Consumer Culture Series: Minimalist maximalism

July 31, 2019
6 min read

In several markets like jewelry, fashion, fragrance, and makeup we see two opposing forces – minimalism vs. maximalism – interacting and facilitating a new consumer practice trend: minimalist maximalism. In this blog, we will introduce the trend and show how the trend manifests itself across different categories.


The maximalist trend in the jewelry category – driven by the increasing influence of 90’s fashion – can be traced in the long earrings, chunky necklaces, and big statement rings. Maximalism is also reflected in styles where necklaces, rings, bracelets, and earrings are all styled together.

Then again, we can also see minimalist currents in the category as revealed in the emergence of ‘dainty jewelry,’ which is especially popular among Millennials. Dainty jewelry – also called ‘barely there jewelry’ – is preferred for its feminine, sleek, and polished look, as well as its affordability. Minimalist jewelry trends perfectly align with the wants and desires of the mid-segment, made up of consumers who want cheaper but trendy jewelry options that they do not want to keep for a lifetime. Dainty jewelry has simple designs and uses semi-precious stones and, thus, does not require much production skill. Several jewelry designers or hobby-designers easily design, manufacture, and sell these pieces on eBay, Shopify, and Instagram. Many of the direct-to-consumer (DTC) brands in this category rely heavily on female empowerment messaging as part of their brand storytelling to facilitate self-gifting.

Yet, although the pieces are fragile and dainty, consumer culture around this particular consumer behavior is far from minimalist. Consumers are stacking multiple – anywhere from two to 10 pieces – necklaces, rings, earrings, and bracelets to curate jewelry “stacks” on their arms, necks, fingers, and ears. We’re also seeing personalization practices like jewelry with the first letters of names, stacking rings with letters to spell a kid’s or significant other’s name, etc. This stacking practice is characterized by abundance. We label this abundant stacking of the dainty minimalist jewelry trend as minimalist maximalism. In a nutshell, minimalist maximalism is the consumer practice of using minimalist products with maximalist practices, marking a consumer culture of abundance.

We’re seeing unique manifestations of the trend among “affordable luxury” jewelry brands like Pandora and Alex & Ani. For these brands, we see not only the stacking of rings and bracelets, but also the jewels and charms on the rings/bracelets. Consumers curate the stacks as a collection of marked moments – souvenirs to commemorate anniversaries, birthdays, and engagements.

While in many instances, the abundant use demands that these pieces be more reasonably priced, the trend is also bleeding into high-end jewelry and shaping the consumption of wedding bands and engagement rings. Consumers try to create the “perfect stack” with their engagement and wedding rings by choosing rings with varying sizes and shapes and mixing different metals and stones.


Many new fragrance brands allow consumers to layer two or more elemental scents (e.g., Lavender, Tea, Oud) on top of each other to personalize the fragrance. High end, independent, even haute couture brands (e.g., Jo Malone, Maison Margiela Replica, Gucci The Alchemist’s Garden) allow consumers to be the “alchemist” for their own scent choice.

Makeup and skincare

Modern makeup and skincare routines are characterized by multiple products that are layered on top of each other in a certain order or following a certain process. Take for example the many multi-step K-beauty skincare routines. Subscription boxes like Birchbox are composed of small products sent to the consumers in sets. The Birchbox displays at Walgreens emphasize this trend more clearly with small sample sized products displayed in abundance.


Nike has recently collaborated with Japanese high fashion label Sacai and fused together two iconic Nike shoes to create a hybrid, double-themed design. This special edition drop combines the iconic Nike Dunk and Blazer and features double tongues, shoelaces, and swooshes.

In fashion, in particular, the minimalist maximalism trend has been facilitated and shaped by hip-hop and black crowd-cultures. Historically, “cultural innovation and cultural influence flowed from the margins of society – from fringe groups, social movements, and artistic circles that challenged the norms and conventions” (Holt, HBR, 2016). Along these lines, hip-hop culture has been the fertile cultural field that has shaped and impacted mainstream fashion, jewelry, beauty, and lifestyle for the last couple of decades. The layered Cuban gold chains – in bulky, bold, or dainty formats – bleed to the mainstream and facilitate and build the foundation for the minimalist maximalism trend.

Why is it important?

Economies of the stack: The minimalist maximalism trend demands consumers have multiple products in different sizes, shapes, materials, scents, that offer different effects, etc. in order to create the perfect stack of rings, fragrance, makeup, etc. Given the increasing consumer acquisition costs, stacking gives brands an opportunity to deepen their engagement with the consumer and facilitate repeat purchases of similar and even the same items.

Performance of the stack: When looking at the consumption of dainty jewelry, the number of consumers that buy in the category might not accurately reflect the performance of the category. The number of pieces purchased and re-purchased should also be considered.

Play with the stack: This trend perpetuates engagement and allows consumers to play and personalize. Using products as a way to communicate identity makes them more attractive to consumers, not only as an accessory but also as a storytelling medium.

In the Consumer Culture Series, Dr. Behice Ece Ilhan serves as strategist, scholar, sherpa and storyteller, answering the questions that bring a novel perspective to consumers, culture, brands, and markets. With an illustrious career that spans consumer culture, strategic brand storytelling, global brand consulting, and entrepreneurial marketing, and an academic background that’s too long to get into (includes a BSc in Mechanical Engineering; MSc in Consumer Culture Theory and Qualitative Methods; and a PhD in Marketing), she is well-equipped to provide the forward-thinking cultural insights that are not yet on the radar. 

Interested in learning more about Behice and Mintel’s brand strategy capabilities? We’d love to hear from you.

Dr. Behice Ece Ilhan
Dr. Behice Ece Ilhan

Behice is the Senior Trend Strategist at Mintel. Behice provides futuristic perspectives and opinions on trends and their impact on the brand landscape, which she utilizes to strengthen engagement with CPG and agency clients on storytelling and positioning strategies.

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