The nostalgic summer trend dates at least as far back as late April, but really picked up steam in May—particularly at the end of the month, based on Google Trends data. Described as an offshoot of established aesthetics like Avant basic and Y2K, the movement incorporates floral and tropical prints, crochet details, stick-on body gems and puka shell jewelry. Brands associated with the pastel-heavy trend include names like Roxy and Billabong—both of which offer a substantial surf selection—as well as 90s standards like dELiA*s.
“Gen Z’s obsession with thrifting and creating their own second-hand hustles on apps like Depop is playing a huge role in reviving nostalgic trends,” Carrera Kurnik, Fashion Snoops’ director of culture and consumer insights, said. “For a generation concerned with sustainability and green ethics, Gen Z is reviving nostalgic trends to fight fast fashion.”
The coconut girl trend rose to popularity on Gen Z’s social media home, TikTok. The #coconutgirl tag has racked up more than 39 million views—a number which includes at least some posts unrelated to the fashion trend. The more specific, but less widely used, #coconutgirlaesthetic tag has garnered 7.2 million views.
This online interest appears to be translating into real demand. According to the fashion shopping platform Lyst, searches for hibiscus-print tops have risen 22 percent month-on-month. Demand for Hawaiian shirts, meanwhile, is currently up 37 percent. Searches for Roxy and Billabong’s swimsuits are up 28 percent and 15 percent, respectively. Looking at colors, Lyst said, pastels are trending, with pink, blue and yellow leading the way.
Though it observed some variation between Europe and the U.S., the AI-driven fashion trend forecasting firm Heuritech found the coconut girl aesthetic to be generally similarly relevant in the two regions. The popularity of exotic floral prints, for example, is up 5 percent in Europe and 4 percent in the U.S. in Summer 2021 versus Summer 2020. Miniskirts are up 10 percent in both regions. Thong sandals, however, have seen greater growth in the U.S. than Europe, with popularity up 21 percent and 1 percent, respectively.
The rise of the coconut girl aesthetic coincided with a year-over-year increase in related arrivals last month. According to the retail market intelligence platform Edited, new Hawaiian/floral shirt arrivals increased 56 percent year-over-year in May. Pastel apparel climbed 92 percent over the same period. Products that straddle the coconut girl look and Gen Z’s penchant for Y2K dressing saw particular growth, with halter tops up 268 percent, butterfly motif apparel up 134 percent and terry cloth/toweling up 103 percent. New puka shell jewelry styles climbed 147 percent.
Like Lyst, Edited reported good news for Roxy and Billabong—as well as Australian surf brands Quiksilver and Rip Curl. According to its data, there’s been a 6 percent increase in U.S. retailers stocking products from the four brands. Kayla Marci, a market analyst with Edited, likened their growing “cult status” among younger consumers to the revival that skate brands have seen amid the streetwear boom.
Gen Z, TikTok and the rapid-fire trend cycle
TikTok has been the breeding ground for a range of niche fashion trends, from “dark academia” to cottagecore to, now, the coconut girl aesthetic. Kurnik attributed the social media platform’s power over the current trend cycle to users’ “ability to create captivating aesthetic mood boards.”
“Under the ‘coconut girl’ hashtag you will find many users setting slide show images to dreamy tropical songs, some even providing their own aesthetic analysis via voice-over,” Kurnik said. “It’s the kind of creative functionality and communal discourse you just can’t get from Instagram and Facebook.”
If retailers and brands can act quickly enough, Marci said, they can benefit from keeping a keen eye on the popular platform. “Gen Z are the ultimate tastemakers and TikTok gives retailers real-time insight into the wants and needs of this sought-after consumer group, which has warped the traditional funnel of how influential fashion trends are realized,” she said.
But whatever brands and styles manage to enjoy their time in the sun thanks to the current craze should not necessarily expect it to last for long. Kurnik estimated the coconut girl trend, “like so many TikTok trends in the current warp-speed fashion cycle,” will last a couple of months before people get sick of it and move on.
Though Kurnik said TikTok is “most definitely contributing to shorter trend cycles,” she also noted that Gen Z is working to mitigate the waste associated with fast fashion by prioritizing thrifting.
Marci too noted the younger generation’s habit of eschewing fast fashion. While she conceded that it is increasingly “essential for retailers to be hyper-reactive” to the subcultures forming on the app, she said that doesn’t require encouraging overconsumption.
“Many TikTok users promote ‘shop your own closet’ to create the latest aesthetic with already-owned items,” Marci said. “Retailers can follow suit and advertise items already in stock to curate the hottest TikTok look.”