The inevitable return of Indie Sleaze

Trend forecaster, Mandy Lee (@oldloserinbrooklyn) posted on TikTok that the fashion style known as ‘Indie Sleaze’ is becoming popular again, after its initial success in the early 2000s. The original wearers of Indie Sleaze were The Libertines’ Pete Doherty, models Kate Moss and Alexa Chung, and Brandon Flowers from The Killers – all good indications of the pop-culture scene behind the movement.

‘Indie Sleaze’ is an anachronistic name for the style. As Lee discusses in her TikTok, is characterised by ‘provocative advertisement, amateur-style flash photography [and] opulent displays of clubbing’. It is also a style that went hand-in-hand with the edgy side of Tumblr: the short, sad poetry captions, quoting songs from the time, gaudy, colourful American Apparel clothes, and out-of-date technology. Think Effy Stonem from Skins, and you will have a good image of the indie sleaze scene. You may as well recognise it as a potentially returning style. 

Fashion cultures have been shown to repeat every two decades, but what does the return of Indie Sleaze say about society? 

Firstly, there is an inherent nostalgia present in the 2021/22 update of Indie Sleaze. In the noughties, people got messy – looking unpolished while still having fun. Smartphones were in their very early stages. There was no need nor ability to publicise that fun night on social media, and as such, there is also an authenticity to the style. Not only with its recognition, but also its celebration of wild messy parties without comparing oneself to other people. 

Mandy Lee also touched on the communal feel to Indie Sleaze. ‘I feel like with the Indie Sleaze subculture, 15 years ago, community, art, and music were so powerful – that’s what brought people together.’ With two years spent in and out of lockdowns, limiting physical interaction, TikTok and Instagram play a bigger part in our generational identity. On these sites, past trends like Indie Sleaze can spread fast – from those who first pioneered a style, to the new generations now exploring their identities. With climate anxiety on the rise, there has been a significant rise in sustainable shopping in recent years. Recreating Indie Sleaze will often involve thrift shopping: mismatch items, edgy Tumblr aesthetics, vast allusions to the early stages of 21st-century adolescence. It makes sense that Indie Sleaze should have begun to infiltrate our society again.

So, with this amateur provocativeness, perhaps we will see a messy, unfiltered style evolving further into the 2020s – one that brings us back to a world of budding indie stars and hipsterish millennial individualism.

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Molly Phillips

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June 2022
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