Kennedy: Red-nail theory and other Gen Z trends

File Photo / Fueled by social media, red manicures are a trend among young adults.
File Photo / Fueled by social media, red manicures are a trend among young adults.

I teach a writing class at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga, partly to learn what's important to young adults. As the parent of 17- and 21-year-old sons, I feel a responsibility to stay current — or "hip" as we used to say back in the 20th century.

(READ MORE: Kennedy: Five things good dads never do)

The first assignment in the class every semester is to write an article about a trend. The trend can be about food, fashion, technology, entertainment — really anything that touches on popular culture.

I'm always surprised and delighted to see what shows up on the trends list.

Today, I'd like to share some of the trends that bubbled up in class this month. If you've got a child or grandchild in high school or college, these topics might be news to you but probably not to them.

— Red-nail theory. Young women tell me they are fascinated by the idea, being pushed on social media, that young men are attracted to red nail polish. In fact, one local nail tech reported that about 80% of her young customers are requesting some shade of red for their manicures.

Interestingly, the "red-nail theory" holds that young men associate red nails with the comfort and care provided by their mothers when they were younger. Need proof? On TikTok the hashtags #rednailpolish and #rednailtheory have over 36 million views, according to students.

— Stanley cup dominance. A student was halfway into her pitch about the Stanley cup craze before I realized she wasn't talking about the National Hockey League. The Stanley tumbler craze, which is obviously about insulated drinking cups, not ice hockey, is one of the most durable trends in pop culture.

People are literally lining up for limited-edition tumblers sold at Target stores. A worker at a Starbucks counter inside a local Target told a student that more than 50 people lined up outside the store one day hoping to purchase one of the special-edition Stanley cups, which sell for $35-$50 and can often be flipped for profit online.

— Dungeons & Dragons redux. The fantasy tabletop role-playing game with roots in the 1970s is back in a big way. The release of the fifth edition of D&D a few years ago has led to a resurgence in play on college campuses and beyond, the students said.

Gaming club members at UTC say that their D&D games fill up quickly and play time is sometimes limited due to high demand.

— Gypsy-Rose fever. Young people are fascinated by social-media sensation Gypsy-Rose Blanchard, a young woman who was recently released from prison after being convicted for her role in the murder of her mother. Her mother Dee Dee was accused of fabricating illnesses about her daughter when Gypsy-Rose was a child.

College students say the "true-crime" nature of the Gypsy-Rose saga has them hooked, and her ubiquitous presence on TikTok (she has more than 9 million followers) keeps her front of mind.

(READ MORE: Gypsy-Rose Blanchard out of prison after convincing boyfriend to kill her mother)

— Preppy fashions are back. For people who remember the 1980s, this throwback fashion trend may be a bit of a surprise. But students say that traditional preppy clothes, with an emphasis on high-end brands, is indeed on the rise.

"The rebirth of J.Crew. The sudden, urgent desirability of khakis and rugby shirts. If you're a dedicated follower of fashion, you may have noticed all of these signs, all suggesting one thing: preppy style is back," Harper's Bazaar reported recently.

Meanwhile, a used paperback copy of the "Official Preppy Handbook" (1980) was available on Amazon last week for $147.60.

Contact Mark Kennedy at or 423-757-6645.

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