Skinny jeans and slogan T-shirts are back as Gen Z revives the ‘indie sleaze’ aesthetic that ruled in the late 00s. But why are millennials joining them too? Stylist investigates the power of nostalgia after the pandemic.
We may (somehow) have made it to 2022, but it seems we’re choosing to look backwards, not forwards.
As the world starts to eke its way out from the horrors of the coronavirus pandemic, an increasing number of us are reminiscing about our formative years spent in dank basement bars listening to The Libertines, wearing lashings of thick black eyeliner and neon T-shirts carrying slogans such as ‘Flick yer bean for Agyness Deyn’.
The indie aesthetic, better known as ‘indie sleaze’, is back with a vengeance, pulled kicking and screaming from 2008 by members of Gen Z who are sharing recreations of the look on TikTok in their droves.
But it’s not just the youth who are desperate to revive this neon trend from yesteryear; with general interest rising in throwback fashion, data from reselling app Tise has shown a 45% rise in searches including Y2K, and a 30% rise in the search term ‘retro’ when compared to last year.
Elsewhere, the announcement of the When We Were Young Festival, scheduled to be taking place in Las Vegas in October, sent the Twittersphere into a frenzy at the thought of seeing bands like My Chemical Romance, Paramore and Taking Back Sunday playing live over a decade after their initial popularity.
Characterised by its huge, side-swept fringes, eclectic nu-rave music, and hedonistic, messy parties, indie sleaze is enjoying a resurgence due to the pandemic, according to internet commentator and Garbage Day newsletter creator Ryan Broderick.
“There’s this overwhelming feeling of being too old to party when this is all over. I think a lot of the indie sleaze stuff is attractive to Gen Z for the same reason,” adds Broderick. “Think of the kids who were 19 when this started and now they’re in their 20s. There’s a whole group of young people right now who haven’t really had anything close to a ‘normal’ adulthood.
“The indie sleaze scene was one of the first subcultures documented on social media. Gen Z may have looked at these for reference to see how people in their 20s should be acting.”
It’s a world Katie Baskerville, 30, has found herself drawn to in recent months. Having grown up in north Wales, the freelance writer is “loving the nostalgia” brought about by the indie sleaze revival and remembering the wild and free time it was in her life.
“I came to indie sleaze after exiting the ‘scene’ phase at around 17,” Baskerville tells Stylist. “I’d left school to go to art college; I was rolling my own cigarettes and drinking black coffee.
“We were wild. The kind of wild that comes with youth and real freedom that we didn’t have at home. We were so charged by our sex, our drinking and, for some of us, our drug-taking too. We just wanted to rip through the world and do it laughing with a pack of Marlboro menthol cigarettes.”
Now she’s older, Baskerville isn’t quite the indie fanatic she used to be in her youth – but she still finds herself reminiscing about her younger and wilder days, particularly recently.
“The buzz of being part of that phase sticks with you,” she says. “I’ll indulge in a little sleaze with friends even now, but milder and usually more nostalgically.”
Nicole Garcia agrees that she’s also enjoying the resurgence of indie sleaze. The 31-year-old from Orange County, USA, says she’d live through her hedonistic past all over again if it wasn’t for the pandemic.
“It was all about having fun with your friends,” she tells Stylist. “I was 21 and a musician at the time, so we partied and life felt like a Kesha song. This era was about maximalism and overstimulation.
“I think because of Covid, people want their own ‘roaring 20s’. People feel like they’ve been deprived of this for the past few years, and as indie sleaze is all about hedonism, people want that and feel like they deserve it.”
Garcia believes that while it’s enjoying a resurgence in popularity now, the indie sleaze scene will always remain a part of culture.
“I actually don’t think I ever fully left,” she says. “I’m still that girl glueing mirror tiles to my bra for the look. I think elements of it will always be with me.”
There’s a good reason why we fall back on nostalgia, particularly after harrowing or traumatic times. A 2020 study from scientists at Rutgers University and North Dakota State University found that during periods of loneliness, nostalgic thoughts help to cultivate a sense of social connectedness and enhance overall wellbeing.
“Nostalgia helps to cement us to our ‘true self’ – the identity that remains a constant even through the changing patterns of the life span,” psychologist Dr Alison McClymont explains. “If we find we are longing for a time long gone, maybe we can ask: what do I miss from then that I can bring in to the now? Do I need to socialise more? Have I lost a sense of creativity? Do I need to feel more spontaneous? We can bring all these aspects into our present without feeling stuck in our past.”
Indie sleaze particularly appeals to our Covid-weary sensibilities as it’s the antithesis of the last two years, which saw us stuck in, bored and alone.
“Indie sleaze represents hedonism and partying. It also represents freedom of expression and the celebration of youth,” Dr McClymont continues. “It summarises a character who is artistic, creative, carefree and uninhibited – all of these things can feel like seductive labels when we find ourselves constrained by the mundane, such as work deadlines and mortgage payments.
“Our teenage years may bring us memories of a carefree time; more time with friends, a time where we felt more beautiful or more in touch with our identity.”
So while Gen Zers may be embracing the libertine culture of indie sleaze as freedom starts to return, millennials are enjoying looking back at their formative years with a wry smile, without wanting to embrace their former hedonistic lifestyle completely.
“I’m happy to whack on a playlist and reminisce – but I don’t have the energy for that kind of rebellion,” Baskerville laughs. “If I revisited indie sleaze in an authentic way I’d be exhausted, to say the least.”
Images: Getty, Katie Baskerville and Nicole Garcia