Though Gen Z love to ridicule Millennials for their skinny jeans, meme culture, and cheugy Instagram feeds, we have once again taken to their past to form new trends to delight in our present, and this time it’s ‘indie sleaze’.
In recent months, Gen Z have taken to TikTok and Tumblr to share their love of this aesthetic, smudged mascara and all. But the return to this edgy style seems to go further than the For You Page, infiltrating today’s music, technology, and celebrity scene.
According to trend forecaster Mandy Lee, or @oldloserinbrooklyn on TikTok, indie sleaze was an aesthetic that was popular from about 2006-2012, defined by “provocative advertisements”, “amateur-style flash photography”, “opulent displays of clubbing” and “a rise in outdated technology”. Think — 2000s Paris Hilton and Linsday Lohan on a night out.
“We’ve been in lockdown for essentially two years and people are really craving community and creativity,” Mandy Lee told Vogue in a recent article about the trend. “I feel like with the indie sleaze subculture, 15 years ago, community, art, and music were so powerful – that’s what brought people together. I think that specific elements, more so than the fashion, will become prevalent, as well as the style of photography, of course.”
The return of this aesthetic has been most present in the fashion on TikTok— with creators styling Effy Stonem-inspired outfits accompanied by indie rock sounds from bands the Arctic Monkeys or the Skins soundtrack.
TikToker @carolcarolovich predicts that the indie sleaze look will come back in full force in 2022, but with a twist. In a video, she said the revival will bring back, “platform sneakers rather than boots, mid-rise baggy destroyed jeans rather than skinny, and graphic tees instead of band [tees]”, as well as “fun bomber jackets.”
When it comes to makeup— the smudged, slept-in eyeliner look is all over everyone’s FYP, heightened by trends like no under-eye concealer or the crying makeup look.
Founder of Ciaté London, Charlotte Knight, says the indie sleaze aesthetic is all about cool tones, “Completely contrasting the dopamine, over the top, euphoria makeup, this look is all about looking like your makeup has been on for hours”.
While black eyeliner is a staple when it comes to the indie sleaze look, Knight says, “More is always more. To achieve this look you will need black eyeliner (and lot’s of it!) alongside a good smudge brush, this will be your best friend as all marinated makeup needs blending until it melts into the face.”
Or, as one user suggests, you achieve this look by simply taking a nap in your eyeliner!
Knight also says to pair the smudged eyeliner look with a brown lip, which has infamously been brought to TikTok by Hailey Bieber.
The way Gen Z showcase these throwback fashion and beauty looks has also taken a nostalgic turn, fishing out their digital cameras from the back in the day (or the digital cameras belonging to their Millennial siblings, more likely), to achieve photos that give off that “amateur-style flash photography” vibe reminiscent of the 2000s club scene.
Despite its play on fashion and beauty, indie sleaze was born out of a love of music— another aspect of the aesthetic that we’re watching come back to life.
Popular artists like Olivia Rodrigo and Machine Gun Kelly have adopted the indie sleaze rock feel to their music by sampling artists from that era. Other past influences that have infiltrated today’s music industry include the rise of mash-up songs on TikTok and the reappearance of certain design choices that were popular during those years, like the use of Helvetica font and grainy cover art in Taylor Swift’s Midnights album.
While smudged liner, messy hair, and edgy clothing may be fun to play around with, it seems the more sinister parts of the indie sleaze era are creeping up as well.
Pro-Ana (pro-anorexia) content seems to be taking over Twitter and Tumblr again. Headlines like ‘Bye Bye Booty: Heroin Chic Is Back’ are making the rounds and supermodels like Bella Hadid and Kendall Jenner are being praised by Gen Z for how skinny they are.
Body positivity stars like Lizzo, Jameela Jamil, and Ashley Graham have worked hard to not only change the conversation around what is considered ‘in’ or ‘out’ when it comes to women’s bodies, but they’ve also worked hard to push and celebrate women of colour. The comeback of this aesthetic is exciting and nostalgic, but it can also be dangerous and wildly exclusive— with skinny, white girls at the helm once again.
Despite the revival’s online origins, it speaks to our desire for face-to-face connection and a sense of community. Gen Z yearn for a time when connection was found through common interests and experiences rather than through doomscrolling and finsta accounts.
But in a way, that’s what makes indie sleaze the perfect TikTok trend for us. Its mishmashed DIY spirit suits a generation who scrolls through new trends daily, experimenting with what we love in pursuit of finding connection and discovering more about who we are and what we love.