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Indie Sleaze Essentials

Much like sex, nostalgia sells: and what’s more raunchy or youthful than Indie Sleaze, the cultural phenomenon that dominated the late 2000s and early 2010s? Indie Sleaze was a movement known for its anachronistic, unapologetic gritty appeal–– and at its core–– existed purely to celebrate partying and all things indelicate. Think Sky Ferreira, synthy electro house and post-punk music, and ironically nerdy apparel. Gaudy fur hats. High-contrast clubbing photography. Shutter shades. Intentionally visible neon bra straps. Skins (2007). Dubstep. You get the gist. 

Inarguably, the backbone of Indie Sleaze is the mindset of, “I am so young and hot that even wearing mustache-themed jewelry and having horrendously done eyeliner does not take away from how YOUNG AND HOT I AM.”

With that being said: why is the Indie Sleaze revival happening now of all times? After all, the typical fashion cycle dictates that trends naturally repeat themselves every twenty-ish years. Right now, it’s 2021–– hardly a decade since the slow burn of this particular cultural movement. So, what is expediting the revival process?

There are a few possible answers. It’s not news that the trend cycle has been accelerated due to fast fashion and the rising popularity of microtrends. Theoreticals aside, people just are itching to indulge in sexy, mindless fun again. Though the mid-noughties feel like they were just yesterday, breaking the trend cycle convention feels necessary after the draining few years we’ve just lived through. 

After being locked up due to COVID, 20-somethings everywhere are bursting at the seams with eagerness to just have a good time, to reclaim the almost two years of young-and-hotness that were ripped under their feet during lockdown. Indie Sleaze is the solution, the anecdote, the low-hanging fruit needed to cure this collective sweet tooth.

To simplify your Indie Sleaze-ification, we’ve rounded up the absolute essentials. So relax, put on some MGMT, log into your old MySpace, and grab a sharpie to draw a mustache on your pointer finger. Enjoy this unhealthy dose of too-soon nostalgia.

Wired headphones

Yes, really. You read that correctly. Just a mere few years after the introduction of airpods, wired headphones have regained popularity…only this time, they are more than just functional. In the revival of Indie Sleaze, wired headphones are now a subversive, faux-vintage, off-duty-model-on-the-run accessory in itself. For a simple (and cheap!) wireless headphone look, dig around your technology drawer for the classic white Apple earbuds that we all have tangled up somewhere. If you’re looking to make more of an intentional fashion statement, however, feel free to dive into the ’10s deep end with colored and ornately decorated earbuds.

Messy hair

Even as they stuck to the shaggy side bangs popularized in the late 2000s, people have left behind their straightening irons to embrace the just-got-out-of-bed messy hair look — beach waves optional. 

American Apparel

There’s no denying it: American Apparel quite literally WAS the fashion industry in the 2010s. Known for their easily identifiable basics and risque advertisements, this brand essentially pioneered Indie Sleaze. Their clothes range from politely basic and unsuggestive to raunchy and subversive: the latter, of course, being ideal for this fashion movement. If you’re looking to embody peak Indie Sleazeism: look toward American Apparel’s striped knee socks, baby briefs, disco pants, and halter bodysuits. These garments in particular were essentially a uniform for young people of the time, and with excellent reason: American Apparel’s catalog allows the effortlessly, almost cartoonishly simple and explicit maximalist to coexist, which is *quite literally* the essence of this movement.

A digital camera

During the Indie Sleaze revolution, digital cameras were more than mere vessels for high-contrast photography: donning one on your wrist was an accessory in itself. Some would even opt to get colorful models, such as blue and pink. For a cheaper (and honestly, more authentically sleazy) alternative, stop by a thrift store and find the most beat up digital cam you can get your hands on. The grittier the quality, the better!


No matter what you’re wearing, tassels add a bold flair. You can look for a scarf or a necklace with tassels for a free-spirited look, or turn (and roll!) some heads with a shiny flapper style dress.

Fedoras (unfortunately)

I’m currently wincing as I type this. Though I am deeply agonized to admit it, I would be disrespecting veteran hipsters everywhere if I were to neglect the cultural significance of the extremely cursed fedora. These hats had a true chokehold on 20-somethings of 2010s, most likely due to their twee-esque nostalgic appeal. They are also an iconic nod to early 2010s internet culture (*cough, cough*, Tumblr), where “nerdy” apparel and off-beat interests were all the rage. 

Animal prints

A cheeky personification of the phrase “party animal,” cheetah and zebra print, alongside faux-fur coats, emboldened Indie Sleaze’s wild side.

Intentionally unintentional & raunchy makeup

Nothing is sultrier, and therefore more Indie Sleezian, than horrendously smudged makeup. The classic “I just woke up from clubbing all night and I’m ready to go on a 3-day bender” look is almost an ode to Ke$ha, the queen of all party animals. Thickly applied glittery silver-grays, ‘80s inspired neons, bright red lipstick are absolutely essential to bringing back the mid-noughties.

Cutout tank tops

Another way to achieve that lived-in look is to wear loose, thin tank tops with cutouts or rips to bare skin. Layer it with a tight camisole, or a cute bralette if you dare.

Studded belts and bracelets

Studs and spikes are more workable than you might think. Try combining studded accessories to daintier pieces for a desired level of grittiness. This, my friends, is the art of Indie Sleaze: juxtaposition.

Bustier tops

If this isn’t already clear, Indie Sleaze isn’t just about being sexy, but also about embracing the old stuff, whether that means bringing back retro inspirations, or wearing clothes that are literally frazzled. A bustier, with its old-school, femme fatale charm, is a good example of the former.

Graphic tees with ~quirky~ slogans

In the Indie Sleaze era, wearing a graphic tee was about being clever, not just looking nice. Popular designs included lists of iconic names in helvetica print (its original iteration was created by fashion designer Experimental Jetset in 2001 Beatles shirt that says “John & Paul & Ringo & George.”) or out-of-place brand logos (e.g. Chanel or Vogue). The more ironic, the better. 

Geometric designs

Triangles, parallelograms, and chevron stripes offered a modern, edgy (pun intended!) alternative to womenswear cliches, like florals, plaids, and polka dots.

Stockings under shorts

There’s no such thing as too cold to wear shorts. You can layer it with a basic sheer, black pantyhose, or a pair of brightly colored tights, if you want to get loud. Don’t worry about breaking it: runned and ripped stockings were sought after for its trashy-chic appeal. 


I don’t hear many people talking about this, but it seems as though anyone who went through an Indie Sleaze phase has at least one picture of them wearing these stringy headbands angled horizontally on their heads. 

Leather jackets

A leather jacket is a timeless staple, but they go well with virtually any of the items listed here. 

Asaka Mae

TCNJ '24

Bella Trucco is currently the Editor in Chief of HC TCNJ, and is is a junior majoring in communication studies with minors in psychology & marketing. She has always been a big fan of pop culture, social justice, and the oxford comma.
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