Whether you think they’re cute, cringe or the downfall of modern language, emojis have changed the way we communicate. The modern day hieroglyphs, an evolution of the emoticon and smiley, can be steeped in uncertainty and heavy with double meaning. They can convey a generational divide like no other, and reflect the new ways in which we share information and stay connected. And they’re like, super cute!
Well, most of them are. It’s been a truth universally acknowledged that the clothing adjacent emojis are actually quite ugly; in no way reflecting where design and trends are now. From the old-fashioned 1950s-style dress to the camel women's boot with awkward zip, these tiny symbols are in desperate need of a makeover.
As the Unicode Consortium – the secretive group that decides on all the new emojis – finally gives us a plain pink heart (and a donkey, and goose) but still no loafer or blazer, Ensemble editor Zoe Walker Ahwa asked some knowledgeable and stylish people for their intelligent perspective on the communicative device. We suggested certain emojis for specific designers, asking them to reflect on their first reaction upon seeing it, whether it’s stylish or not, and if it conveys a deeper meaning beyond the literal. We acknowledge that there are some emojis missing, but enjoy their cerebral deep dives, below.
The coat 🧥
Reviewed by James Bush
First things first, I had no idea there even was a coat emoji! Upon closer inspection, I was fascinated to see that each provider (Apple, Microsoft, Samsung etc) offer a different design of coat for emojilogical purposes. How democratic.
What’s interesting is that they are all various iterations of a double breasted pea coat in mid brown, with a few single breasted exceptions and a couple in navy blue. The proportions are, unsurprisingly, inelegant and the overall designs are mediocre representations of 20th century American conservatism, despite the technological advancement of our day and age. In the eternal words of Tomasi di Lampedusa, everything must change for everything to remain the same.
The high heel 👠
Reviewed by Kathryn Wilson
I love to use this emoji on a daily basis. A stiletto is fun, glamorous and feminine… it's my most used emoji by far. I think it’s a reasonably true representation of female fashion footwear for the last four decades. We have many shapes in our collections each season but a stiletto heel remains a perennial design.
What could be improved? It should be available in a rainbow of colours!!! Pink, yellow, white, blue, black… not just red.
The ring 💍
Reviewed by Claire Hammon, co-founder and designer of Meadowlark
My first thought when I see it: engagement ring! I'm not sure if I like it, it could be a little bit more designed, the claws could definitely be improved. It doesn't feel like a luxurious solitaire, the proportions are a little off – maybe some more diamonds would modernise it and still feel like it's an engagement ring.
It is the most iconic, classic and recognisable engagement ring, a diamond solitaire - so I think it conveys exactly what it is.
It's definitely a tricky emoji in some circumstances - sometimes I get texts with this emoji and because it's the only ring emoji, I have to consider how to ask if they are looking for an engagement ring or another kind of ring, it can be a delicate situation!
The purse 👛
Reviewed by Georgia Davison, founder and designer of Georgia Jay
It’s girly, cutesy, an elementary and antiquated symbol of purchasing power. I think it's confidently cute and cringe. I like that about it. A little sparkle and embellish would give it that extra pep. As an emoji, its non-attempt to be stylish or fashionable gives it a playful and light-hearted innocence.
I feel that any symbolic and emotive emoji can be interpreted ambiguously. In a simplistic sense, it feels basic and honest in how it's articulated. I use emojis frivolously and don't give much weight to the symbol itself.
We do love a pink purse, naturally. Yet our design language feels like quite a departure from the angle of this specific design. We could do a take on it.
The bikini 👙
Reviewed by Ash Williams
The polka dot bikini emoji is many things and the main thing being ugly. I have never in my life been drawn to using it and I would much rather just use the word bikini. It's boring and outdated and the person who designed it should be fired. I can't say there is anything I like about it and many things could be improved. It might be my personal style playing bias or my lack of interest in polka dot but I think we all need to agree that this emoji is giving 2008 Katy Perry "I kissed a girl" and not in a fun, cute way.
The pink top 👚
Reviewed by Anjali Burnett, co-founder and designer of Twenty-seven Names
Defined in the emoji dictionary under 'women's clothing' as 'a blouse worn by women in a neat-casual setting'. In my humble opinion it represents all the gross ways 'the man' perceives 'women's clothing': a grey shade of pink, flared, v-neck, tulip sleeve. This is serving no one.
The bulk of the clothing emojis are far from cool and serve little purpose. I like the business time one, the lab coat, and the Sari – because they tell a story and offer some ability to add some sass to my texts.
The ribbon 🎀
Reviewed by Caitlin Snell
My first thought: Polly Pocket and Barbie girl. I like that it can be used to transform the meaning of a text message + it is a lot more fun than ending a sentence with a full stop. The simple design makes it versatile and feminine, but I think that it could be utilised further if it was available in a range of colours. For example the emoji in pink is very Barbie, but in black it would be more Bratz doll.
Unlike other emojis, the pink bow is straight to the point and difficult to interpret as anything other than a ribbon.
The jeans 👖
Reviewed by Wynn Crawshaw, founder and designer of Wynn Hamlyn
My first thought when I saw it was that they are really quite a 'skinny jean'. I'm not mad at that but it makes me question if it was intentional, and if so, by who... is there a stylist for emojis? I guess when I look at the purpose of how it the emoji could be used in a conversation:
A: What's the vibe for tonight?
B: Casual (👖)
But to me I would read it like this:
A: What's the vibe for tonight?
B: Skinny Jeans ONLY (👖👖👖👖)
In general, there aren't many clothing emoji options on offer. I would like some korts - that would suit me better personally, my style is very BBQ dad type thing. Moons and leaves are over-represented in the emojis…
The woman’s hat 👒
Reviewed by Kareen Durbin, of Companion hats
This is a classic look that never quit being in fashion, favouring longevity.
It’s the kind of hat older women own at least one of, wearing them in a casual yet sophisticated manner - I aspire to become such a lady. It features a cute bow, but a bow can always be bigger, have longer ties at least, or be integrated into silky under chin ties somehow? We have definitely explored creating hats in a similar style, but as we produce in NZ the cost of the labour involved when deviating from fabric is just too high… “sigh”.
The woman's sandal 👡
Reviewed by Sarah Street, founder and designer of Bronwyn
Ahh the humble mule, an iconic emoji for any shoe designer! While the design of the heel itself in the emoji isn't something I'm drawn to, I will forever be a fan of the quintessential 90s mule and the aesthetic it references. I love the flirty flip the mule carries with each step, and as far as iconic sandal silhouettes go, it's a must-have emoji addition.
The gloves 🧤
Reviewed by Catherine Boddy, founder of Boddy Part
At first glance, I think: that looks cosy… That looks like a glove I probably would never wear, but if I was going to, it would be in winter, out of sheer necessity?
There’s definitely no confusion here, that is a glove. But it did remind me of how many different purposes gloves are used for and how many types of gloves there are. This generic glove could really be used in so many different text situations. At first I thought it was a cleaning/dishwashing glove maybe because of the sterile colour, but after studying it more closely, the emoji creators have added detailing of a cable knit cuff, definitely alluding to knitwear and warmth. When you type in ‘gardening’ or ‘dishes’ the glove doesn’t come up, but it’s the 15th emoji to come up when you type ‘cold’ (just to confirm where its practicality lies).
Some might not know this from looking at the gloves that I create, but I do respect a practical glove. I think this emoji is completely satisfactory for what it symbolises, and while I do question why they chose it to be such a striking green, it is otherwise a respectable winter woollen glove that will stand the test of time and trends through the eras.
It is so generic it could not possibly be out or in fashion at any point. I personally wouldn’t offer a glove like this through my label, and therefore have provided you with some glove emojis that I think could be improvements:
The top hat 🎩
Reviewed by ‘Hatman’, mascot of Hills Hats
Of course if you follow fashion PŌTAE creators Hills Hats you’d know we’re far too serious and we’re unlikely to lower our tone long enough to consider the use of emojis, begging your pardon. However there have been reports a masked character, ‘HATMAN’ has been gallivanting the skies in a top hat wearing underwear on the outside. Just don’t look up!
Despite this airborne disturbance we have been asked to speak to the top hat emoji. We’ll pull ourselves away from saving the world from sun damage, synthetic fabrics and poor fashion options for a moment. We’ll drop our glasses to the end of our nose and tolerate this distraction.
A top hat speaks of tradition – Hills, NZ Made since 1875, check.
Speaks of quality – top hats handmade from the world’s finest felt. Check.
Depending on your handheld preference, be it Android or Apple, you’ll find the emoji adorned with either a gold or a blue band.
Mistreating gold embellishments can cheapen a garment, so be wary. Blue is often found in more of a corporate setting. Or at a gender reveal. Are there rainbow confetti options yet?
Whilst a hat is for everyone with taste, be careful which emoji you choose as we would regard the top hat emoji as a crucial status symbol. Reserved only for the discerning, those who match their socks, expect to open a door for others and who pay particular attention to a new generation of zombies looking down at their hands, faces are lit up like a horror film, and occasionally bouncing off street posts. So good!