 1992 collections, maximalist maestro Gianni Versace showcased the ‘wow’ factor of underwater emblems in a bold and beautiful way that would influence a number of future collections, including Donatella Versace’s spring 2018 collection for the Italian fashion house, which coincided with the 20th anniversary of her late brother’s passing. Seashell and starfish prints were applied to swimwear, denim, and silk blouses; thick, gold sea-inspired jewelry topped off eye-puzzling pieces featuring a wild variety of print mixing, including leopard, jail stripes, and baroque prints; and bedazzling seashell designs were applied to mermaid bra tops and bodices.
To contrast the more audacious attire in the collection, palate-cleansing pastel-colored suiting looks were thrown in the mix, paired perfectly with the same seashell-inspired statement necklaces, belts, and bracelets. Donatella Versace would repeat this more restrained mermaidcore aesthetic equation with the brand’s spring 2005 and spring 2012 collections, further cementing oceanic influences in the house’s DNA.
Pastel colors might only be a part of the mermaidcore aesthetic color spectrum, but back in the early 1990s, the pretty palette reigned supreme. Chanel’s collections highlighted the pastel rainbow in collections from spring 1992 to spring 1995, often referred to as the ‘Barbie’ collection, which would become one of the most memorable and impactful Chanel collections of Karl Lagerfeld’s reign at the French fashion house.
Vanity Fair’s August 1994 issue cover story featuring Cindy Crawford, photographed by Herb Ritts, would combine two of today’s most popular style aesthetics: mermaidcore and ‘Barbiecore‘. On the cover, Crawford is a modern vision of Botticelli’s Venus, sitting in a body of azure blue water against a large clam shell, with an accompanying swimwear fashion story inside the magazine. The supermodel dons itty-bitty bikinis and high-cut one-piece swimsuits, along with an iridescent pink button-down top tied in a knot under her bust. The most hauntingly beautiful image in the story shows Crawford underwater in the nude, her body intertwined with strings of pearls that veil the aqua water backdrop — she is Venus, and the world is her oyster.
On the topic of Botticelli’s masterpiece, we couldn’t forget Thierry Mugler’s fall 1995 haute couture clam-inspired dress modeled by Simonetta Gianfelici, the same one worn by rapper Cardi B in 2019 to the Grammy awards. Most recently on display at the Brooklyn Museum for a retrospective of the late designer’s work called ‘Thierry Mugler: Couturissime,’ the show-stopping dress features a pink satin lining to mimic the interior of a clam shell, along with a body-hugging, scale-like sequin bodice with pearl detailing. High fashion meets the high seas.
Pastel mermaidcore colors continue to make their way into more fashion collections in the years that follow. Marc Jacob’s Spring 2008 collection was inspired by the work of celebrated artist Richard Prince, but Vogue’s Sarah Mower described the iridescent colors in the show as “garish Spongebob pastels,” and the connection makes sense when you watch Jacobs’ finale walk, television bag in hand with graphic images from the popular cartoon show. A quick flip through the Guggenheim Museum’s 2007 “Richard Prince” book — that was released in tandem with the museum’s ‘Richard Prince: Spiritual America’ retrospective of the artist — shows similar hues Prince’s works that colored Jacobs’ designs, like the artist’s Hoods collection, which features very mermaidcore-appropriate colors like Hugger Orange, Grass Green, and Plum Crazy. Vogue France’s February 2008 issue, photographed by Mario Testino, featured Naomi Campbell and Kate Moss in matching mermaidcore-colored, glittery lurex dresses from the collection.
Technological advances in fashion design would bring a sea change to under-the-sea-inspired fashion designs in the 2010s. Digitally-printed dresses made a splash at Alexander McQueen’s revered spring 2010 collection named ‘Plato’s Atlantis.’ In Style.com’s video recap of the collection, Grazia’s Paula Reed says, “Trying to figure out how on earth those prints came together — they’re all made of one piece. But really, that is a piece you can almost put on a mannequin, have it stand in your room and let people walk around and admire it.” This triumphant collection was the first fashion runway show to be livestreamed on the internet via Nick Knight’s SHOWstudio.com. Dutch designer Iris van Harpen also worked with 3D-printing to create futuristic fashion at this time. The designer’s namesake label has been associated with mermaidcore from the mermaid aesthetic’s beginnings, referencing both the ‘Sensory Seas’ spring 2020 collection and the ‘tentacles dress’ from the spring 2021 collection, which was made from recycled plastics, courtesy of Parley for the Oceans.
That same season, Proenza Schouler’s fin-flipping-fabulous collection took inspiration from marine life and gave it a twist of downtown edge. In Vogue’s video recap of the collection, Tim Blanks — who dubs the designs as “exotic aquatic” — interviews journalist Susie Lau (also known as Susie Bubble) who says, “that kind of mermaid-esque surfer vibe, those prints — it’s actually exactly what I would want to wear during the summer.” Iridescent tank dresses and tropical fish-printed pieces with feather trims were paired with shark fin-inspired gladiator sandals. The collection was not only aspirational, but very wearable.
The Spring 2010 oceanic fashion collections became part of the inspiration for the 2010s ‘seapunk’ trend, a Tumblr-originated aquatic spin on cyberpunk subculture. Seapunk was a darker take on the underwater aesthetic by contrast to the bubbly oceanic trend of the 1990s.
Plenty of other designs from the decade incorporated inspiration from sea life, including pieces in Dior’s spring 2011 collection, along with looks in Fausto Puglisi and Emilio Pucci’s spring 2016 collections. But Chanel’s spring 2012 collection merits a special call out.
Emerging from a pearly white seashell, surrounded by a grand Zaha Hadid-designed set of coral- and seashell-inspired white sculptures, Florence Welch sang “What the Water Gave Me” as Chanel-clad models paraded through the Grand Palais with conch and coral purses in ethereal mother-of-pearl and pastel fashions. Coincidentally, as previously noted, this is the same season that Versace also returned to the waters of oceanic inspiration.
As the late oceanographer Jacques Cousteau once said, “The sea, once it casts its spell, holds one in its net of wonder forever.” Our fascination with the marine universe is not the work of a sea witch. For an eye-sparkling gaze at the abundance of coral reef beauty, the thrilling mystery of unexplored ocean depths, and the wave of water’s serenity will always be a dreamer’s inspiration — to be part of that world. – A.M.
How We Researched and Selected Products from the Mermaidcore Trend
Since 1910, WWD — often referred to as “the fashion bible” — has been the leading industry voice of authority for senior executives in the global women’s and men’s fashion, retail and beauty communities, while also informing the consumer media that cover the market. Today, WWD’s breaking news and trend coverage continues to be a trustworthy resource for both fashion insiders and consumers alike. Our shopping editors continue to uphold WWD’s editorial standards and values with quality, expert-backed product selections.
Mermaidcore might only last as long as the popularity of any Tiktok video, but the luxury fashion and accessories highlighted transcend the micro impact of a social media aesthetic. To emphasize this, Adam Mansuroglu dug deep into WWD archival images and other runway references to connect past designer fashions to the Mermaid aesthetic. Mansuroglu also used his own personal knowledge of trends as a fashion editor during the height of the seapunk movement. Proenza Schouler’s spring 2010 oceanic-inspired collection remains one of his favorites from the label to this day.
Claire Sullivan and Nikki Chwatt, along with Mansuroglu, researched statistics related to the mermaidcore aesthetic, along with days of market research to finalize this list of the best mermaidcore fashion and beauty products.
Meet the Authors
Adam Mansuroglu is the Director of Commerce for WWD and Footwear News, top editing and writing shopping content for both sites. The Brooklyn-native has written and edited countless fashion stories for publications such as Cosmopolitan, Men’s Health, Out Magazine and more for over 12 years. Mansuroglu loves researching the history of fashion and beauty trends, which helped him to outline the inspiration behind the mermaidcore aesthetic. In his spare time, Mansuroglu has watched several documentaries on oceanic wildlife and coral reefs, which was useful for writing this story.
Claire Sullivan is the Senior Beauty and Lifestyle Commerce Editor for Footwear News and WWD, where she writes and edits beauty, fashion and lifestyle stories. She has over six years of experience as a writer and editor for national media outlets including Martha Stewart Living, Martha Stewart Weddings, InStyle, and Byrdie. She keeps her finger on the pulse of all things related to beauty and wellness, as well as the latest shopping trends and clothing brands. For this story, Sullivan researched beauty looks from recent runways and combed through the hundreds of products to narrow down the list of the best mermaidcore beauty products to try.
Nikki Chwatt is the Style Commerce Editor for Footwear News and WWD, where she writes and edits stories on the latest clothing and shoe trends (like the rising sheer clothing trend). She is at the forefront of all consumer trends with a keen eye for the latest, greatest, and classics of what people wear, buy, and love. Additionally, she always keeps up with celebrity and influencer styles, whether on the streets, the runways, or the red carpets, so she can forecast trends and share them with readers.