The late ’90s and early ’00s cartoons had most of us in a chokehold when we were kids. At some point, our wildest dreams involved stepping into the world of the most iconic cartoon shows and befriending our favorite 2D characters. I mean, let’s be real: Who didn’t dream of joining the Bratz squad? Or having a dramatic and magical transformation like Sailor Moon? Some probably even wanted to wake up in Bikini Bottom and discover the secret Krabby Patty formula because Plankton was taking too long to find it himself.
But it was all fun and games until we had to face our greatest enemy: growing up. Society expected (and practically forced) us to outgrow these “childish” things and replace them with more “mature” interests. And so before we knew it, cartoons were inevitably reduced from being our main source of happiness to a mere bittersweet reminder of the simpler times.
[Cartooncore] is essentially a subcategory of Y2K fashion that draws inspiration from legendary cartoon characters—with designs that are both nostalgic and fashion-forward.
The fashion scene, however, has seemingly found a way to revive our childhood pipe dreams. Enter “cartooncore” aesthetic, a.k.a. the latest trend that’s taking over runways, streets, and social media. While we can’t exactly transport ourselves into the 2D realm, this emerging style can bring the whimsical charm of cartoons (and inject some childhood fun) into our OOTDs. It’s essentially a subcategory of Y2K fashion that draws inspiration from legendary cartoon characters—with designs that are both nostalgic and fashion-forward. It plays around with bold prints, bright colors, frisky silhouettes, and exaggerated proportions.
Now, you might be thinking: “Isn’t this just cosplay?” Well, not quite. While both cosplay and cartooncore incorporate elements of a fictional character into an outfit, there are some distinct differences between the two. Cosplaying usually requires a person to create a spot-on representation of a specific character, while cartooncore is more about channeling their overall vibe. It’s more like taking the essence of our favorite cartoon and translating it into our personal style rather than trying to become a carbon copy.
Cartooncore isn’t limited to a particular style either—it’s versatile enough to match with grunge, preppy, and even streetwear. Whether you deliberately want to look like a cartoon character or just add some playful and nostalgic energy to your wardrobe, here are some of the fashion brands that are currently setting the trend.
MSCHF’s Big Red Boots
If you’re an avid viewer of the 2003 animated series that follows a robotic replica of a scientist’s deceased son, owning a pair of these Big Red Boots by MSCHF (the art collective behind the controversial Lil Nas X’s Satan Shoes) can make you feel like a part of the futuristic world of “Astro Boy.” These boots are a perfect balance of edgy and carefree with their striking red color and hyper-chunky silhouette, adding a pop of anime-inspired fun to any outfit. While a pair can’t fly you to space or save the world from evil robots, Big Red Boots can help you run some errands in the most fashionable way. (Just like how Andrea Brillantes styled them with a white body-fit crop top, a denim skirt, and a red baguette bag for a casual day out.)
Loewe’s FW23 women’s collection
Although not explicitly confirmed, it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to see how Spanish luxury fashion house Loewe subtly drew inspiration from the compact world of Polly Pocket for its Fall-Winter 2023 women’s collection. The collection features a pleated skirt, a couple of crop tops, and a dress made from rigid pastel-colored leather material—which are all reminiscent of the miniature doll.
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Bonus: Miu Miu also launched a few pieces that could pass as Polly Pocket ’fits (if Polly has already entered her “mature” era, that is).
Jimmy Choo’s exclusive collaboration with Sailor Moon
We’re not sure if Jimmy Choo’s creative director Sandy Choi or anyone from the brand is a “Pretty Guardian Sailor Moon” enjoyer (honestly, though, who isn’t?)—but one thing’s for sure: Its exclusive collaboration with the iconic anime series is a match made in (cartooncore) heaven. It’s a dazzling capsule collection of shoes and bags with celestial-inspired embellishments and designs, paying homage to the Sailor guardians of the solar system many of us grew up with. These pieces can add some magic to your outfit, regardless if you’re fighting evil in your daydreams or just casually strutting the streets.
“Being able to work so closely with Naoko Takeuchi (author of ‘Sailor Moon’) has been so inspiring. This collaboration underscores our shared values, not just of female empowerment, but [of] fashion’s ability to inspire inclusivity and individuality through personality and self-belief,” wrote Choi on the brand’s website.
GCDS x Spongebob collection
Now, if you’re aiming for a more casual look, you might want to check out the recent collaboration between Italian fashion line GCDS and the ’90s kids’ fave Bikini Bottom residents SpongeBob SquarePants and Patrick Star. From crewneck sweaters and tees to dresses and swimsuits, this collab brings some childhood nostalgia to ready-to-wear clothing that even singer-songwriter Dua Lipa couldn’t resist.
You can rock a Patrick Star knitted cardigan or a bright yellow bikini with SpongeBob’s face on it, or even don a flowy SpongeBob embroidered dress. It truly is a must-have for any SpongeBob fan looking to express their love for the show as a fully grown adult. (Although it would’ve been *the* perfect collection if the brand included every Gen Z-er’s role model Squidward Tentacles.)
The rise of cartooncore further exemplifies that fashion has the power to bring even the most unexpected things back into the limelight. But we’d like to believe that this isn’t just a passing trend, but a movement toward a cultural shift. It’s a way to reclaim the playful and carefree spirit of our youth—something that we left behind in pursuit of “maturity.” After all, isn’t fashion supposed to be a form of self-expression and a reflection of our authenticity?
Photos from the official sites of GCDS, Jimmy Choo, and Loewe