Lately it seems as if the yin yang is starting to pop up everywhere in fashion. From Paloma Wool sweaters and Staud’s latest collection to embroidery and jewelry, the ancient symbol appears to be making its big wearable comeback. But the icon, which has come in and out of the fashion world for years, has been around for centuries.

Paloma Wool

The yin yang symbol can be traced back to a Chinese philosophy called Taoism (also called Daoism) from the 4th century BC, representing the idea of living in harmony and finding balance within. According to Culture Trip, the dark side, called the yin, is connected to everything hard, negative, cold, wet or feminine while the light side, called the yang, is tied to all things soft, positive, warm, dry, and masculine. Taoism is considered more of a philosophy than a religion, teaching us that there is a higher power in the universe, called ‘the Way’ which has both yin and yang.

This duality is the root of Chinese medicine and can be found in everything. From food to the body, the yin and the yang must always be present to establish balance. Yet the two sides are not total opposites as each side actually has a little bit of the other according to the outlet — while the two forces are opposing, they are complementary and work together to bring harmony. Considering our turbulent socio-political circumstances, it makes sense that designers are using this particular symbol to appease the tension we feel in our daily lives. 

Études Fall 2020 and Stella McCartney Resort 2015

Rachael Gentner, a print and graphics trend editor at Fashion Snoops, says the peaceful swirl helps us visualize the necessity of living a balanced life and that the idea keeps our universe in check. “The positive to the negative, the sun to the moon, the Larry David to, well…most things actually. Everything is connected.”

According to Shanu Walpita, trend forecaster and founder of Futurewise Studio, the symbol started to be used in fashion in the 1960s thanks to the hippie movement. “People were embracing free love and the mysticism and learnings of faraway cultures,” she says. “India and the far East became emblematic cultural signifiers of free thought and expression and the symbols of those cultures made their way onto clothing along with peace signs and more.”

Our Legacy and Cactus Plant Flea Market

From the 1970s to the 1990s, the symbol was everywhere. “From tees to jewelry, most notably chokers and bracelets, they were unmistakably a part of all the stereotypical 90s looks including skate, grunge, and y2k looks.” While anyone who was cool had a yin yang somewhere on their body back then, Walpita believes it has transcended its original meaning of balancing opposites and also become a symbol of the past and ironic nostalgia, harkening back to the 1990s, which the industry has been obsessed with as of late. “In light of a growing ‘buy less – buy vintage’ mentality, we’re collectively looking to the past for inspiration.” The kitschy symbol, much like that of the smiley face and the peace sign, all reminds us of our childhood — or a childhood we wished we’d had.

Walpita has seen the symbol being used by brands such as Cactus Plant Flea Market, Our Legacy, and Études’ Fall 2020 menswear collection. A few years back, the symbol popped up in Stella McCartney’s Resort 2015 collection and Ashish’s Fall Winter 2012 collection. Getner spotted it in The Elder Statesman’s Pre-fall 2020 menswear collection and in reusable tote bag form by Baggu (ordering this immediately).

Ashish Fall Winter 2012

Natasha Halesworth, the founder of The Consistency Project, a vintage store and community-driven space in Brooklyn, New York, recently began offering necklaces with deadstock yin yang charms while her business cards also utilize a green version of the symbol. She says the design was sparked out of the frustration that branded merch is always produced on new items when there is a major opportunity to use secondhand or deadstock items. “I made two different designs that I was going to brand on secondhand and release at two different times, one being the yin yang design, which was released when I opened up my shop.”

For her, the design was meant to recognize that in life there is the need for balance and that not everything can be secondhand as secondhand doesn’t exist without being new first. “At the same time I wanted people to know that one side was greener… meaning the side of secondhand was a better alternative in this conversation of branded merch,” she explains. Being of Chinese descent Halesworth thoughtfully considered its history, what it meant to her growing up, and how she’s always wanted to redefine it for herself as an adult. “I have taken a cultural symbol (from my own culture) and was able to communicate my message through it with the intention of making it relevant to my mission for The Consistency Project.”

Retrouvaí

Walpita believes the yin yang is having a resurgence in fashion because in times of flux and uncertainty, symbols alluding to stability feel relevant. “Additionally we’re hyper-connected with tech and social media yet we encounter a multitude of moments of disconnect, be it with ourselves or with our peers,” she says. “The yin yang symbol reminds us to take stock and to remember to find connection with who we are, but also with our surroundings.” In this same vein, designers could be using it to comment on the push and pull of connectivity and the growing disconnection in the digital age. But commercially speaking, she says designers are more likely using it as a symbol of the past and the ways in which we feel nostalgia for the 1990s and 1970s.

“The yin yang is the ultimate symbol of life, showcasing how there is a purpose in our differences,” says Getner. Therefore, without one, there would be no other. The duality of the yin yang recognizes the rhythm of a natural ebb and flow — a cathartic reminder in these trying times. “With the world at an alarming unrest, striking a harmony through our words and actions are more important than ever.” When used in fashion the yin yang symbol serves as physical reminders she says  — to know yourself and respect the balance that comes from gratitude of awareness. “The swirl of complementary opposites creates a hypnotic yet meditative response to the anxieties that swish through our days, as an organic icon of conscious harmony.” We only expect to see more designers tapping into this concept moving forward.