Why Are Unicorns So Popular? 🦄 The Trend Explained
March 08, 2018 6:00 AM
This article is more than five years old and was last updated in June 2023.
If you'd asked me ten years ago what creature would sum up culture in 2018, I don't think I'd ever have guessed it would be the unicorn.
This month British discount store Primark started selling unicorn-themed nails and everyone seems to have gone crazy, which got me wondering, how have we ended up in the middle of this unicorn trend? Where did it come from and why do people seem to love unicorns so much?
Primark's 'Princess Unicorn' adhesive nails aren't the first product to be blessed with unicorn magic, last year the US went unicorn mad when for a week in April Starbuck's put a sickly-looking unicorn themed drink on their menu.
Of course nowadays the influence of anything that reaches this level of popularity can best be gauged online, especially on social media. Instagram boasts an amazing 7.5 million photos tagged with #unicorn, the stream of photos is made up of everything from snaps of unicorn t-shirts, to pool floats, pyjama sets, and even unicorn-themed sushi rolls.
In July last year the search term 'unicorn' overtook 'mermaid' in popularity on Google for the first time ever and has been climbing ever since. Meanwhile, YouTube is overflowing with videos of unicorn cupcake and makeup tutorials.
Not to mention the trend of unicorn snot and unicorn slime. If you're not down with the ways of a unicorn, unicorn snot is basically just body glitter. Unicorn slime however made headlines last year after kids started getting chemical burns from playing with homemade unicorn slime. It's basically just a homemade pinkish translucent slime with glitter running through it, kids play with it in the same way as Silly Putty.
Kids were sharing their best slimes on Instagram and even selling it to classmates, some pots were reportedly selling for up to £10. However some of the ingredients being used are far from safe for kids to be playing with. One 10-year-old, British schoolgirl was left with serious chemical burns on her hands after following one recipe for the slime she found online.
The instructions suggested using borax, a chemical also known as sodium borate. A substance which is more commonly used as an ingredient in detergents and cosmetics. Borax is known to damage fertility and cause serious eye irritation and for this reason it can be quite hard to track down, although it can be bought online.
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Probably the clearest sign that unicorns define an era, is the fact that unicorns are becoming a pretty popular tattoo design. In the supernatural Netflix drama show 'Dark', which revolves around time travel, a police force from the 50s come into possession of a body from the present day and notice a unicorn tattoo. The pathologist describes the design as "odd," he says "I've seen all kinds of tattoo designs before, but this one wins my prize for weird."
I'm pretty sure the show accurately reflects how people from the past would have judged our unicorn obsession, in fact it'll probably all seem pretty odd looking back in tens years time too.
This isn't the first time that unicorns have infiltrated our culture, in fact my hometown of Bristol has had an obsession with unicorns since the 16th century when the English city chose to include two of the elusive beasts in its official seal, it was stamped into the hot wax of thousand of legal documents of the time.
The unicorns being shown on either side of the blazon makes them supporters of the city, documents of the time said that unicorns will only do homage to men of virtue. They can be seen paying homage by the way they are posed, they are depicted seated rather than rearing up on their hind legs as you might expect.
Beneath the unicorns was the phrase, "virtute et industry" which means "by virtue and industry," it also included a golden ship departing from a silver castle.
Photo: © Rob Brewer
Since the 16th century, unicorns have become much more rainbow coloured and much more glittery, but this seems to have helped them explode into mainstream millennial culture. The recent unicorn trend began in around 2016 and has mostly been fuelled by Instagram, it seems unicorns are the perfect subject of snaps on the photo sharing website.
Marketeers and manufacturers have also helped drive the trend as unicorn-themed toys, clothing, stationary, and other products can be made with ease and without any expensive licensing costs. In the last few years unicorns have been seen everywhere, including on children's television, gay pride marches, and selling beauty products.
Daniel Levine, has managed to some how get himself the title of "trend expert" and says that a trend like this happens when, "there's an established cultural interest in something that matches up with the current zeitgeist, celebrities publicise it, and the fad is visually interesting enough to take off on social media."
Right at the frontline of the unicorn fad was a food blogger from Miami who posted a photo of her unicorn toast, it was shared thousands of times across various social networks. Then Niki Minaj helped move things along with the video for her rubbish 2017 single, 'Make Love' which featured her on an inflatable unicorn pool float and a man named Gucci Mane, although I don't think his name is supposed to be taken as a unicorn pun. This led to every pool around the world having at least one blow up unicorn throughout the summer of 2017.
Then there was 'My Little Pony: The Movie', the toy was already going through a resurgence in popularity after its 80s heyday, but the recent movie which featured the voices of Emily Blunt and Zoe Saldana, helped to cement unicorns' popularity. The film's main character was a pegasus-unicorn-cross called Princess Twilight Sparkle.
As you might imagine, it's mostly females who love the horned mythical creature, and is mostly limited to young girls under the age of 18, but the craze does extend into the 20s and beyond, although not to the same degree. The unicorn has also made its way into LGBT symbology, perhaps because unicorns and rainbows go hand-in-hand, making the mythical creature a perfect fit with the pride flag.
As for how long unicorns will be part of out lives, who can say. But if you can't beat them, join them...
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