a.circle-widget-trigger svg { display: none; } a.circle-widget-trigger { background-image: url( https://cdn.prod.website-files.com/63e253c5214088e885dc9539/6470e96a73d05fa30985020c_people-group-solid.svg; });
Under the sea: Vintage mermaidcore and where to find it
Mermaidcore is all the rage in 2023 — and you can get the look while buying vintage. Photo: Following NYC/Pexels

Under the sea: Vintage mermaidcore and where to find it


Mermaidcore: the convergence of a crustacean craze, a centuries-long shell fascination and the youthfulness of Y2K. Here's how to rock the trend with vintage fashion and decor pieces

Be it on TikTok or the catwalk, in magazines or on the movie screens, mermaidcore has hit the mainstream.

Sequins, scallops and starfish are all the rage in home decor and fashion this year. The trend surfaced a few months before the reimagined film The Little Mermaid hit theatres May 26, 2023.

No idea how to decorate your abode with aquatic accents or work your wardrobe with water-themed wonders? Don’t remain a poor unfortunate soul — get help with kelp!

From Art Deco origins through to 1980s tropical revival, we’ll steer your vintage-loving ship through all the flotsam and jetsam so you can shop the best buried treasure for your condo or closet!

What is mermaidcore?

Whether you want a tidal wave of the marine dream or just a mild sea spray, let’s first discuss — what is mermaidcore? Characterized by sequins, mesh and iridescent fabrics in fashion and shells, coral and sea creatures in home decor, the focus is on maximalism.

With Y2K trends talking over home renos and fashion runways over the last few years, it’s no surprise to see everyone’s favourite Disney sea princess in the mix — Ariel might have first burst from the ocean and onto the scene in ’89, but those who grew up with her and came of age during Y2K are ready for the revival.

Also called “sirencore,” “crustaceancore” or “all things shells,” the most recent version of mermaidcore has its roots in designer Tamar Morgendorff’s 2015 shell pillow design.

The popular couch toppers have summoned a sea vintage revival: Etsy is reporting that “mermaidcore” is one of its top design search words for 2023. The marketplace platform clocked a 125 per cent increase in searches for scalloped runners and a 24 per cent increase in searches for mother-of-pearl-trays.

Is mermaidcore...vintage?

Can you believe we can trace mermaidcore all the way back to the Industrial Revolution? That shell-encrusted mirror you love over your entryway and that mother-of-pearl trinket tray that collects keys by your front door — all thanks to the creativity to come out of the machine age.

The Industrial Revolution was responsible for transforming the production of goods from artisan-made and bespoke to mass produced. New machinery, water and steam power sources, and the mechanized factory system allowed people to create more products in an assembly line fashion.

In response to these manufactured clones, designers of both furniture and clothing rebelled with ornate embellishments to personalize and add beauty to otherwise mere functional objects. These artistic touches added opulence and class and enhanced the beauty, appearance and appeal of the work.

Designers were not necessarily opposed to the modern machine age, however. If anything, their work embraced the speed and sleekness of this new era that proffered transformations in transportation with the advent of faster automobiles, trains, planes and ships.

This aesthetic movement can especially be seen in design during the Art Deco era. Art Deco took its name, short for the French term arts décoratifs, from the 1925 Parisian “Exposition Internationale des Arts Décoratifs et Industriels Modernes,” where the Art Deco movement hit the design scene.

Combining the clean lines and bold, geometric shapes of the machine age with fine craftsmanship and rich materials such as ebony and ivory, the Art Deco movement celebrated luxury and glamour through design and architecture.

Monuments to this design movement are seen in the skyscrapers peppering the New York City skyline such as the Chrysler and Empire State buildings.

Find vintage events in your area

View our calendar

Okay, but where are the mermaids?

I know what you’re asking – how does a Parisian architectural and design movement from 1925 lead to a mermaid movement in 2023?

The answer can be found in an Art Deco-era motif that has recurred throughout history, starting with stone carvings in ancient Rome, through to sculptures during the Renaissance, through to ceramics and textiles in 1700s Rococo art.

The shell.

We next saw the shell in the Art Deco tropical revival movement trending in the 1980s. As every tried-and-true vintage seeker knows — what goes around comes back around again. And the same holds true for Art Deco.

Though, the added twist this time ‘round added beachy elements and hits of tropical paradise. Palm tree motifs, sunsets and oceanic elements made their way into the style books during this era, when many Miami and Palm Beach motels revamped their Art Deco origins into tropical revival splendour.

Back to 1920s and ’30s Art Deco for a moment: Fashion began to change and, with the 19th amendment passing in the United States in 1920 giving women the right to vote, the liberated female “flapper” became en vogue. Think iridescent sequins, slinky fabrics and fantastic fringes.

Fast forward a few decades and it’s not unheard of for certain luxury fashion houses to release resort collections every year for those of us planning trips to Positano or gunning to gallivant around the Greek islands for the summer. These collections often feature caftans, raffia sunhats and beach tote bags.

This year, however, mermaidcore is hitting the haute couture collections as well, with nods to nautical and pearls, and seashells gracing every catwalk from Paris to Milan.

Mesh maxi skirts and fishnet looks can double from dress code to catching dinner at the cape. And sequins — dating all the way back to the ancient Egyptian gold discs adornment style — are a marine must. The word sequin, deriving from the Arabic words Sikka, meaning “coin,” maintains its monetary meaning even today.

Ariel’s treasure trove of collected gadgets and gizmos aplenty certainly contain treasure chests of coins and sequin-covered human apparel.

As Botticelli’s Renaissance painting The Birth of Venus epitomizes mermaidcore even today, when decorating in line with ocean waves, revisit the classic and vintage pieces that come before. Bonus: They are often more over the top and true to the style than today’s modern replicas of mermaidcore.

Where to find vintage mermaidcore

See below for your top shopping stops for vintage mermaidcore!

Dirty Gold Vintage | Calgary, AB

Snake Island Finds | Toronto, ON

Fat Dachshund Vintage | Hamilton, ON

Dolly Python Vintage | Dallas, TX

Bib & Tucker Vintage | Victoria, BC

Groovy Gal Thrift Co. | Peterborough, ON

Bad Moon | Seattle, WA

Smokehill Vintage | Sudbury, ON

Xtabay Vintage | Portland, OR

Vintage by Suzanne | Toronto, ON

Vantage Vintage Boutique | Winnipeg, MB

Chenuz Atelier | Kelowna, BC

Cate Brown is a freelance writer and gallery artist based in Ottawa, Ont.

A fresh take on all things old.
Get our free newsletters

Join our seller support network

Become a member
Become a member