Indie Sleaze, a return to 2006 or a return to heroin chic?

Image Credit: Karl O'Leary on Wikipedia Commons

Lucy Cleere takes us on a trip through one of fashion's darkest trends and its re emerging popularity among Gen-Z.

Thanks to the cyclical nature of fashion, our latest trending obsession ‘Indie Sleaze’ may be reintroducing more than just your low-rise skirts and chunky belts. The trend is pushing to reflect the ‘party girl’ aesthetic of early 90’s ‘heroin chic’ combined with the late noughties ‘Random tackiness’. In the past these trends have acted as a catalyst towards harmful diet culture and drug use. The re-emergence of these controversial trends today could mean a greater surge in the use of recreational drugs and harmful body images, made all the worse with our generation's obsession with social media. 

The late 2000s will forever be romanticised as ‘An organic, free-spirited time of not caring’ (Mark Hunter, Bazaar). A time of messy dressing, partying and candid gaiety captured by washed out flash photography and the fashion trends at the time certainly reflected this lifestyle. Look no further than Kate Moss’s oversized gold lurex minidress paired with Hunter boots at Glastonbury festival 2006. The whole ideology behind these fashion statements was to reject perfectionism. Your clothes are mismatched deliberately, your eyeliner smudged with your hair stringy and unkempt. Why can’t I pair my minidresses over jeans? It's 2006 after all. 

The irony of this style being rebranded as indie sleaze on our catwalks today is that our generation is predominantly more obsessed with the appearance of not caring.

The truth is that in the noughties nobody dressed up for the sole intention of being photographed. Can we honestly say the same for ourselves? How can we when fast fashion companies are selling ‘Y2K’ and ‘Indie Sleaze’ tagged clothes at the speed of light for less than the cost of a pre packed sandwich, all in order to reappear on your TikTok For You Page in a few days. Almost every way we wish to present ourselves today is calculated. The noughties were a time when fashion was ‘unscathed by the ravages of late capitalism’. Part of the reason why we long for a return to this time period is because we are longing for a nonexistent world. The paradox of the trend re-emerging is that it is selling the idea of not caring to a generation that cares all too much. 

Underneath this ‘exhibition’ of the breezy party girl lies a darker layer. The dismal truth of the aesthetic is that the vast majority of these clothes were designed to suit only very thin women. The Indie Sleaze trend incorporates clothes that are designed to ‘hang’ on your body, and create a gaunt and sexy look derived from the 90’s aesthetic of heroin chic. 

The term ‘heroin chic’ rose to prominence in the late 1980’s, referencing the popularity of heroin use in the modelling industry at this time. The use of heroin resulted in pale skin, weight loss, stringy hair and dark undereye circles. One of the first major influences behind this iconic new trend was supermodel Gia Carangi, who was known for her lean figure, love of partying and use of recreational drugs such as cocaine on the club scene. This eventually led to a long-term struggle with heroin addiction until her untimely death. It was supermodels such as herself and Kate Moss who promoted this original party girl aesthetic, through this lifestyle. Although not every model at the time abused heroin, (some had pale skin from lack of sunlight and some were skinny from undereating) the questionable aesthetic of heroin chic still caused major problems such as the spike of drug use and seriously unhealthy eating habits. The trend was believed to have incited an anorexia epidemic in young women in particular from the late 1980’s onwards. 

During the late 2010s Kardashian era, with a focus on curves in high fashion and the inclusion of more plus sized models such as Victoria's Secret’s Devyn Garcia dazzling our runways, it appeared the fashion industry was progressing towards a much healthier environment. However, with the introduction of Indie Sleaze, many fashion designers insisted that the clothes (e.g. Cropped shirts and low-rise jeans/skirts designed to show off the midriff) simply did not ‘suit’ plus size models. It appears that although trends may change over time, the glorification of thinness has remained dormant. Smoking is back in; Brazilian Butt Lifts are out the window, the post pandemic urge to party like a 90s supermodel sporting cowboy boots, with a blingy miniskirt and mismatched belt, all the while snorting cocaine till 6am, is back in. And with it the rise of global eating disorders has increased from 3.4% to 7.8% since 2021 alone. The reintroduction of this aesthetic and the cases of global eating disorders doubling in one year is not coincidental. 

Undoubtedly, the content we are being shown daily on social media apps such as TikTok are warping our perception of how we are ‘supposed’ to look. The darker side of the emerging Indie Sleaze aesthetic will most likely have even more detrimental effects on our generation than similar trends did in the 90s and 2000s. Even new popular shows such as Euphoria, although not exactly depicting drugs in a positive light, still have gained clout and play a role in the romanticisation of heroin and other drugs. We are more influenced by the media to wear what is popular, to look and act a certain way. The sinister thing about a TikTok algorithm is, as we know, the more you watch one particular content, the more you are shown. View, like or click on one or two comments about Bella Hadid or Kate Moss, and next you will be bombarded with hundreds of angsty white thin pretty women wearing different variations of the same raggedy outfit over and over again. We are normalising this ideology because it is all we are shown, and that is where our biggest problem emerges and will no doubt continue.