Oh, you thought that we were officially finished with rogue and eccentric internet subcultures and aesthetics? That we’d suddenly close up shop and let your For You Page (FYP) fill up with the core trends of yesterday? Not likely. Introducing the internet’s latest underwater obsession: mermaid sleaze. You heard it here first, the infamous aquatic cousin of indie sleaze is bound to dominate 2023 and have everyone fulfilling their edgier The Little Mermaid fantasies.
Mermaids have always had a home on TikTok. If you’ve never found yourself scrolling through a compilation of “Norrr, Cleo” H2O: Just Add Water memes, you’re on the wrong side of the app and I must say, I feel very sorry for you. As mermaid fashion inspo and tutorials flood FYPs, gen Zers have taken it upon themselves to create the ultimate sea creature-inspired look to perfectly capture this underwater pipe dream.
Although, if you’re imagining the kind of mermaid look seen in the Disney films, think again—this aesthetic is all about embracing the dark oceans and not so much singing about true love alongside your crab bestie. Mermaid sleaze, similarly to indie sleaze, takes inspiration from the slightly more defiant side of fashion. It champions heavy makeup, ripped seams, and overall salty anarchy.
Forecast as the Halloween trend of 2023, resident fashion analysts at The Digital Fairy took to TikTok to walk us through a rundown of this aesthetic. “Less pop, much dirtier,” the experts said—this subculture is identifiable and truly iconic for its subversion of the classic mermaid look, swapping out bright colours and soft tones for a much sexier and grungier style.
If you’re interested in rebelling against your previous core obsession and participating in the latest trend instead, all you’ll need is a handful of muted blue tones, long hair (or extensions), lots of flared sleeves and trousers, and perhaps a shell-shaped bra if you really want to go for it—and if you can get your hands on one.
Fashion-focused publications such as Harper’s Bazaar deemed the mermaid mystique as next year’s go-to resort aesthetic, qualifying the style as inherently flexible. You can either go slightly nautical or full aquamarine—either way, it’s bound to make a splash. And if you’re happy to fork out some coins to capture this look, experts would encourage you to have a look into brands such as BAOBAB and SIEDRÉS.
Closely associated with the ‘dark mermaid’ trend, mermaid sleaze incorporates all things mysterious and feminine. As emphasised by fashion publication Russh, the goal is to look as though you’ve been dragged from the depths of the ocean, and as you reached the surface, you lured in your prey with a tidal wave of dishevelled hair, shimmering lips and hypnotic eyes. That’s hot, as Paris Hilton would say.
Speaking of eyes, the siren gaze is another beauty trend that’s helped curate the mermaid sleaze aesthetic. Coined by iconic hyperfemme ‘it girls’ such as Alexa Demie, the siren eye look is a sure way to pull focus in any room—or lagoon—you might find yourself in.
The beauty trend is perfected by creating a long-tailed winged eyeliner look, matched with thin, long lashes and a slightly smudged brown hue on the lid. Imagine the kind of powerful eyes needed to completely dismantle the confidence of former kickboxer and resident internet douche Andrew Tate—that’s what you should be aiming for.
TikToker and siren eyes aficionado Millie Leer told SCREENSHOT about her favourite elements of the luxury look: “I think it’s the feeling it gives those who do the makeup that’s made it so popular. In a way it makes you feel powerful due to your eyes being seen as a ‘siren’, something we’ve seen on women such as Angelina Jolie, Adriana Lima and Alexa Demie that make them seem ethereal.”
The term siren is used interchangeably with mermaid. However, the former is often considered the OG villain archetype. Personally, I can’t imagine how a beautiful and enchanting female sea creature who seduces and subsequently drowns sailors could ever be depicted as evil or manipulative, can you?
Whether it succumbs to the said tropes or not, this alluring and seductive subculture is the next branch of what appears to be a rejection of the classic core aesthetic. Gen Zers are beginning to favour something slightly edgier and Julia Fox-esque. Dewy skin and tendril hairs at the ready, this aesthetic will soon start making some serious waves.
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It’s out with the ‘core’ and in with the ‘sleaze’. We’re witnessing a TikTok tidal wave, where explosive fashion trends such clowncore and princesscore are already fading into the abyss, overshadowed by a much punkier, and shall we say, cool but effortless look: indie sleaze. Characterised by its participants as grunge aesthetic meets naughties glam, this new subculture is dominating netizens’ screens, and we’re here for it.
SCREENSHOT sat down with fashion and beauty aficionado Carol Carlovich to chat about curating an indie sleaze starter pack. According to the blogger, you’ll need “an indie band T-shirt, a plaid flannel shirt, knit beanie, pair of Dr. Martens, a vintage denim jacket, thick reading glasses, and a handful of polaroids.” Beauty-wise, she recommends a “smudged black eye, strong, well-drawn eyebrows, cat-eye black eyeliner, strong and cool-toned face contour, dark matte lips (MAC’s matte lipstick on the colour ‘Diva’, for example).”
Carlovich perceives this reemerging subculture as “controlled rebellion” and describes it as “meticulously degraded and cool in just the right measure.” Like so many of our favourite fashion trends, indie sleaze was born in the late noughties.
Going into further detail, she explained: “It was an aesthetic popularised mostly around the 2010s by millennials and brings together the main elements of hipster culture like indie bands, lots of grunge and punk references mixed with glam, bubble gum pop. The party candids, the American Apparel ad photography, the adoration of anything vintage, the underground, and so on.”
“Aesthetically, a lot of people see indie sleaze as a response to the 2009 recession, much guided by the deterioration of capitalism as viewed by the millennial teenagers who strived to have the purchasing power to identify with advertisements, but at the same time did not have any capital to do so,” she continued.
Ultimately, indie sleaze represents a rejection of hyper-femininity and instead opts for something that, while it may appear effortless, is, in reality, a detailed recreation of what we’d imagine a young millennial would wear to The 1975’s concert in 2014.
Of course, there are a number of variations of this aesthetic to play around with. For starters, there’s mermaid sleaze—a seaweed-entangled fantasy, most likely taking inspiration from the likes of Ursula and The Little Mermaid Disney film due to hit screens in 2023.
Oh, and don’t forget about ballet sleaze, a fashion aesthetic that resembles the chaos and calamity of Natalie Portman’s character in Black Swan. Imagine a room full of ballerinas wearing shredded leg warmers, distorted lace, and pink fingerless gloves.
However, if you are ever confused about how to nail this fashion statement in question, look no further than the iconic Instagram account, @indiesleaze. From grunge dudes to seemingly nonchalant chicks, this page exemplifies everything the aesthetic stands for. Naturally, Alexa Chung is the primary inspiration, leader, saviour and godmother.
There has been an obvious shift among popular fashion TikTokers who are often now choosing to pick elements from the slightly more laid-back and effortlessly cool energy of sleaze, over the inherently preppy and potentially-rigid aspects of a number of core aesthetics.
On 14 October, the Digital Fairy—resident trend forecasters and marketing agency—posted a video letting netizens know that the masses were ditching their tutus for ripped tights and oversized tees.
Eager to learn more about the growing popularity, SCREENSHOT reached out to the Digi Fairy to gain some more insider perspective into why it believes this naughties revival is upon us. Culture specialist Rukiat Ashawe explained: “The trend cycle is impacted by cultural shifts in conjunction with the fast-paced nature of the internet.”
“Trends are circulating faster and wider as a result of fashion’s quickened dispersion via social media. Back in the day, it could take a trend that started in New York one year or more to reach the UK, but now a viral trend can cause an aesthetic to show up across different places across the world simultaneously,” she continued.
Confusingly enough, creative agencies and trend experts alike are slightly unsure as to why we’ve reached the naughties renaissance quite so quickly. Carlovich considered this in our chat and stipulated that indie sleaze is crawling its way back into our lives much earlier than initially predicted by fashion analysts.
“In fashion and beauty, there’s always a resurgence of past trends, usually recurring every 20 years or so. After we’ve seen the 90s and Y2K come back, it was evident that eventually, the 2010s aesthetic would follow right after. What’s interesting, though, is that we seem to be ten years too early, considering we’re only in 2022. Some people are arguing the reason for that is the fast-paced trend cycle induced by heavy social media usage added to, of course, TikTok’s impact on the music industry,” the creator noted.
Maybe another contributing factor to its online popularity is the fact that sleaze aesthetics inherently have a way of taking us down memory lane. Unlike many of the core looks which spawn online and come from in-the-moment, fresh ideas, sleaze has direct roots in nostalgia—it reminds us of all things Tumblr, alternative, darker, and moody. It harks back to a time when Meta didn’t exist, and the only AI we knew of came out of a Will Smith movie.
We all know the rapid speed in which trends appear and purge online. One minute, Elon Musk is getting slated for his perpetual pettiness, and the next, Jimmy Fallon has passed—it’s all very difficult to keep track of. Nevertheless, sleaze seems as though it’s here to stay.
From what we can see, gen Z is running the show when it comes to these burgeoning subcultures. Ashawe delved into why this might be: “Gen Z is looking at the hipster movement, Tumblr culture, and all those behaviours and aesthetics and is identifying with the feeling those millennial teenagers shared before them—of wanting to let go and create an effortlessly cool and unique image for themselves; of wanting to find an identity in their likings—a band, a show, their own personal style—of wanting to belong, in spite of what’s going on in the world.”
It’s true, while generation Alpha may reflect the future, gen Z reminds us of the recent past and the subsequent geopolitical, humanitarian, and climate crises we’ve faced over the past two decades. Young people often turn to creative expressions such as fashion to find comfort when they feel overwhelmed or distressed by the environment surrounding them.
At the end of 2021, trend forecaster and analyst Mandy Lee, known online as @oldloserinbrooklyn, posted a TikTok declaring indie sleaze as the aesthetic of 2022. Her reasoning? The fact that, after the COVID-19 pandemic, people were craving creative expression and community.
The creator stated: “I feel like with the indie sleaze subculture, 15 years ago, community, art, and music were so powerful—that’s what brought people together. I think that specific elements, more so than the fashion, will become prevalent, as well as the style of photography, of course.”
What we want to avoid however, is indie sleaze becoming subverted online alongside the recent resurgence of heroin chic—a highly toxic trend which, during the 90s and early 2000s, celebrated extreme weight loss and fetishised eating disorders. With this current topic of conversation circulating online, concerns have begun to grow that soon, we’ll once again be fed videos and images on our social media pages promising ‘thinspiration’, while fashion brands reject body inclusivity in favour of what they consider to be a ‘model’ size.
Speaking with VICE about the rise of sleaze trends, Lee went on to clarify that these cyclical fashion aesthetics aren’t always an exact science. “It’s also worth mentioning that a prediction is just that: a prediction. You wait to see how and when and if it manifests. I think it’s ridiculous to think that a trend will copy and paste itself exactly,” she shared.
So, there we have it. Unlike Y2K which evokes a far more colourful, happier, and brighter emotion, indie sleaze is repping it for all of those who might be yearning to unleash their inner rebel—and with the current state of the world, we don’t really blame them.