Bored of Y2K? We’ve lived, breathed and existed in a state of Y2K euphoria for the best part of 5 years now, in keeping with the typical 20 year trend cycles that would have predicted its peak, well, right around now. From the lower-than-low waisted silhouettes on the runway to tooth gems and the dizzying brand revivals such as Ed Hardy and Von Dutch, we won’t blame you if you’re just a bit Y2k’d out.
Well, we’re now on the edge of a new trend revival, one that many thought would never see the light of day again: Indie Sleaze. Indie Sleaze was the aesthetic of the mid 00s-mid 2010s: think Tumblr, amateur flash photography, Kate Moss in a Supreme BOGO and an obsession with #palegrunge. Still not following?
This was a trend that self-described as vintage, and came into its own on Tumblr dashboards. It was a mash-up of 90s heroin chic, 80s grunge, combined with all the questionable fashion choices of the 00s – yes, including those lensless shutter glasses. In the images permeating these early social media sites, flash photography was not so much implied as positively required – creating high-saturation, contrast and shadow – an aesthetic that worked its way from people posting their own shots online to album covers and even whole brand identities.
Maybe the most prominent example of this was American Apparel – a brand that before its infamous fall in 2010 championed a provocative, studio-based aesthetic that had Tumblr in a chokehold. Trend analyst Mandy Lee made a TikTok predicting the resurgence of Indie Sleaze, citing an “obscene amount of evidence” for its revival. As well as fashion, the trend encompasses music mash-ups (DJ Earworm, anyone?), popularised again thanks to TikTok, as well as an overall obsession with ‘vintage’ technology. 20 years ago, this was typewriters and polaroids, but now Lee cites wired headphones and retro-tech phone cases as the ones to watch.
You only need to look as far as one of the most-hyped celebrity couples of the moment to see Indie Sleaze as a concept working its way back into the mainstream. Megan Fox and Machine Gun Kelly’s ‘grunge’ PDA moments on and offline are as 2010 as they are cringe…or is that the same thing? John Green’s iconic ‘Okay?/ Okay’ speech bubbles from The Fault In Our Stars could just as well be replaced with the latest weird statement from the couple of the moment: ‘You smell like weed. / I am Weed.’
In wider culture, the news that the UK government is considering printing ‘smoking kills’ on individual straights caused the internet to predict cigarette sales skyrocketing, with one user commenting that “the 2012 Tumblr girlies would eat this UP!”. As American Apparel epitomised though, the aesthetic has a definite dark side. Fashion crimes in this period were bold and plentiful: glitter lips, an obsession with moustaches and ‘hipsters’ and galaxy print were visual moments that should never make it out of the 2010s.
As playful as it is scary, the predicted resurgence of Indie Sleaze speaks to the wider rejection of ‘perfect’ curation and adoption of hedonism and authenticity, post-pandemic. The immeasurable popularity of TikTok is an example of this – with users flooding to the app to dump real-time, non-polished short form videos as an antidote to the commercialised, influencer-dominated space on Instagram.
Indie Sleaze is about mashing up aesthetics, songs, seeking simple pleasure and romanticising the darker underbelly of life. If it’s #quirky but also tacky, it’s Indie Sleaze – an aesthetic that speaks to society’s preoccupation with nostalgia, in a distinctly post-pandemic environment. Dust off your hi-tops, you have been warned.