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Inside clowncore, the aesthetic reclaiming our love for clowns with vibrant humour

For decades, the role of clowns in our society has been debated. Are they joyous beings stirring up barrels of laughter? Or are they the main characters of our nightmares? While some link clowns to childhood birthday parties, others will always associate them with Pennywise, the terrifying entity bunking in the sewers. On the internet, however, clowns are a meme—later resurfacing as a derogatory term after President Joe Biden not-so-subtly used the word to hurl a dig at Donald Trump.

But what goes around will eventually be picked up and redefined by gen Zers on the internet. Today, clowns have evolved from horror and slapstick comedy to an entire identity rooted in fashion and makeup. While their theatrical ties remain intact, their sartorial inspirations are now centred around escapism. Welcome to the vibrant little world of clowncore.

What is clowncore?

Also known as circuscore and clownpunk, clowncore is an aesthetic surrounding—you guessed it—clowns, mimes and jesters. Sporting overlaps with kidcore, rainbowcore, scenecore, Decora Kei and fanfare, clowncore features visual motifs including circus tents, balloons, confetti, cotton candy, Furbys, inflatable bounce houses and worm on a string.

In terms of fashion, think rainbow stripes, harlequin prints, overalls, suspenders, circus tights, ruffles, oversized collars, bright hair, jester hats and large shoes. Although clowncore has a heavy focus on primary colours, subgenres of the aesthetic include pastel clowncore, neon clowncore and dark clowncore. While the first two on the list can be traced back to key values like joy, humour and positivity, dark clowncore involves eerie motifs aimed to emphasise the mystery, occult and distrust associated with clowns in popular culture.

All of this sounds pretty straightforward, right? But when SCREENSHOT interviewed a bunch of enthusiasts in the community, we realised that there’s more to the aesthetic than what meets the eye.

An empowering tale of initiations

For Neo, their brush with clowncore unexpectedly blew up on the internet—as one of their looks (the first one in the series above) is currently the first image that pops up on your screen when you Google ‘clowncore’. As someone who’s been interested in the alternative side of fashion for years, Neo admitted to having always tried to define their style. “Personality wise, I’m a very eclectic person and this also translates to several different things in my life, including fashion. So I generally define myself as ‘alternative’ or a ‘Harajuku Kid’,” they told SCREENSHOT, adding how they are also drawn to both clowncore and Decora in the same realm.

Being an admin of the Uruguayan community dedicated to alternative fashion, Neo’s iconic picture was taken at a Valentine’s Day event organised by the members in 2019. “The creation of this look was pretty casual, to be honest. I wanted to do something on-theme but still original,” they said. Following the ‘love fool’ concept—complete with the relevant colours—Neo then made the clowncore pieces themselves in less than a week.

“For me, it was a regular Harajuku meetup and I didn’t expect it to blow up on my niche,” they added. “I do get DMs from people who find my picture on Pinterest or TikTok about the style and it makes me so excited. I think I accidentally nailed the clowncore look before knowing about it and that’s why it got popular but I find it very flattering.”

As for Asbel, a makeup artist whose personal style pivots into a space between clowncore, kidcore and Decora Kei, the former can be channelled with anything from photo editing and home decor featuring clown statues to makeup inspiration and even circus costumes. “Personally, I use the clowncore aesthetic when I really want to make a huge makeup look with a colourful skin base. But my ‘everyday makeup look’ also includes a clown vibe because I use strong red blush on my cheeks and nose,” he explained. Be it on social media or in real life, however, Asbel admitted to receiving frequent remarks like ‘clown’, ‘circus’ and ‘carnivals’ used as slurs to refer to his clowncore-inspired style. Despite all of this, the enthusiast now uses these terms with pride in his daily life.

When I reached out to Swamp, the enthusiast further refreshed my perspective about clowncore. Describing their personal style as ‘kidcore clownpunk’, Swamp admitted to not really subscribing to any labels but taking a lot of inspiration from Japanese fashion, clowns, 90s Club Kids, Kandi Ravers and scene kids. “I’ve always felt attracted to bright colours and I feel a kind of affinity to clowns,” they shared. “As an autistic person, I always felt like the butt of jokes—especially during the peak of ‘cringe culture’ in the mid to late 2010s. And when I started experimenting with makeup, I was mocked for looking like a clown.”

Swamp then mentioned Mr Tumble, a clown from a TV show in the UK featuring kids with intellectual concerns. “References to this character were used against me by bullies as a child,” Swamp admitted.  “When I discovered clowncore, it felt like an empowering opportunity to reclaim my own identity and all of these negative experiences.”

Inside clowncore, the aesthetic reclaiming our love for clowns with vibrant humour

Clowncore 101

If you Google ‘clowncore’ and scroll past Neo’s picture, you’ll notice how each look is a unique take on the aesthetic. While much of this can be credited to its subgenres, clowncore’s overlaps with other aesthetics and subcultures cannot be ruled out. When I asked Asbel about the similarities between clowncore and Decora Kei, and how the makeup artist incorporates both the styles into his personal identity, he started by defining the latter. “Decora Kei is a style born in the Harajuku district of Tokyo, Japan,” he explained, highlighting how the aesthetic incorporates loads of kid accessories and layers of clothing.

“In the beginning, there was Decora Kei based on one colour, like black or pink, but the trend has [since] been bursting with rainbows and that’s what I wear every day.” In terms of the intersections between the aesthetics in question, Asbel pointed out similar veins in regards to the childish vibes and bright hues.

“Both Decora Kei and clowncore break societal ‘rules’ with colours and humour.” — Asbel

Now, although there are no constraints in this aesthetic, what are some of the pointers one should look out for to nail clowncore visually? According to Neo, makeup is an integral part of clowncore. “Something of your look must resemble some kind of clown (there are several but most people associate the aesthetic with circus clowns), so maybe diamond eyes, tears, coloured nose tip or even a clown nose—coupled with other designs,” they mentioned. When it comes to clothing, Neo outlined that most people tend to use intense or neon colours along with balloon-shaped bloomers and sleeves. “Skirts are a good option too,” they continued.

“I don’t think there’s anything standard for tops but collars are a big thing, so go for ruffled collars and big bows. Funky earrings, hats and anything playful can work. I recommend looking for tons of references of actual clowns since it’s a relatively undefined style [at the moment] and maybe you can introduce a new standard for it!”

Over to Swamp, the clowncore enthusiast believes the aesthetic has witnessed varied adaptations across social media platforms. “TikTokers who do clowncore have a slightly different interpretation to what I’ve gotten used to on Instagram,” they said, adding how they essentially equate clowns and carnivals to the aesthetic while TikTok, with 241 million views and counting on #clowncore, is more inspired by the broader alt fashion and makeup styles. On these terms, Swamp lists “bright hues (especially primary colours), circus-y prints like polka dots and candy stripes, frumpy and oversized silhouettes [as well as] obnoxious and over-the-top makeup (especially if it incorporates a red nose and face paint designs seen in [typical] clown makeup).”

The tightrope between costume and couture

Now onto the burning question: Is the fear of clowns, also known as coulrophobia, redefined within the aesthetic as well? Are we all finally prepared to embrace one of our biggest childhood fears, once and for all?

“I was never scared of clowns, so I can’t really comment on this,” Swamp admitted, adding how they believe coulrophobia is largely a social construct and a relatively-recent fear. “I do think a lot of people who experiment with clowncore are queer, mentally ill and neurodivergent—who have perhaps felt othered and/or the butt of the joke their entire lives and turn to clowncore as a way to reclaim this identity.” Swamp additionally outlined an interesting correlation between what society fears and what it laughs at. “I also feel it provides a cloak of androgyny and allows people to experiment with gender presentation in an unconventional way,” they added.

While chatting to all three enthusiasts about the inhibited essence of clowncore, I wondered if there’s a line between what is considered ‘costume’ and ‘couture’ in the aesthetic. “I do think there’s a line, which is not necessarily easy to define but easy to recognise,” Neo explained. “Some of the actual elements of clown costumes are utilitarian or for comedic effect, that’s what’s generally lost on clowncore. Some examples of this are clown shoes and hoop suits.”

In terms of this overlap, Swamp shared, “There are a lot of clowncore creators who create fabulous, elaborate outfits and makeup looks that I imagine wouldn’t be practical in everyday life and are probably just for videos and photos. So I would classify these as a costume.” According to the enthusiast, it’s definitely possible to don a more moderate form of clowncore in daily wear. “Commercially-available clothes, if paired correctly, can create a solid clown-y outfit,” they summed up in this regard.

@dolly.owo

sorry I'm dumb #pastelgoth #dark #clowncore

♬ Im stupid do me - nero 🐦💜

“There are no rules, only guidelines”

If you’re someone who’s been reading SCREENSHOT’s coverage on aesthetics and subcultures religiously, you know I won’t let you guys go without due advice on how you can jump on clowncore yourself. So if all of this talk has perked your interests in the aesthetic but you’re too afraid to experiment with bright colours, clashing prints and overall maximalism, here’s what all three members of the community had to say.

“Trying is key,” Neo started. “Find a base, maybe a colourful pair of trousers, and try to build around it. If you find a piece of a clown costume in a thrift or fancy store, try it on, add whatever you think fits and take a picture. I do this for almost every alternative or themed look.” The next step is to note what you’re lacking. This can be an arm accessory or even belts. If you’re confused, you can always refer to the very essence of clowncore: clowns.

“Colours and clashing prints are key to the aesthetic, so don’t be afraid to look silly because it works for this look. But if the attention is what scares you, maybe start inside your house or around friends who support you. If not, alt fashion communities are almost everywhere. If Uruguay has one, I’m confident you can find one near your area.” Neo also mentioned how donning alt fashion in a group eases the experience—all the while having people with more expertise guide and support you throughout the process. “If not, you can always write to me and I’ll try helping out!” they added.

Asbel additionally emphasised the importance of initiating yourself into clowncore, or any other vibrant aesthetic for the matter, one step at a time. “Looks from others can be tough and mean, so it can be easier to begin within a group of friends. That’s how I started wearing alternative fashion a long time ago,” he explained in resonance with Neo. “It’s also easy to find clowncore items at flea markets, charity shops or on second-hand apps such as Vinted or Depop. You have to feel free to wear what you want if you are comfortable and happy with it!”

Swamp also encourages those interested in the aesthetic to do their thing. “Be prepared for some funny looks and reactions at first but you’ll become desensitised to it over time,” they said, adding how the medium is an amazing way to express your creativity and identity. At the same time, the enthusiast recommended to avoid comparing yourself with the standards influencers have created online.

“It takes time and practice to build the wardrobe and makeup skills but if you stick to it you will get there. Do whatever makes you happy and don’t feel constrained by any ‘rules’. There are no rules, only guidelines. To develop your own personal style you have to follow your heart, you won’t get there by just following the trends strictly.”

And if there’s one thing I’ve learnt after speaking to members of several aesthetics and subcultures, it’s that once you find the tribe that matches your vibe, you’ll ultimately learn to love yourself more authentically than ever before. So the next time someone says ‘quit clowning around’, embrace their supposed dig instead of inhibiting your inner class clown. Oh, and make sure to put on a show while you’re at it.

Inside Weirdcore, an internet-born art movement triggering nostalgia of the unknown

It’s a warm Sunday afternoon when you stumble across an interesting artwork on Tumblr. The crude editing style and image quality hits you with a wave of ‘vague nostalgia’. “I’ve been here before…but when?” you think out loud. The image and text are eerily familiar yet distant—leaving you confused, disoriented and reminiscent all at once. Welcome to the nostalgic voids of Weirdcore, an internet-born art movement evoking debatable emotions by leveraging elements of the synthetic underworld we now call the internet.

What is Weirdcore?

According to Aesthetics Wiki, Weirdcore is an “online aesthetic and art movement” featuring digitally constructed or edited images to convey feelings of confusion, disorientation, alienation and nostalgia. Also known as Oddcore, Strangecore and Creepycore, Weirdcore visuals are influenced by the general look and feel of images shared on an older internet. Think amateur editing, primitive graphics, lo-fi photography and image compression—harshly blended together to trigger nostalgia for those who lived their childhood in any time ranging between the late 90s to mid 2000s.

“What’s wonderful about Weirdcore is that it triggers this nostalgia in a way where the viewer doesn’t know why,” said Gib, one of the moderators of r/weirdcore and co-administrator of the Discord server dedicated to the art movement. Gib, therefore, described the feelings evoked as “nostalgia from an unknown place.” It’s on the tip of your hippocampus yet miles away from recall and recognition.

“Lack of context,” explained Sanfor, moderator and co-administrator of the subreddit and Discord server alongside Gib. “Often, images will aim to put the viewer into an unfamiliar setting—one that is designed to spark an idea in the viewer’s mind—but at the same time, it doesn’t give enough information to really form a story.” This is what leaves Weirdcore images up for interpretation, making it incomprehensible in a mysterious way.

On the flip side, this sort of autonomy can trigger two contrasting emotions among its audience—depending entirely upon their perception of nostalgia. “Weirdcore can trigger comfort in some because it probably reminds them of a nicer time in their life,” Gib said. “But it can also trigger a bad memory or a phobia, leaving them confused and scared.” Sanfor linked this aspect to the concept of ‘introspection’. “Weirdcore can be triggering because, at its core, it is about exploring one’s emotions and experiences,” he explained, adding how the meaning behind images are often unclear—in turn fostering one of the biggest strengths of Weirdcore in itself: vagueness.

“The aesthetic can be upsetting due to the way images sometimes contain elements that contradict one another: comforting visuals being paired up with upsetting ones, real with fake and so on,” Sanfor said. Juxtapositions like these are what contribute to Weirdcore images being difficult to comprehend, as one can never fully grasp what a piece is trying to communicate in terms of information or emotion.

“It is the fear of the unknown”

The controversial mix up

Given Weirdcore’s association with both light-headed comfort and heavy phobias, the art movement is often looped into the same category as Dreamcore and Traumacore. This ‘mix up’ is even more apparent on TikTok where creators use all three hashtags in their captions. So listen up fellow TikTokers, we’re here to set the record straight once and for all.

“Dreamcore and Traumacore are grey areas,” Gib started. Although Weirdcore has similar motifs as Traumacore, the latter addresses traumatic events with darker, off-putting and direct captions. “Traumacore opens a gateway to glorifying trauma and downplaying it instead of educating about it,” he added. “But it’s a whole debate because some people find comfort in it.” Dreamcore, on the other hand, is even harder to differentiate according to Gib. “Dreamcore tries to emulate dreams but they’re more linear and can have a bit more of a story than Weirdcore does.” In a recent article by NYLON, the publication even defined Dreamcore as the “sister to Weirdcore.” 

In my chat with Sanfor, the moderator highlighted the absence of one key factor in Dreamcore and Traumacore when compared to Weirdcore: a centralised community dedicated to preserving it. “This is something that has happened to Weirdcore in the past—the aesthetic not having people dedicated to its preservation and moderation led to the term ‘Weirdcore’ becoming a label with no meaning behind it. This, in turn, led to it being used interchangeably with Dreamcore, Traumacore and others.”

In response, Sanfor added how the Weirdcore community has worked hard to get in touch with original creators behind some of the classic images in the movement. “The ones that brought the community together in the first place,” as Sanfor describes them. This has not only helped members learn from each other but has also fostered a platform backed with proper credentials. The community also updates the Wiki article dedicated to Weirdcore regularly—in order to give it a definition that accurately reflects its original vision.

“I believe Weirdcore needs to be its own thing,” Sanfor added. “Not to say that there cannot be overlapping between Weirdcore and other aesthetics or things inspired by it, but I just think it’s important for it to not become completely meaningless as there are specific ideas and concepts behind Weirdcore that make it unique.”

Now onto all those people equating Liminal Spaces and Bastardcore to Weirdcore. The former is an aesthetic that features a place which is a transition between two locations or states of being. Think abandoned parking lots or school hallways during the peak of summer. Bastardcore, on the other hand, is an extension of the ‘cursed images’ meme. It aims to strike your fight or flight response by pairing friendly images with shocking humour to generate pieces that are uncomfortable to look at.

“A lot of what makes Liminal Spaces so effective is the feeling of ‘you’ve been here before’,” explained Gib. “That’s kind of what Weirdcore does but with more creative freedom.” Although Liminal Spaces are relied on for Weirdcore backgrounds, Gib outlined how it doesn’t play a huge role in the movement now like it once did. “Liminality, along with the sense of being in a transitory state and the feeling of uncertainty and instability, is an important part of Weirdcore,” Sanfor added. “Keep in mind, however, that the use of Liminal Spaces in Weirdcore is not obligatory. There are great examples of the aesthetic that do not rely on them at all.” While Bastardcore overlaps with Weirdcore in some ways, the latter is a lot more subtle about the ‘cursed’ aspect of its imagery—designed to be incoherent rather than unpleasant.

Then there is the entire debate about eyes being a key motif in Weirdcore. According to Gib, the element plays on scopophobia, human’s innate fear of being watched. Ironic, given how gen Zers are currently obsessed with meta selfies—least concerned about BigTech using their personal information. “It’s kind of an inside joke in the community that eyes and red text do not equal Weirdcore and that there’s a lot more to it than that,” Gib explained. “They’re not bad aspects, I use them semi-frequently in my creations, but I think a lot of it comes from the days when the movement wasn’t moderated.”

“They all share the commonality of being a medium for expression of abstract feelings—a way to condense complex emotions into a singular piece of art”

The initiated, enlightened and voidfolk

Although the exact origins of Weirdcore are unknown, its Wiki page previously noted how the movement may date as far back as the early 2010s. It was more recently that the community confirmed 2017 as its date of creation. The possibilities of earlier examples, however, cannot be ruled out. Although Gib stumbled across a Weirdcore Twitter thread in March 2020, it wasn’t until a couple of months—and a YouTube image compilation—later that he truly fell down the rabbit hole.

Gib noted how Weirdcore had been a small community up until now. “It only recently started flooding into the mainstream and escaping Tumblr to places like Reddit and Twitter.” As for Sanfor, the moderator and co-admin was initiated into the movement mid 2020—joining the Discord server in October following Gib in July. “I started to make images and improved the more I made—though it was a time when a lot of us didn’t exactly know what made images ‘Weirdcore’,” Sanfor reminisced. This is also why he believes his images weren’t exactly fitting up until around the start of 2021, when activity really picked up in terms of moderating and working on the Wiki page.

“In reality, both the subreddit and Discord server already existed when the two of us joined so—although we can’t really speak about the intentions of the people who created them—Gib and I (along with many other members of the community) worked on giving the aesthetic a more consistent look and feel.” As time went on, the two became moderators of the server and eventually became the owners, which is where they are now.

As for the tight-knit community Weirdcore has amassed, it’s safe to say that it’s one of the most wholesome and welcoming (although inside jokes may disagree) Discord servers out there. “The people I’ve met are extremely passionate and creative, they do a lot of volunteer work to maintain, moderate and expand the Wiki page as well as the subreddit,” said Sanfor. Among the list of channels on the server are also ‘resources’ which suggest editing apps, fonts, GIF makers and compression sites. A handy toolkit for everything required to make Weirdcore art—down to Spotify playlists you can bop to while editing.

Gib calls this wonderful corner of Discord a ‘collaborative effort’. “It’s a lot of people expanding the boundaries and experimenting with what is and what isn’t Weirdcore, coming up with new ideas and evolving it because any art form that doesn’t evolve ceases to exist,” he summed up. On the flip side, Sanfor noted how this heavy moderation has previously resulted in people disagreeing with how Weirdcore is approached.

“While I understand where they’re coming from, we have a responsibility to keep the aesthetic on track, to keep it somewhat consistent in terms of themes and general look,” he said. “We won’t prohibit people from expressing their own feelings however they wish or using the term ‘Weirdcore’ to tag things that we wouldn’t consider a part of the aesthetic, but we need to keep the aesthetic from devolving into something meaningless again.” So far, that work has led to a significant improvement in terms of Weirdcore’s consistency and it has exposed both the admins to new people who they’re now best friends with.

The (r)evolutionary way forward

In my experience with internet-born and internet-existing aesthetics, many evolve into a full-blown subculture to thrive—with its own music, movies and fashion style. Checking up on Weirdcore in these terms, Gib used the words ‘art movement’ instead of an ‘aesthetic’ to describe its present status.

“I think Weirdcore can definitely go beyond the boundaries of art,” Gib said, adding how ‘weirdcore music’ already exists (alongside others like Otacore)—essentially triggering an uncomfortably-nostalgic feeling in its audience. “It’s up to who listens and what triggers nostalgia in some people,” he continued. “For example, I was talking to my friend and I showed her the trance playlist I use to make weirdcore tunes. She went like ‘It’s got a nostalgic feeling to it but it just doesn’t trigger it in me. So there is no one genre. It’s not ‘just that’.”

Gib also believes that, in theory, Weirdcore can have its own fashion style—anything vaguely nostalgic or 2000s. Hello, Y2K. Sanfor, on the other hand, feels that the art movement is too abstract and intangible to translate into clothing or accessories that give off a similar sensation. “At least I have yet to see clothing that really captures those feelings,” he added.

Regardless of its potential for further expansion, however, Gib believes Weirdcore will soon end up being an “art movement started entirely on the internet” if the community keeps it up. “I’d like to see a lot more things that are classified as Weirdcore that aren’t the Weirdcore we know. I think that’s where we’re headed in and I’m really excited to see what people come up with next.”

Interested? Here’s advice from the co-owners themselves on getting started. “If you are new, the first thing you’re going to do is Google ‘Weirdcore’ and the first thing that pops up is going to be the Wiki,” Gib instructed. “Read that and look at the examples. After that, go nuts, make your own stuff and don’t conform to what everybody else is doing.”

Sanfor echoed this by stating the need to be open to criticism along with a willingness to learn. “Weirdcore is something none of us mastered the first time and so it might be frustrating at first, but don’t be afraid to ask for assistance, we’re more than willing to help, give tips on image editing, useful resources and more.” Just have fun and find the very comfort you’re seeking to evoke. “Weirdcore is also better learned by following others’ examples—it’s something that is a lot easier to understand by looking at it rather than having it explained to you. So take a look at what other artists are doing and try to add your personal touch into it,” Sanfor added.

At a time where we seek to disrupt realism with yearnings of a better past, with subcultures like kidcore on the rise, Weirdcore echoes the collective outcry for the need of a safe space—rooted in self-expression and a socially-distanced trip down the voids of our altered memories.