Semi-blurry images from Twilight’s Bella and Edward plastered across Gen Z superstar Olivia Rodrigo’s micro-purse. Leg warmers. Megan Fox covering magazines and taking up conversation topics. Social media snapshots of chipped black nail polish, obscure quotes on signs, obnoxiously loud fur hats, and film candids that are just a little bit mysterious and messy.
No, this isn’t 2006 — most of our generation were still dressed in Justice and Carter’s. It’s the present day, and Gen Z’s stylistic form of expression is shedding its polish and pristine with every passing minute. Though we’re not outwardly pinpointing this culture shift by the term ‘indie sleaze’, it’s highly reminiscent of the earlier American Apparel and ‘hipster’ era.
But this time, it’s of our own design.
Gen Z is Cherry-Picking Styles, Not Gathering the Whole Bunch
In hindsight, Generation Z is using the entire archive of 90’s style, records from the ‘80s, or warm-filtered runway and paparazzi photos from the Year 2K as our own curated vision board. Fashion, music, and aesthetic trends are usually built on the pillars of the past, paying homage to older style icons along with the likes of Britney Spears, Paris Hilton and Naomi Campbell. For example, a couple of years ago, when Stranger Things was all we could chatter about, we saw striped sweaters, baggy mom jeans, and frizzy hair bunched together by scrunchies dominate the fashion scene. The 80’s style had a reincarnation into the ‘art h*e’ aesthetic, but we left out paint-splatter jeans and neon blazers.
With ‘indie sleaze’, we see a similar effect, in which we don’t emulate a certain era to the fullest extent, but pick and choose, combining new styles with old to create a ‘remix’ instead of a ‘replica’. In 2022, we’re ditching the hipster mustache and galaxy leggings from the previous ‘indie sleaze’ era, but taking notes from the rise of Tumblr and Alexa Chung.
“People want a more nonchalant mash-up of things that feels right in the moment, more playful and genuine,” says the founder of the Trend Atelier, Geraldine Wharry. “Indie sleaze was ultimately about seeking pleasure, approaching life as a giant mash-up, making the most out of the moment at a time when life was getting darker, but still wasn’t quite as bad as today.”
Signs of a Gen Z-led Hispter and Indie Sleaze Comeback
1. Stockings fashion trend (patterned, runs in stockings)
2. Smoky eyes, chunky and thick black eyeliner
3. Casual Instagram, grainy and filtered photos
Ranking our levels of “Mysteriousness”
The mysterious and unique aura around people we see on social media is something we’ve been desiring as of late. Users on TikTok will post their outfits, daily habits, or makeup looks with captions such as “wanting to be the cool mysterious girl who just doesn’t give a f**k.” Megan Fox’s Instagram caption detailing her relationship with Machine Gun Kelly is peppered with phrases that sound directly from grunge Tumblr (“general mayhem”, “psychedelic hallucinations”, “feverish obsessions”, “therapy”).
This gives major flashbacks to the Tumblr girl era, where the now-frowned-down-upon concept of the ‘not like other girls’ was instilled into our minds. Gen Z has now reclaimed ‘not-like-other-girls’ — but this time, without putting other people down to lift ourselves up. Instead, we’re just focusing on the latter. It’s been replaced with a sheer amount of confidence and an obsession with ourselves, where we’ll constantly describe ourselves with positive traits such as ‘hot’, ‘cool’, and ‘pretty’. These phrases are laced with a tone of sarcasm, though most come from a genuine place of self-love.
“Creating a Remix, and not a Replica”
As Trend Forecaster Mandy Lee @oldloserinbrooklyn points out “the rise in outdated technology — back then it was polaroids and typewriters, this time it’s wired headphones and phones that look like outdated technology.” DIY bedroom photoshoots and the blurry, grainy aesthetic were all the rage during the Indie Sleaze era, with American Apparel cover shoots of girls tangled up in their white bedsheets flying off shelves. Now, we’re seeing an upturn in the grainy film and home photoshoot aesthetic, especially with the rise of casual Instagram. Though ‘photo dumps’ are still heavily curated, they are distributed with significantly less editing and pressure to gain likes. In some ways, it alludes to Instagram’s digital atmosphere back around the 2013’s, where people would post low-quality photos of their lunch, selfies with their friends, the sky, or just about anything. It’s more spontaneous and gives us the room to do something different than a standard photo of yourself in a pretty location.
Thanks to TikTok, remixes and mashups have been topping the charts — from motive x promiscuous, to Fly Me To The Moon, to CPR by CupcakKe! Back in the hipster and Indie Sleaze era, mashups were extremely popular, which is only further evidence of this aesthetic coming back into focus.
A Re-Emergence of Purely Raw Self-Expression
The unsaid motto of ‘indie sleaze’ is essentially “I don’t give an %$!#@” and “Doing whatever just because we can.” Defined and pinpointed by niche aesthetic aspects like the club and party scene, the Tumblr, twee, and hipster era makes sense as lockdown restrictions loosen up. As Sujena Soumyanath for DailyFreePress.com pens, “After the pandemic’s endless months of sweatpants, whipped coffee and crushing existential angst, who wouldn’t want to go clubbing excessively and celebrate the night’s chaos with amateur flash pictures?”
JUV Consulting is a Gen Z collective that works with companies to create purpose-driven and authentic marketing campaigns that engage young audiences. Contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org if you would like to learn how to reach Gen Z, or sign up for our weekly newsletter, The Screenshot, to get Gen Z insights straight to your inbox.
Sophia Delrosario is the Director of Insights at JUV. She is also the founder and executive director of Zenerations (@zenerations on Instagram).