The nights are getting colder. Our sleeves are longer, jackets thicker. And supermarket shelves are prematurely filling up with pumpkins and lashings of garish tinsel. Now, even that most zeitgeisty of trends is hanging up its high-rise bikini and sashaying into a Valencia-filtered distance. Yep, “Hot Girl Summer” – that time when women are encouraged to unapologetically embrace their sexiest selves – is no more.
As someone whose skin fries the second they’re exposed to UV rays, I’m willing to admit that summer has never been my thing. Good news, though: a superior time of year is on the horizon called Sad Girl Autumn. I’ve never been more ready.
Sad Girl Autumn is like Hot Girl Summer’s cool aunt. She lives in a haunted cottage in the woods, and believes pumpkin-scented candles can cure almost any heartbreak. Her colour palette is strictly green, orange, and brown tones, and she relates a little too closely to Taylor Swift’s “All Too Well”, a plaintive banger about a breakup.
Now I know what you’re thinking: Sad Girl Autumn sounds like every other arbitrary trend built from the depths of the internet. It’s true that trends like “Healing Girl Summer” or “clean girl aesthetic” exist in a vacuum, and are only reserved for a very select group of people (cough white, cough thin). But Sad Girl Autumn is nothing like these other micro-trends, because it’s reflective of a culture – music, movies, fashion, fragrances – that celebrates melancholy, nostalgia, and unapologetically female expressions of emotion.
Speaking of Taylor Swift, we must thank her for originating the season. Last November, the singer-songwriter put a name to “Sad Girl Autumn” when she released a re-recorded version of her album Red, and with it “All Too Well (Taylor’s Version)” – a 10-minute update of the original track (and the version that I scream along to in the car.)
On its initial release in 2012, Swift’s sixth studio record was often characterised as a “fall album” by fans – and even by Swift herself – for its depiction of the colourful imagery of the season. With lyrics like “the air was cold” and “autumn leaves falling down like pieces into place”, “All Too Well” in particular captures the feeling of change that inevitably comes with autumn.
In the re-recording, a now 32-year-old Swift analyses the breakdown of her relationship with a man 10 years her senior. She relives the inner conflict her barely legal self was feeling at the time, but with the wider worldview and understanding that comes with being in your thirties. Unlike many women – who are told they must mourn the end of a relationship within a certain length of time before they get back out there – Swift gave herself the right to process her grief nearly 10 years on, and on the largest of platforms no less. Along with the 10-minute version of “All Too Well” came its 14-minute short film accompaniment, starring Stranger Things’ Sadie Sink and Dylan O’Brien. It was filled with neutral tones, flannel shirts, and the quintessential fall foliage of upstate New York. Although, as someone actually from the region, I know that when Swift says, “We’re singing in the car getting lost upstate,” she actually means, like, Tarrytown. Not only did her lyrics capture the nostalgic essence of Sad Girl Autumn, but she provided visuals to match.
as soon as it hits midnight on september first i am going to completely transform into sad girl autumn
— 🏹 (@dvrosebIush) August 30, 2022
Really, though, Sad Girl Autumn isn’t sad at all. As the unofficial antithesis to Hot Girl Summer, Sad Girl Autumn has brought about a newfound appreciation for the overall gloominess of the September to November months. It’s about sitting in the discomfort of sadness, which occurs right around the time that the sun starts setting at 6.15pm.
This time of year, I like to partake in some of my favourite Sad Girl activities. The only food that I consume must be done strictly in stew form, and I light a pumpkin-scented candle for so long that I almost burn down my apartment. I rewatch every season of Gilmore Girls, because the show’s fictional town is perpetually autumnal. My entire wardrobe gets swapped out from crop tops and jean shorts to turtlenecks, cable-knit sweaters, and leather jackets – there’s something so restrictive about the fashion of Hot Girl Summer that brings out physical insecurities I didn’t even know I had. Oversized everything is a much better use of my time.
There are so many movies fit for a Sad Girl Autumn as well. In the 1998 film Practical Magic, Sandra Bullock and Nicole Kidman play witchy sisters raised by their aunts, who must bring the women of their New England town together to defeat an evil force. Although it’s sometimes cheesy, Practical Magic has a tender emphasis on sisterhood that could warm any heart. Its twinkling soundtrack is full of Stevie Nicks and Joni Mitchell, while its depiction of a New England autumn never fails to make me long for home.
When Harry Met Sally is another essential Sad Girl Autumn viewing, mainly for Billy Crystal’s display of thick sweaters and Meg Ryan’s outfits presenting an unintentional guide to chic menswear. In fact, #MegRyanFall has even become a popular trend on social media, with people taking their fashion cues from her rotation throughout the film of blazers, belted trousers, and wide-brimmed hats. As if they’re the changing leaves in Central Park, Harry and Sally’s transition from friends to lovers is paralleled by the season’s transition from summer to fall. Plus, there’s nothing more Sad Girl Autumn than falling in love with your bestie.
It’s safe to say that Sad Girl Autumn and its embracing of autumnal melancholy may not be for everyone, especially the faint of heart. But if it’s any consolation, it never lasts. Sad Girl Autumn will be replaced by Cozy Boy Winter, followed by Short King Spring. Before you know it, it’ll be Hot Girl Summer once more. Perhaps an awareness of the passing of time is what sets Sad Girl Autumn apart from the rest of these seasonal micro trends. Rather than living in the moment, practitioners of Sad Girl Autumn recognise that time is fleeting, and that those orange leaves will quickly turn to mulch. So you might as well light a pumpkin candle while you’re at it.