You can’t walk into a shop today without spotting glitter, holographic prints and T-shirts emblazoned with the word ‘Unicorn’. Instagram feeds are an endless stream of mermaid this or witch that and if you went to a festival this year and didn’t cover yourself in pink sparkles and crazy colours you’d have looked like a plain ol’ ham sandwich in a sea of Sainsbury’s 'Taste the Difference' ham hock – yup, boring af.
Our new obsession with fantasy, glitter and pastels is, on the face of it, fun- because who didn’t want to try Starbucks' new Unicorn Frappuccino? But you’ve got to admit there is something unnerving about a fully grown woman holding a mobile in a unicorn phone case scrolling through a social media feed of all the latest child-like trends.
So why have these trends taken off?
From multi-coloured bagels to Valentino unicorn bomber jackets, the trend has truly taken over. Speaking with online mag, Byrdie, Paul Buckley, a marketing/consumer psychologist has one explanation. He says that if you have a stressful day in the office, meeting deadlines, spending hours on phones and grown-upping your day away, it can be nice to escape at the end of it all. Buckley said, ‘people will sometimes regress back to an easier time when they are stressed. These products are similar to those that were available when you were a child,’ adding, ‘the bright, fun, colours simply add to the fantasy escape element.’
And while it’s true that getting nostalgic over the My Little Ponies of yesteryear may offer some comfort, it’s hard to shake the feeling that there is something more sinister about using fantasy-type products and mythical creatures to escape reality.
A product (choice) of our times?
A recent Metro article latched on to the childishness of these trends and cast a damning review. ‘The unicorn trend is infantilising us all and it needs to die’ screamed the headline. And it’s true that while millennial professionals may sit around in offices drinking out of glittery magic-themed cups and eating multi coloured cereal, the thought of anyone from an older generation doing the same thing is laughable.
So what changed? We all know that thanks to rising house prices and wages that haven’t increased with inflation, most millenials are unlikely to afford a home of their own in a hurry. So maybe this delay in grown-up responsibilities (houses, marriage and kids) has caused us to attach ourselves to childish fantasies when it comes to consumer choices too. Or perhaps there is something even more sinister at play.
Fantasy as a coping strategy?
If you caught the recent documentary about millennial witches on BBC iPlayer or one featuring London’s ‘hedonistic polyamorous unicorns’ on Vice, you’ll know that the magical trend is one that isn’t just limited to our choice of nail polish and t-shirts but has the power to become all-consuming. In the latter, a charismatic ex-alcoholic named Shaft realises that he actually identifies as a unicorn. So together with a group of like-minded Londoners he creates a movement with a mission to spread free love.
While this sounds like a group of eccentric people having a merry old innocent time being a little bit weirder than most of us, underpinning it all are some deep-rooted personal problems. ‘When I gave up booze I became a shadow of myself,’ finally admitted head-unicorn, Shaft, ‘I’m having to find really weird things to do, just to connect with myself.’
Whether it stems from a need to belong to a group or as coping strategies to deal with the difficulties of daily life, there seems to be a message behind all of this magic. Why has it become so easy for companies to capitalize on crazy and is there something deeper at play here?
In no way am I calling for this form of escapism to come to an end. Admittedly, the thought of using a unicorn emoji makes me shudder. But don’t I binge watch shows like Game of Thrones and Peaky Blinders and spend hours afterwards mulling over the characters, the story line and in some way escaping into their world? The stresses of modern day life can be overwhelming at times so if you find a way to combat that then kudos to you. But let’s question the societal problems that could be behind the unicorn uniform before we dive head first into our pastel coloured, glitter ice cream while cotton candy pop music plays overhead.