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It Girl Glossary: Indie Sleaze Chic

American Apparel adverts. Alex Turner in any of AM’s music videos. Black and white photography. 90s band tees over Brandy Melville flannels. And, of course, Alexa Chung smoking a cigarette, wearing a mini dress and smokey eyeshadow.

If you were on Tumblr in the mid-2010s, you’ll be aware of the website’s interpretation of indie sleaze, a subculture that started earlier in the 2000s. Arguably it was a response to the political climate of the 2000s, but its aesthetic feels like an amalgamation of countless other styles from the time. It was inspired by grunge, but also felt like the darker twin to Abercrombie & Fitch’s preppy-chic. Classic staples like Peter Pan collars, plaid mini skirts, and nautical stripes were given a grungy, edgy twist, often in or styled alongside a darker colour palette.

Although the bubblegum-pink 2000s is still thriving, indie sleaze — since nicknamed ‘2014-Tumblr-core’ — is crawling back to us (pardon the AM pun). Dakota Johnson’s recent Gucci campaign felt straight out of a Tumblr dashboard, and Celine’s Spring 2023 Menswear collection screams indie sleaze chic. But, how can we translate this style into 2023?

Dakota Johnson for Gucci

The fashion of 2010s’ indie sleaze is inspired almost entirely by the music — or, more specifically, albums. Think AM by Arctic Monkeys, I Love You by The Neighbourhood, and the self-titled The 1975. These male-led bands wore black-and-white colour palettes; whilst The Neighbourhood and The 1975 were known for white t-shirts and ripped jeans, the aesthetic of AM Arctic Monkeys was inspired largely by the greaser subculture from the 1950s. (Think Grease.) And, compared to female artists popular at this time, this affinity for vintage aesthetics is interesting.

Marina and the Diamonds as 'Electra Heart'

Marina and the Diamonds and Lana Del Rey had the starring roles around this time, both of which adopting a romanticised vintage aesthetic. Whilst Marina and the Diamonds’ Electra Heart album took fashion inspiration from the stereotypical 1950s housewife, Lana Del Rey plucked fashion inspiration from the 50s, 60s, and 70s. This, like Arctic Monkeys’ AM era, saw the artists reimagining classic, vintage outfits and combing them with an edgy twist. Electra Heart would show the blonde housewife in music videos alongside static televisions, the perfect blonde 50s curls contrasting with harsh dark-brown roots. Lana Del Rey, on the other hand, utilised this vintage Americana aesthetic to emphasise the darker themes within her songs.

To recreate this look yourself, focus on classic staples. Think shirts (oversized, of course), tennis skirts, black leather jackets, mini dresses with lace detailing, stripes — and, weirdly, fur. All of these items are classics in a preppy, academia-focused aesthetics, but indie sleaze turns them on their head, making them looked slept-in and smelling of cigarettes. Indie sleaze is similar to its predecessor, 90s grunge, in that it took these staples and mixed them with a darker colour palette and messy hair and makeup, making the overall aesthetic much cooler. Mix these with Doc Martens and knee socks, and you’ll be on your way to being Arabella herself.

Written & edited by Lucy Eaton

(@llucyeaton on IG)


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