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Julia Neill

MPhil work

Social media is the new street

The changing nature of identity and the death of trend

The primal need to belong and be accepted by peers continues to drive the behaviours of today’s youth generation, but the particular nuances of an increasingly digital childhood give rise to a much more multi-faceted sense of self. 

Today’s young people are more empowered to develop their individual interests through social media in three main ways - ACCESSIBILITY, SPECIFICITY and MULTIPLICITY

ACCESSIBILITY: Finding an online group or community with a shared view, taste or interest is a never more than a few clicks away.

SPECIFICITY: There are separate communities for all manner of niche interests that can be pursued on their own without needing to sign up to a bigger ideology that you don’t 100% agree with.

MULTIPLICITY: Today’s Internet Youth are able to join and form communities around any and all of their disparate views, tastes and interests like never before.  They also have the added option of compartmentalising their different groups and connections.

The birth of a generation that continuously coexists online and offline and is simultaneously more free to develop an individual identity, spells the end of the iconic subcultural youth movements of the post-war period which centred on belonging to an overarching ideology.

This series of clips facilitate opportunities for the expression of visual identity within the emerging landscape of neo-individuality. The current youth generation, while avoiding association with a single tribe and its associated symbolism, does still hold values on an individual level that can be represented by a group of symbols.  By disassociating from a tribe, young people enjoy a more liberated, multi-faceted individual identity with the freedom to evolve or change a point of view.

Each clip symbolises potential facets that could make up an individual’s identity, and when linked together reflect the unique combination of the multiple separate interests that combine to visualise a modern identity.

The design as a type of clip rather than a closed loop allows for recalibration, personalisation and attachment to other items. Clips can be traded, collected and shared, and worn as prominently or subtly as intended creating a new visual language. In the same way that subcultural post-war tribes developed a collective recognisable aesthetic, in part to unite strangers that share a common set of values, so too can the clips be worn to project a particular point of view to an external audience of known and unknown people.


  • MPhil


    School of Arts & Humanities


    Arts & Humanities Research, 2014–2018

  • Social media is the new street 

    Youth culture is a product of the society it exists within. Throughout history each generation has been made up of people who were born and came of age at the same point in history, sharing similar experiences and gravitating towards similar attitudes, resulting in the formation of iconic subcultural youth movements with strong collective ideologies and visual identities.

    Today’s young people are the first to be born into the age of the Internet and social media, and its impact extends beyond the way we communicate, shaping the very fabric of identity of a generation that has never known what it’s like to live predominantly in analogue  In fact, the very notion of being disconnected from the Internet (and by extension their friends, groups and connections) fills many young people with anxiety.

    The current youth generation still needs to satisfy the primal human urge to belong, but must now do so in two worlds - online and offline - each with different rules, codes and social conventions to follow in order to fit in.  The social pressures that are familiar to previous generations are added to and amplified by the need to manage multiple identities across multiple platforms and define who they are in an entirely new space where precedents are only now being set.

    This research seeks to establish whether today’s youth generation will look to physical objects and fashions as subcultural symbols that represent their views and group affiliations in the same way that the iconic post-war tribes did; the impact of social media on how tribes are formed; and the authenticity of online identities.

    It explores attitudes towards symbolism and iconography to understand whether the tribes and subcultural groups that do exist among today’s youth generation will be as visually identifiable through objects as the iconic tribes of the post-war period, and which icons symbolise today’s groups.

    My starting position

    My background in fashion design and trend development for youth-centric brand Urban Outfitters and subsequent study of jewellery design and silversmithing led me to examine the symbolism associated with subcultures like punk, and whether it can exist among today’s hyperconnected young people.  On speaking with a number of philosophers, cultural commentators and young people through interviews and focus groups, it became clear that to focus so specifically on the symbols that could be the outputs of today’s youth movements risked overlooking the significant cultural impact that social media is having and will continue to have on young people and the development of their individual identities.

    As such, my thesis expanded to cover the conditions that are causing the rise of neo-individualism and how the combination of social media with wider societal factors spells the end of the type of iconic subcultural youth movement that characterises so much of the post-war period.

  • Degrees

  • MA Fashion, Royal College of Art, 2007; BA Fashion and Textiles with Business, University of Brighton, 2005
  • Experience

  • Fashion design consultant, The Modist, London, 2017; Fashion design consultant, Yoox- Net- a Porter, London, 2015-16; Head of Design (Womenswear) Urban Outfitters Europe, London, 2013-15; Senior Designer, Allsaints, London, 2009-13; Knitwear designer, James Long, London, 2007-09; Knitwear designer, Matthew Williamson, London, 2007-8
  • Awards

  • Goldsmiths Craft & Design Awards 2017 (GEM-A) Diamond award