Girlhood is both elusive and specific. It can be captured in precise moments of innocence—skinned knees; swirling notebook doodles; flavoured lipgloss—but it simultaneously exists as a vague sheen of nostalgia. Girlhood is fleeting; you often don’t realize you’re experiencing it until it’s over. But while fading into a distant memory, it inexplicably lives on in symbols and tokens of memorabilia. Such is the case with one of the upcoming fall-winter season’s biggest trends: bows.

Associated with babydoll cutesiness, schoolgirl tropes, and playing dress up, bows are a cultural signifier of girlhood. As with many items of that ilk, they’re generally deemed unnecessary and frivolous. But across the runways of fashion month, they emerged as a style staple, from the streets to the runways. On the Fall-Winter 2023 runways, they were used as gargantuan focal points at Balmain, and fun-sized embellishments at Aniye Records. They even made their way into beauty routines. Simone Rocha introduced bows as a stand-in for makeup and Sandy Liang offered a new look for ribbons by scattering them in models’ hair. On the Spring-Summer 2023 runways, They were worn in lieu of pants at Valentino. It appears fashion has entered a flirtationship with the humble bow and all its girlish associations.


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Donning a neatly tied ribbon — whether it’s thoughtfully weaved into the end of a braid or worn in place of a necklace — is kind of like communicating covert girl code. Because they’re unneeded embellishments, wearing one implies relishing in daydreams. “For Jacqueline Zhang, co-founder of cult-favourite brand, Nana Jacqueline, that’s kind of the point. “Girlhood, to me, means a fairytale story,” she explains. Zhang employs a decidedly romantic aesthetic that draws inspiration from that very dreaminess.”

With a signature palette of glittery pastels, pink hues and ethereal silhouettes, the Los Angeles-based label is rooted in youthful imagination. “Characters from movies I love from growing up are a main source of inspiration for the [Spring 2023] collection,” Zhang says, adding that she’s always been drawn to stories about royal princesses. As such, the line is appropriately peppered with bows, from gauzy iterations on pointed-toed pumps to extra large satiny blouse adornments. “Costume elements from ballerinas [and] Disney characters always appear in the pieces,” she continues. The brand’s skillful combination of fanciful girlhood with mature womanhood has caught the eye of stars like Hailey Bieber and Ariana Grande.

Nana Jacqueline

Though they are undergoing renewed wearability, fashion bows are, of course, nothing new. Reportedly dating back to ancient times, the bow has gone on to hold wide-ranging symbolism for all genders. But its distinct association with saccharine girlishness is one of the most prevailing. Case in point: extravagant bows became an inextricable part of Marie Antoinette’s opulent oeuvre in the 18th century. Her recognizable image of frivolity has taken on a life of its own, leading to Antoinette’s dramatized reputation of “let them eat cake” greed. But as Sofia Coppola’s pastel-hued 2006 historical comedy Marie Antoinette aptly points out, the infamous French queen was just 14 years old when she was thrust into a foreign country to be married. It makes sense that she indulged in the escapist bliss of material beauty. But today, she’s often villainized for an image of excess and vanity — an image notably garnished with bows.

Cut to today: reigning fashion trends are reclaiming this lush look with confectionary colour palettes, frothy billowing gowns and of course, flouncy bows. “Balletcore, royalcore, and lovecore aesthetics are coming back in 2023,” explains Zhang. All of these “cores,” including the ever-viral coquette core, celebrate the giddiness of girlhood — think Mary Janes with ruffled socks, strings of pearls, and dresses delicately lined with lace. And many of today’s most sought-after brands, including Nana Jacqueline and size-inclusive label Selkie, have risen to prominence thanks to their unabashed embrace of “fairytale” nostalgia.

More and more, the bow has grown to be synonymous with personal style. It’s a seemingly simple accessory, but it can complete an outfit and punctuate a beauty routine with a stamp of individuality. On TikTok, many trending “core” styles are achieved with the simple addition of a bow, from replacing shoe laces with shiny pink ribbons to weaving them into cable-knit sweaters. They’re used as hair gems, hijab-pinned adornments and even headphone accessories. All in all, the bow trend is about taking scraps of girlhood and repurposing them into little assertions of self-empowerment.

“For me, wearing a piece with a bow design makes me feel the power of being feminine,” says Zhang. She adds that the resurgence of the bow on recent runways speaks to a larger emphasis being put on women’s power. “Bows exude romance and create a dreamy and dramatic effect,” she says. “Bows let [women] live out their fantasy.” Perhaps above all, their growing prominence is a way of keeping girlhood close, long after it ends.