“Aesthetics,” the Gen Z-friendly term for highly stylized visual trends, are taking over pop culture. TikTok users are sharing Pinterest-esque inspirations for these looks through mood boards, fashion suggestions and more.
We’ll walk you through some of the most popular ones below. Find out which TikTok aesthetic you belong to — and which one should be your next move.
When quarantine began, everyone desperately needed an indoor-friendly hobby — crafts, baking bread, etc. Enter cottagecore.
The aesthetic glamorizes old-fashioned, girly things — like lace, flowers, light colors, lush fields and do-it-yourself projects. It’s light and airy, and as Rebecca Jennings wrote for Vox, is a place where “quarantine is romantic instead of terrifying.” You’ll find cottagecore in Taylor Swift’s Folklore album and even on Animal Crossing.
Dark academia and light academia
Academia, which first rose to prominence in the 2010s on Tumblr, is a group of aesthetics that involve learning. It leans heavily on influences from literature, history and traditional school uniforms.
There are two types of academia: dark and light. The more popular aesthetic, dark academia is, well, darker. It relies on grays, blacks and darker hues, as well as moodiness, isolation and thoughtfulness.
Light academia, while just as thoughtful and literary-inspired, is all about enjoying the little things — the outdoors, cups of coffee and classical art. It’s also more Eurocentric than dark academia.
E-girl and e-boy
If you’ve ever found yourself on alt TikTok, you’ve probably seen your fair share of e-girls and e-boys.
E-girls rarely embrace their natural hair color, often dyeing it bright hues all over, or only in the front section of their hair. You’ll see them wearing winged eyeliner, thrifted clothes, mesh, hair clips, knee-high socks and skater skirts. The style has evolved over the past few months, but it’s always alternative and a bit goth.
As for e-boys, you can count on longer hair parted down the middle, high-waisted pants, heavy boots and tons of chains. The aesthetic is a little bit goth-meets-BDSM, but with a soft side.
Soft girl and softboi
Softbois are the hipsters of the 2020s. They’re interested in non-mainstream subjects, literature, film and alternative music. On the negative end of things, they can be a bit pretentious and develop a superiority complex over anyone whose interests they deem too “basic.” Others are just nice men in sweaters and cropped pants.
Soft girls are fairly different. They lean into hyper-cute aesthetics — like stuffed animals, glittery barrettes, light pink and lip gloss. It’s feminine, flowery and always includes a boatload of blush.
Prepare to feel old, because 2000s kids are the new ’90s kids. Bratz dolls and Mean Girls are a major source of inspiration for this over-the-top aesthetic. Think Care Bears, Juicy Couture charm bracelets, Nokia flip phones and Paris Hilton. Adherents to the Y2K aesthetic may also be soft girls, as they rely heavily on bling and the color pink.
Don’t think that the ’90s aren’t cool anymore, though. The grunge look that was popular for fans of Nirvana and Sublime is still in. Leather, jeans and baggy clothes will always have a place in the zeitgeist.
Glam and soft glam
The glam aesthetic is, predictably, very glamorous. It’s all about dramatic makeup and jewelry, as well as maximalist style. The glam aesthetic doesn’t hold back and doesn’t compromise. This type of indulgence makes a lot of sense for the self-care-friendly quarantine era.
Soft glam is inspired by soft girls as well; it’s over the top, but on the lighter side of things. Think “twinkling” instead of “sparkling,” and light pink over the hot pink of the Y2K aesthetic.
This aesthetic gets its name from Euphoria, the Zendaya-led HBO show that explores a world of sex, drugs and sadness among Gen Z characters. The show is quite popular on TikTok, where its strong purple, pink and glittery visuals even inspired a massive trend.
According to B**** Media, the show takes things we associate with children — glitter, overalls, bright colors — and makes them over-the-top and melancholy to show the pain young people experience as they’re forced to grow up quickly in this digital world.
A Brandy girl is, simply put, a girl who shops at Brandy Melville. If you’ve never been to the iconic mall store, it’s full of one-size crop tops, faded jeans and plaid skirts. You’ll also see a lot of tube tops and bucket hats.
It’s a little bit nostalgic, but also very inspired by the it-girl models of today, like Bella Hadid and Kendall Jenner. Brandy girls are fashion-minded but not over the top, and a little on the preppy side.
The VSCO girl aesthetic — named after the photo-editing app VSCO, where you’ll find so many of its adherents — had its moment last fall. Known for wearing scrunchies around their wrists, carrying Hydro Flasks and donning oversized T-shirts, VSCO girls were all about owning ultra-trending products.
Sadly, it’s become a bit of a synonym for “basic” and unoriginal these days. We’ll never forget it, though, because its popularity proved just how much influence TikTok and teen culture have on the world.
If you enjoyed this story, you might also like reading about how you can nail the cottagecore aesthetic this fall.
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