Style has had an influence on people for as long as any of us can remember. You could say you dress girly, or that you like black or streetwear, or even sporty clothes. There has been a different term going around in the past decade or so, and it further expands the idea of self expression in a person’s life.
The term aesthetic is used on the internet to describe a lifestyle that fits you based on your self expression. There were countless posts and mood boards about makeup, clothes, scenery and even music. It seems to have evolved and grown since my middle school years, and has captivated many people. If you were to compare it to having a regular style, there is a difference even though it may not be obvious at face value. A style in this case would be limited to what a person might wear or make themselves appear to be when you see them. An aesthetic is more of what that person surrounds themselves with in their daily life. Everyone has their own idea of what a beautiful setting looks like, whether it be a city, farm, or even castle. There are also certain objects that a person might want to surround themselves with. Plushies, decorated mirrors, paintings, vintage cameras and items and several other things.
There are different types of aesthetics, such as grunge, light and dark academia, cottagecore, vintage, indie, punk, minimalist, softcore(make sure to use “softcore aesthetic” when you search it just to be safe), y2k. They have become somewhat popularized on the internet due to younger people gaining access to social media.
If you were a teenager in the early 2000s, you might think this separation of style and personality is similar to that scene in “Mean Girls.” I assure you, that even though this is similar, they’re coexisting in a nicer way.
“I grew up on rock and since the sixth grade I’ve been exploring more of the sub genres so my style has evolved since I found the genres I related to the most,” said Kaylee Paucar.
While her aesthetic is partly influenced by her childhood, she ultimately decided based on her personal interests. Which is the whole point of self expression, but with an aesthetic it can bleed into your life experiences. An aesthetic is more about your personality and attracts you based on what you’ve gone through sometimes.
Grace McNally’s aesthetic came from a different source. “Definitely a lot of movies, photography and people I’ve come across. I draw my inspiration from anime and movies for my art.”
It’s also common for someone to find an aesthetic from the things they’ve watched or saw. Wanting to surround yourself with something that left an impression on you is another way to find your individuality. As an inspiration for art, you can find inspiration in things you find visually appealing.
When asked what her aesthetic was, Paucar answered, “Nu metal.” She continues on to say what else is included in the aesthetic, “There’s so many but the ones I like are grunge, nu metal, heavy metal, punk, emo, and alternative rock.”
Nu metal first gained popularity in the late 90s after grunge had lost some of its influence. It then grew in the 2000s as a subgenre of rock. From this, you would also see Emo and Scene culture emerge and become prominent among those who enjoyed heavy metal. The word “nu” in front of metal turns it into “new metal” and refers to all the things added to a traditionally heavy metal style. Heavy metal itself dates back to the 60s, with a reference in Steppenwolf’s Born to Be Wild. The term was attributed to a genre of music in the 70s with bands like Kiss, AC/DC, and Aerosmith.
In the 2000’s, it was emo that gained more of the popularity as a subgenre of nu metal. Most people have a specific image in mind when they think of emo. There’s also scene, but many people assume the same. While the two do share similarities, there’s a clearer difference than most might think. Take the image of someone who is emo. The fringed bangs, knee or thigh high striped or black socks, spiked boots, tight jeans, spiked bracelets and all the rest. Now, imagine it with more bright colors, beaded bracelets, and rainbow hair. That’s scene. Scene was originally coined by a man in Britain, but it changed completely in the 2000’s when it gained popularity. Now, it’s grunge, which has all these but focuses on a pessimistic view of life and is perfect for Gen z.
McNally answered that her aesthetic was more retro and absurdist. According to Grace, it involves “Different styles of makeup, making my own clothes, different hairstyles and accessories.”
Retro can refer to decades of styles dating back to the 50’s, when the US had come up with their own ideas of fashion. In the time before, France was considered the fashion capital of the world. European countries and names still have an influence on fashion today, but at this time the states were starting to put their spin on it. Anyone who has these aesthetics doesn’t necessarily have to have the ideals of that specific decade. In fact, most still have their “modern” views, since this does end up a topic of discussion.
For McNally, her absurdism looks a bit like the 80s. Style back then was full of bright colors and winged liner, but also a hint of pastel. Who can forget the high waisted mom jeans and baggy shirts. The 80s aesthetic is also influenced by hip hop, as it gained traction in that decade. For reference, Salt-n-Pepa’s hit Push It came out in 1987, and then as a single in 1988. The reason why absurdism was a big inspiration for retro style was because it showed up a lot in post-modern art. This refers to a lot of art made after the 50’s, as the time for standard modernity had passed since the Victorian era ended.
Since aesthetics are getting popular, it poses a question on whether more people are interested. “I think the style has been more popularized as it’s become a trend but I don’t think the music culture has been as popularized,” Paucar admitted.
Certain parts of aesthetics that seem extreme and not widely accepted like hers can get more popular than the others. The style has seemed to gain popularity, with the chokers and black clothes and dark makeup. Nu metal music hasn’t been nearly as popular, but is showing up more than it did in the early 2010s. Again, when it comes to the style, the e-girl aesthetic was able to make waves during quarantine that it even had the older generations interested. The e-girl aesthetic is based around grunge and some scene elements. However, rock music doesn’t seem to get people as excited as this image of a girl who wasn’t girly in a pink barbie way, and had an internet personality sort of dependent on her male audience. Even though that wasn’t what it actually was, it seemed to gain popularity as that.
In regards to whether or not it was socially acceptable, Paucar answered, “It somewhat is with [a] small portion of the people because it has been somewhat normalized with a trend. However, I still [get] crap for how I dress and [I know] that for interviews I can’t dress the way I want to.”
That is expected. Trends don’t normalize everything, and there are still some parts left that are shunned by society. There are also things that aren’t seen as professional. This includes many of the things that are in the nu metal aesthetic like chains, spikes, chokers, tattoos and too much black. Then there’s the people around you in any of your average everyday situations who might single you out and pick on you. Since most aesthetics centered around rock of any kind are considered weird and outlandish because they don’t follow a more conservative or “normal” look. In order to be taken seriously, you have to conform. Which is interesting because an aesthetic is centered around making your own little world.
“Yes and no, my aesthetic is riddled with gender fluidity and although that’s becoming somewhat acceptable it still isn’t by a lot of people,” said McNally when asked if her aesthetic is socially acceptable.
The idea of recognizing gender as a construct isn’t at all widely accepted by the majority of people. Many people rely on gender roles as a way of life, and if you were to say you want to step outside of that, it wouldn’t have a good reaction. When you’re like McNally, and participate in absurdism through your art, a lot of those lines are blurred and you make them into whatever you want. Coming back to reality makes you realize that a world like that is not one you currently live in. The shunning of gender nonconformity is particularly harmful for trans people, so it’s a bigger issue than just not being accepted because trans people are killed at alarming numbers and have a life expectancy of somewhere in between their thirties and forties.
Paucar gave some pop culture examples of nu metal, “I know South Park had a lot of rock subculture themes in some of their episodes. As well as some older movies like The Craft, Jennifer’s Body, and Bride of Chucky.”
The last two are actually very popular movies that have been regarded as good nostalgia and also works of art themselves. Jennifer’s Body has elements of nu metal in it, but Bride of Chucky is more recognized for having them. These are great examples because they’re more popular than the aesthetic itself, and may have led to the aesthetics increase in popularity by association.
Aesthetics will always have a history, as they’ve evolved over time, and the internet is a broad space. The individualism they encourage is important to breaking societal standards and could be an indication of what direction our youth is going. Furthermore, aesthetics are a fun way to surround yourself with an escape that suits you, and at the same time is a part of your self expression.