When you think of credit cards, you don’t think of soft flower petals on a bleak, crowded subway car.
The latest advertising campaign wrapped around my daily commute is for Petal, a credit card geared towards the financially naive. As per these ads, the cards’ biggest selling point is that they come in two inviting colors: mint green and butter yellow. Yum. Like pieces of candy, if candy could absolutely wreck your ability to own a house one day.
I almost didn’t clock these new ads, as I’ve rarely ever had a subway ride in New York where I’m not bombarded by posters selling the latest “thing” dipped in matte pastels. I’ve been sold sea-foam green personalized vitamins. Muted peach tones once told me there’s a better way to shave my bush. Infinite online dating platform ads in grapefruit or tangerine or lime have insisted that they’re true freaks, just like me. If I’m on the L train and spot a baby blue san serif font, I’m suddenly solving tongue twisters written by a mattress company.
The colors, the fonts, the cheeky, “but, like, really” tone is peak millennial aesthetic, and at this point its ubiquity has made it so it’s now being reported as “over.” Which is why I was struck by just how struck I was at the Petal ads. A part of me naively thought The Aesthetic wouldn’t come for the financial sector. But it did. Of course it did.
The enduring power of The Aesthetic has confounded me. All sorts of things I didn’t think needed to be aesthetically minded, a credit card for example, now are. And the millennial aesthetic isn’t notable simply because of the soothing appeal of a symmetrical monstera leaf, but for just how much is communicated through said monstera leaf: You’re not like your parents, you’re blazing a brand new, thoughtful path in this world, and you were probably born between 1981-1996. Blush pink has never been more aggressive than it’s been these past seven years.
Which has led me to wonder: What isn’t safe from the tender terrazzo embrace of The Aesthetic? Could I find something not yet touched by the warming light of a millennial filter? To start, anything within the beauty, fashion, and retail industries are automatically off the table. They’re the industries from whence The Aesthetic came, therefore obviously not free from it and actually culpable in its transmission. Aestheticism is their propellant. Next.
Real estate is hovering up beside those industries as the perpetrator of The Aesthetic, which makes sense since it’s as much about form as it is function. Peak The Aesthetic in real estate was the ill-fated, though shockingly still afloat The Wing. Millennials might not be able to afford their own places to dwell or vacation, but they’ll surely find one to spend time in that’s decked out like a mid-modern ice cream parlor.
Moving on: Has the healthcare industry been swallowed by The Aesthetic, like ivy choking out a brick wall in the perfect Instagram backdrop? Indeed it has. Tend is a dental clinic that looks like it is a branch off of Kim Kardashian’s SKIMS line. I didn’t know my dentist needed to be hip, but I’m reassured knowing the option is there. Recently, I was searching for a new therapist and was bombarded with an onslaught of squiggly, colorful, amorphous blobs on every single mental healthcare website. I was momentarily comforted by the visual representation of my anxiety looking back at me, but ultimately what I needed was a barely functioning web portal with the aesthetics of the early-aughts to reassure me my therapist was 60+ and could be a stand-in for my mother.
Perhaps agriculture hadn’t been gripped by The Aesthetic? Could nature itself be tamed into the clean, gentle dreamscape of a girl-boss? While millennial-adored potted succulents and beeswax candles aren’t what fully composes the agricultural industry, I’d say that resurrected reverence for the chastity of homesteading hovers close to The Aesthetic. It might be more broadly recognized as #CottageCore. But The Aesthetic has fully seeped into the soil of the agriculture industry in a store like The Sill, where you can pluck a respectably sized houseplant off a clean-lined shelf as easily as you’d plop a candy into your mouth. Your thumb can be matcha latte green at your convenience. We might not be an agricultural society anymore, but it’d be a shame to not nod to the past in our carefully curated shelves.
Examining The Aesthetic’s contamination of agriculture led me to what might be my answer: manufacturing. Manufacturing and industrial production might just be the last industry sheltered from the sweeping trend of dewy pastels. Unlike real estate, form is weighed much less heavily than function in this instance. What matters is that something works and that it works efficiently. There’s no time for The Aesthetic. There are brass-legged, upholstered dining chairs that need to be cranked out STAT. In a horseshoe paradox of sorts, the thing farthest from The Aesthetic, the manufacturing industry, is what is literally needed to make The Aesthetic. The terrazzo planters, the neon palm leaf signs, the Kardashian-Jenner dentist recliners—they must be born from the soulless machinery that bears no such similar markings. This is The Aesthetic creation myth.
As for Petal cards, I still feel weary about the financial sector’s toe dip into The Aesthetic. I want my credit cards to be callous and cold, not cute and charming. On some level, I’ve bought into the discourse of millennials ultimately being naive babies. I want my accountants, doctors, and real estate agents to be as insipid as the cogs and pegs churning out all the crap I’ve glommed my emotional identity onto. And I hope that I don’t get onto the subway someday soon and see some cheeky ad campaign commodifying said cogs and said pegs.