How to spot a millennial? You can tell by the length of our socks | Zing Tsjeng

todayNovember 7, 2023 7

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Open your sock drawer. Go on, take a look. Tell me: what kind of socks do you have? If your response is “ankle socks”, then I have bad news for you: you are an avocado-eating, flat-white-sipping, no-home-owning millennial. But if you would rather die than expose your ankles to the wind, congrats: you are a long-sock-wearing member of gen Z.

At least, that is the theory espoused by the podcast host Phoebe Parsons, whose TikTok on the subject has been watched 1.7m times. “This is exactly how you can tell the difference between a millennial and a gen Z just by looking at their feet,” Parsons says in the clip, before proudly holding her ankle-socked foot up to the camera and declaring: “I’m a millennial.” Her video ushers the humble sock into the ranks of style choices that are, apparently, dead giveaways for distinguishing members of one generation from another – or, as I like to call them, “millennial tells”.

Previous inductees to this hall of fame include side partings (very millennial, apparently), skinny jeans (a true zoomer will evaporate the second their calves make contact with skin-tight denim), a French tuck (popularised by Tan France of Queer Eye, the most earnestly millennial of TV makeover shows) and high-waisted trousers (people in their early 20s don’t bloat, clearly). Call it the narcissism of small differences: both parties get to feel righteously affirmed or offended, depending on which side of the divide they fall.

These differences are rarely set in stone. As commenters on Parsons’ video have pointed out, lots of millennials grew up wearing socks hiked up to their calves, while many – I am speaking personally here – gave up on ankle socks altogether once they realised that they were most likely to get eaten by the washing machine.

Still, there is a logic to revisiting the hated clothes of your youth. I came of age in the 2000s, a decade that was hellbent on brainwashing girls into thinking they had to starve themselves in order to be remotely stylish. Miniskirts were out if you were anything past a size 8. Instead, we were advised by the likes of Trinny and Susannah to minimise our bodies, as if the sight of all that flesh would incinerate the public’s eyeballs; to avoid spaghetti straps if you had big arms; to eschew Lycra at all costs (Trinny and Susannah were silent on the subject of what to wear for exercise); and, when in doubt, to put on a stomach-flattening cinch belt.

Gen Z has thrown all of that out the window. For people of a certain age, scrolling Instagram and TikTok these days is akin to being haunted by the ghosts of all the unflattering clothes you ditched at 19, including bolero shrugs, legwarmers, tight babydoll tops and Britney-Spears-style baker boy caps – sometimes worn all at the same time.

But while many millennial style quirks are just that, it’s clear that some of them stem from us being told to dress in a certain way to accommodate our so-called flaws. I remember one hairdresser in the 00s telling me that a centre parting would only make my face look wider and a girl at school arguing passionately with a teacher that ankle socks, despite being against uniform rules, had a slimming effect on her legs.

The common argument that most millennials mount for still hewing to these fashion choices is that we just look better that way. But beauty, after all, is in the eye of the beholder – and how much of our understanding of what looks good was forged in the size 0 era? At a music festival in Berlin this summer, I saw people of all sizes and genders with their bellies and butts out in thongs and low-slung trousers. For someone who grew up ashamed to have even a hint of VPL, it all felt strangely affirming. And, yes, before you ask – much to the dismay of my fellow millennials, I was wearing long socks.

Zing Tsjeng is an author and freelance journalist

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Written by: Soft FM Radio Staff

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