The opinions expressed in this article are the writer’s own and do not reflect the views of Her Campus.
trigger warning: this article briefly mentions eating disorders and diet culture.
It wasn’t very long ago that the hipster aesthetic took the world by storm. They listened to The Smiths, smoked cigarettes, and overall perfectly embodied the constructed but unconstructed look. Since then, we’ve taught ourselves to spend time curating our aesthetics – but, with #indiesleaze back on the rise, that ideal is slipping away (and, hopefully, for good).
They were sloppy, pretentious, and tacky. But, we loved every second of it.
what is indie sleaze?
While the term itself was recently coined, it somehow fits just right. This was a time when social media was on the rise and reaching popularity fast. During the early 2010s, many Millennials (and some GenZ like myself) were enjoying the spotlight and taking advantage of it! As media evolved, normal people began ingesting celebrities, television characters, and music motifs more frequently and outwardly. Leaving people like Sky Ferreira, Lana Del Rey, Effy Stonem, Jessica Day, and (the icon herself) Alexa Chung as the face of the aesthetic.
This was an era of “It Girls” separated into three different subcultures – indie sleaze, Tumblr girl (my personal favorite), and twee. While there are many other alternative aesthetics during this time like scene and emo, these were the ones that seemed to define the era. And, they may share similarities, but they are not the same.
Indie sleaze was promoted as being the “Messy Girl” – the antithesis of the recently famous “Clean Girl” aesthetic. It was popularized by smudged makeup, partying all night, sleeping in clothes worn the night before, and other unkempt habits. This type of girl reeked of sex, drugs, and alcohol. Fashion brands like American Apparel (any item that was metallic, tight, and semi-flattering) occupied her wardrobe, along with obscure accessories. And, there wasn’t a flash photo without her in it. One of the many inspirations for the aesthetic was Effy Stonem from Skins UK. She adorned dark clothes and imperfect-perfect makeup, all the while smoking cigarettes and feeling miserable because nobody breaks her heart.
The Tumblr girl was the slightly cleaned-up version of indie sleaze. She still sported American Apparel unapologetically, but with chunky shoes and bleached hair. She listened to Arctic Monkeys, The Neighbourhood, The 1975, and Lana Del Rey. Just like indie sleaze, she was a sad girl – but, she was grunge. She died her hair, wore Doc Marten’s (special mention: Jeffery Campbell Creepers), and dark lipstick. Tumblr girls loved their flash photography, however never to show how exciting their lives were. It was to capture moments of solitude… Sometimes in graveyards and abandoned locations. Or, suggesting violent themes. These girls reinvented the meaning of angst through their social media posts – you couldn’t get any better than that. Oh, and I almost forgot… Cigarettes – lots, and lots of cigarettes.
Now, the yassification of the “Manic Pixie Dream Girl” – twee. Otherwise known as the Zooey Deschanel aesthetic because she truly owns this subculture. They trademarked peter pan collars, ballet flats, knit cardigans, and ukeleles. It was girl-next-door hipster-fied. She was quirky and unafraid to completely be herself. We could all take something from these girls. With this aesthetic, femininity was completely embraced with plenty of skirts and dresses paired with colored stockings – its inspiration sparking from the 60s and 70s fashion. But, this was directly after 2010… So think Buzzfeed and mustache everything. I get shivers just thinking about it.
While these similar aesthetics were deemed influential and/or rememberable (with is code for cringy) to many Millennials and some GenZ, they had their faults. Ugh, you just had to be there.
indie sleaze and its exclusivity
We’ve grown a lot since the early twenty-first century. Body positivity and neutrality have taken us to a more accepting and loving society. While we still have work to do in that department – it’s nothing like the early 2000s.
“Nothing tastes as good as skinny feels,” Kate Moss said in 2009. And, I’m sure there was a lot worse said during this time, and that affected girls everywhere. Supermodels, celebrities, and the media enforced only one body type (a size 0). If anyone deviated from that size, they’d be belittled until a change was made. This resulted in eating disorders of different degrees, often in teenage girls in fear of being undesirable. Or, as Paris Hilton would say – hot.
Dangerous diets were enforced, in rejection of being fat. Women were tricking their bodies into thinking they were full, so they wouldn’t eat as much – which inevitably led to eating disorders.
The “It Girls” of these aesthetics were rarely above a size 2. They all had thigh gaps and sported them like accessories. Teenagers posting #thinspo posts on Tumblr, feeding into the expectation of heroin-chic (enforced by Kate Moss, herself). This – This we can do without.
Atop of it all, there wasn’t much POC representation in these aesthetics. Not a single person of color was considered an icon during this era.
I may not have had the full experience of indie sleaze, but I caught it during its conclusion. At age eleven and twelve, you’re trying to figure out what you like – so, I went to Tumblr and Youtube. I mean, where else would I go? But, as I scrolled for hours on end under the #grungeaesthetic tag, I realized that none of the girls looked like me. I didn’t see anyone with kinky-curly hair, or dark skin. Unless I was hyper-specific in my search.
The only way I’ll be accepting indie sleaze and its resurgence is only if it’s coming back with inclusivity, instead of exclusivity. We’ve come too far, to take a thousand steps back for the sake of fashion. Every person should be included when it comes to popular trends and aesthetics.
is indie sleaze coming back?
Indie sleaze and its subcultures are approaching – I can practically smell it. With influentials like Olivia Rodrigo, Myha’la Herrold, and TikTok creator and model Alex Consani (I think she’s very y2k) – this fun, maximalist and expressive aesthetic is on the come up. And, much better than before. This a trend where nothing has to be perfect and overtly manipulated. For those low maintenance girls – this one’s for you!
When it comes to indie sleaze, prioritize the flash. Don’t fix your hair. The trick is to not look put together – you gotta be real.
Nobody wears shiny silver/gold material anymore. That has to change. Shiny material was a staple piece in indie sleaze. You can’t be sleazy without a little shine.
If you’re not cosplaying Effy Stonem… Then, what are you doing? Bring back the angsty energy of 2010 (safely and llegally, of course). Smudge the eye shadow and eyeliner, bring back the side part (use this part with a grain of salt), and streak your hair!
The whole gist to have fun and exist in your youth. Don’t take life too seriously! Experiment with your clothes and your makeup and your hair like you’re a real life Bratz doll – that’s what your youth is for. And, like our predecessors once said… YOLO!