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The Indie Sleaze Revival

From hipsters to present


After recently watching the now arguably infamous film Saltburn there was one character whose style particularly fascinated me and seemingly those on the internet: Venetia. Messy bleached hair with just enough roots showing to reveal her as a natural brunette, smudged yet chic black eyeliner, eccentric but at once understated outfits — all this didn’t go unadmired on the internet. This was enough to confirm to me that the indie sleaze style which dominated the mid 2000-2010s might just return to the mainstream.


I consider Saltburn a 2007 period piece, perfectly capturing the era’s music, style and (for the most part) its carefree party lifestyle. There's a stirring in the fashion world — a prediction, really — that Indie Sleaze, in all its dishevelled glory, is poised for a comeback, perhaps in a form adapted for our times. Besides the fashion cycle’s constant need to reinvent itself by drawing from the past, this fashion era’s appeal is greater than just its clothes. It encompasses a whole way of living, one which growing up we could only witness and admire. 


The term ‘indie sleaze’ is a dignified name recently coined as opposed to the unsavoury ‘hipster’ to describe the style of 2007-2012, a polarising time reflected perfectly in its fashion. It is effortless but meticulously curated, over the top but somehow understated, grungy but maximalist, chic yet ironic. This was a time before the ubiquity of smartphones, where amateur flash photography and candid shots were the norm, not Instagram-worthy perfection. Fashion was at the forefront of this movement, with Alexa Chung, Agyness Deyn and Mary-Kate Olsen being its It-girls sporting ripped tights, vintage boots and mini-shorts relentlessly photographed by paparazzi. And this was all soundtracked by the sounds of electronic music and indie rock bands like the Strokes, the Libertines and MGMT, and visually immortalised by Skins — a show we all watched a little too young. 


There are unmistakable signs of indie sleaze’s return to the current fashion scene. We are seeing this reemergence everywhere from walking down the three streets of St Andrews to the runway, where in 2020 Gucci’s autumn/winter collection resembled 2010s street style. While in the era of indie sleaze nostalgia for a pre-Y2K time was on the rise with the popularity of polaroids and typewriters, this has now been modernised to a nostalgia which reveals itself in wired headphones and cheap digital cameras at parties. The underlying irony of this style is something that I think particularly resonates with our generation as the ironic t-shirts of the 2010s have come back in the form of ironic ‘I heart’ tops of the 2020s. It is this unique brand of irony-nostalgia that is being replicated and modernised now.


But more than a desire to simply replicate, the fashion is perhaps a yearning for this way of life. One where Mary-Kate Olsen is nonchalantly photographed by paparazzi on a “walk of shame” or where, as a writer on Vice puts it, “the unofficial wardrobe of every twenty-something in the mid-aughts unwaveringly included cutoffs and bruised knees.” In a time when new viral aesthetics are spurring into existence before they have even fully formed, it is only natural for us to yearn for nonchalance and chic carelessness which the era of indie sleaze not only embraced but popularised. 


Today's indie sleaze revival weaves in contemporary elements. The thick-rimmed fake prescription glasses of millennials have been replaced by thin “office-Syren-core” fake prescription glasses. Instagram feeds are becoming increasingly relaxed, featuring more and more faux-candid photographs akin to the party photography of The Cobrasnake. More recently Instagram accounts such as @IndieSleaze have started to emerge, serving both as inspiration and a slightly cringey time capsule of the 2010s period. 


This is both exciting and mildly concerning. As we take fashion inspiration from such a near past, the excessively rapid acceleration of the fashion cycle becomes all the more apparent, raising questions for what is ahead when the cycle inevitably catches up to the present. While a full reemergence of this style in its original form is unlikely, as I am fairly certain we won’t be seeing American Apparel disco pants in the near future, it is clear that influences of indie sleaze have started to cement themselves in our contemporary fashion. 


Illustration by Lauren McAndrew

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