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Kim Kardashian in her 'I Love Nerds' t-shirt
Courtesy of Getty Images, Allen Berezovsky/Stringer

Has the nerd overtaken the bimbo as fashion’s main protagonist?

From Kim Kardashian to Miu Miu and Loewe, culture is repositioning the dweeb as a newfound figure of aspiration

Since cutting ties with Balenciaga and Kanye West, Kim Kardashian has failed to settle on a consistent aesthetic capable of redefining her personal brand. It’s a psychic break that has seemingly expressed itself through slogan t-shirts (Björk and Disney and NBA merch) as she attempts to shed her once-spandexed skin. That reached a bizarre apex earlier this week when she attended a Lakers game with the words “I LOVE NERDS” brandished across her chest. Kim would probably perish at the sight of a real-life geek, but the phrase seemed to acknowledge a shift in fashion that has repositioned asocial virgins as newfound figures of aspiration. That means cardigans, shapeless skirts, and off-hue tights somehow feel more relevant than the babetastic looks central to the Y2K revival. Not that Kim is likely to reposition herself as an outright dweeb, though. After all, their principal aim is to shrink and flinch from the spotlight. 

As fashion publications waxed lyrical about “the return of clothing” and “the shock of wearable clothes”, the nu-nerd rose up: galumphing onto the AW23 catwalks in sturdy brogues and knee-length skirts. Models’ hair was left unbrushed at Miu Miu and their spindly legs were exposed beneath outsized cardigans at Loewe (not to mention the 8-bit gamer hoodies of SS22), while Molly Goddard put them in old-fashioned Fair Isle knits and stolid velvet dresses. Talia Byre and Maison Margiela rearranged sensible blouses into awkward drapes, as Jezabelle Cormio and Kiko Kostadinov took to gymnasiums to spill their own gawkish coming-of-age fantasies onto the newsfeed. In 2023, the dork is less cartoonified than when Marc Jacobs did it in the 90s, and there are less faux specs and mustachioed fingers than there were on hipster Tumblr, but the nerd is nonetheless present… hiding in plain sight and plain-er clothing. 

Fashion culture itself is also experiencing a moment of geekdom, with the pop-critic already a major protagonist on certain corners of the internet: be that Rayne Fisher-Quann, the Nymphet Alumni girls, or Rian Phin – each one using video essays, Substack, and Patreon podcasts to encourage people to think about fashion, or fashion-adjacent things, as a cultural pursuit worthy of detailed analysis. While digital media continues to saturate the newsfeed with breathless trend-labelling (and not enough criticism) an emergent group of chin-strokers are providing depth, reading lists, and references. Phin, for example, connects the emergence of “dweeb couture” to a desire to maintain distinction from the internet’s hyper-aestheticised cores. Hence all the mundane clothing rendered in ‘take me seriously’ shades of brown, ochre, and mustard. 

Beneath all of this, however, is an obvious attempt to stand out as cool – these people would baulk at the gruelling lifestyle obligations associated with being a World of Warcraft fanatic who works in CeX. There’s also an unlikely eroticism that collects around all those matronly skirts, marmalade cardigans, and polka dot blouses: items which have emerged at Miu Miu and Prada in all kinds of post-coital creases. Despite the goofball-coded looks, those collections huffed and puffed with a strange kind of desire. Big knickers figured beneath come-hither slips, and shirts were haphazardly stuffed into sheer tights as if models had been speed-dating at a Lego convention. After all, “ugly is attractive, ugly is exciting”, and there’s a jolt of eroticism that occurs when those two things overlap – which means the nu-nerd is less Napoleon Dynamite, and more Parker Posey starring as an NYC club girl-turned-librarian in 1995’s Party Girl

Even Kim’s t-shirt – which had been slashed at the nape and cropped at the waist – seemed to draw on culture’s fascination with the hot dork. The same goes for Julia Fox, who was pictured this week in a curvaceous bodycon crafted from the wideset ties once beloved by ICT teachers. Perhaps all those people who were arguing about whether it’s possible to be attractive *and* academic should look to Fox (the author) and Kim (the lawyer) for evidence of compatibility. At least part of the attraction that comes from dressing like a nerd is because it expresses fatigue with the bimbo, that 00s emblem which people have tried to reclaim as a subversive trope. As liberating as it can be to present yourself as a smooth-brained – but secretly smart! – person, The Simple Life archetype has been reproduced to such an extent that it no longer feels as fun. 

While the scantily-clad bimbo may have felt provocative in the noughties, she’s now a mascot for low-hanging Instagram accounts like @shesvague and @bitchbewithyou. The nerd, on the other hand, has no desire to be seen as mainstream and so looks for a trend-averse wardrobe that places anonymity and practicality over an algorithmic construction of coolness. Just as the hipster emerged as a retaliation to whitebread consumerism (and ultimately became a lifestyle category in itself) things get complicated when anti-aesthetics become the norm. The hipster became “basic” and the nerd will no doubt become “mid”.  True nerds, after all, are only ever on-trend because they have done so accidentally – not because they have knowingly curated a wardrobe of austere basics. Perhaps the nerdiest thing to do would be to not think about clothes whatsoever, or be like Kim Kardashian, and actively try a little too hard.