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Splash out: everything you need to know about mermaidcore

The sequins! The shimmer! The shells! Polly Vernon on how to wear this year’s most fun dress code

6 April 2023

What kick-started mermaidcore? That depends on who you ask. The fashion trend a New York department store buyer once described as “looking like the dress code for a party under the sea” (though I’d go with “if Studio 54 did a swimwear line”) might be a consequence of post-Covid maximalism, a flat-out rejection of the tracksuit, and the shapeless, fleece-lined, scary drab time it denoted. 

Or it could be a related tribute to our being able to travel once again – across seas, into beach clubs, on snorkelling expeditions and so on. It might be the natural successor to Barbiecore, i.e. our latest group effort to feed social media’s voracious appetite for the ultra-bright, cartoony kitsch, camply outrageous super-feminine – really anything that stands out from the rest on the Main Page. It might also be a response to the resurgence of 1990s minimalism – and the blazers and cobweb knits, sober low-neck ponytails and 50 shades of greige that entails. Or it might just be a bit of a laugh, a silly, flamboyant, showy, glamorous, joyful fashion explosion. Heaven knows, we need that kind of thing, now more than ever.

Regardless of where it originated, mermaidcore is about to peak. This year’s celebrations for the 100th anniversary of Disney will result in many of us dressing more like cartoon characters than we have at any other juncture; we’ll be wallowing so deep in Walt’s aesthetic, it just must seep into our everyday lives and everyday looks (see TikTok and MSCHF’s #bigredboot moment for evidence). 

On top of which, the release this May of the live-action version of The Little Mermaid, starring Halle Bailey as Ariel, will ramp up the imperative for paillettes and sparkles, sequins layered like scales, skirts so fitted and so maxi they could definitely pass as tails, to an unprecedented potency. 

There will be long, long, beachy-waved centre-parted hair dos, the wafting mid-lengths of which will be anchored into place with bejewelled hair clips. Gold tendril earrings and extravagant strings of pearls will contribute to the sense you’ve accessorised by plunging yourself headfirst into a trunk of buried treasure. There will be eye makeup so luscious and outré, it will make you think of suns setting on distant oceanic horizons. Pearlescent nail polish, highlighter across your brow bone, bikini tops as daywear, crochet at all opportunities, and so on, and so forth…

Where to start? You could certainly do worse than Gucci’s sequin-embellished knit sets, which combine a sea-green colourway with sequins and an undulating chevron – the design equivalent of gentle waves. The gleam on Dolce & Gabbana’s mother-of-pearl-inspired Sicily box bag makes you think it actually could have been made by a mermaid – an entrepreneurial, fashion-forward one, who’s always got a side hustle on the go. Rixo’s lilac abstract shell-print Liza dress is the kind of thing a mermaid might throw over herself for a casual dinner at Le Club 55 in St Tropez, and while she might think it a bit on the nose and try-hard to combine with the label’s Isolde golden coin belt, you – not being a mermaid – could definitely get away with it. Natasha Zinko at Harvey Nichols’ frayed woven bra top is as close as you can get to wearing a bikini made of shells without looking like you’ve gone rogue from a fancy-dress party (this being the fine line you have to walk when cartoon-dressing for real life).

Rotate Birger Christensen at Harvey Nichols’ midi-skirt co-ord says ‘Business Mermaid’, while Prada’s sparkly T-shirt and skirt duo says ‘Mermaid Who Brunches’ or perhaps ‘Mermaid Whose Career as an Instagram Influencer Is About to Go Off’. While not explicitly themed, Hayley Menzies’ zig-zag bouclé twisted bandeau sundress channels subtle, yet undeniable fantastical sea-creature-babe energy, as does Missoni at Harvey Nichols’ striped dress and Dolce & Gabbana’s sequined bra. 

And anyone in the market for the teeniest hint of mermaidcore with which to elevate their otherwise standard non-mermaidy uniform of jeans and a blazer should investigate Anabela Chan’s Paraiba Poseidon earrings, Kiki McDonough’s sea-foam-inspired Bubbles ring, and Cassandra Goad’s shell earrings. See also, Fendi’s sequined slingbacks or Chanel’s ballerinas, which fasten with a string of pearls, because, of course, they do. 

Polly Vernon is a features writer, author and columnist. She has contributed to The Times, The Observer, The Guardian, Grazia and more. Her debut book Hot Feminist was released in 2015
Gucci chevron wool and sequin sweater, £2,100
Dolce & Gabbana Sicily acrylic bag, £5,200 
Rixo Liza dress, £325
Rixo Isolde gold chain belt, £180  
Natasha Zinko at Harvey Nichols bra top, £365 
Rotate Birger Christensen at Harvey Nichols top, £195
Rotate Birger Christensen at Harvey Nichols skirt, £185
Prada sparkly top, £1,600; skirt, £POA 
Hayley Menzies dress, £330 
Missoni at Harvey Nichols dress, £1,030
Dolce & Gabbana bra, £675
Anabela Chan Paraiba Poseidon earrings, £2,390 
Fendi slingbacks, £920
Chanel ballerinas, £1,170 

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