In the ever-evolving landscape of aesthetic trends, the year 2024 is witnessing a resurgence of the indie sleaze aesthetic. This movement that once had the 2000s in a chokehold, characterized by its bold, unapologetic maximalism, stands in stark contrast to the minimalistic, “clean girl” aesthetics that dominated last year. After the idolization of figures Matilda Djerf, Hailey Bieber and Sofia Richie Grainge, have we finally gotten sick of slick back buns and pastel colors in favor of vibrancy and self expression? This shift has been most recently seen in the rising popularity of indie sleaze, as well as the broader rise in maximalist trends, pushed by the cultural impact of artists like Zach Bryan and movies such as Emerald Fennell’s “Saltburn.”
The clean girl aesthetic, with its emphasis on neutral tones, minimalist designs, and an overall sense of put-togetherness, dominated the fashion trends of 2023: Sweat sets, tiny gold hoop earrings, Longchamp tote bags, glowy no-makeup-makeup looks, and more. Other smaller “micro-trends” came out of the dominance of the “clean girl” including the “Copenhagen style” that embodied a European-chic aesthetic, “coquette” accessorization of bows and “coastal granddaughter” summers. These vastly contrast with the new emergence of indie sleaze and maximalist aesthetics that are on the rise which promote mix and matched patterns, furs and sequins, hand warmers and colorful eyeliner.
Miel Wewerka ’26 has observed on social media that people are becoming more interested in the curated, messy aesthetic characteristic of indie sleaze. Wewerka discussed how the pandemic sparked the popularity of the “clean girl” aesthetic, and that it is significant that we are beginning to move away from it.
“The indie sleaze resurgence reflects our generation’s desire to reject the overly rigid trends we saw come about as a response to the lack of precedent during COVID — we are done trying to over-correct that instability and are looking for a way to express our silliness and creativity,” Wewerka said.
One unique aspect of this shift in our popular culture is that unlike the “clean girl” aesthetic, indie sleaze has seeped into various forms of media, including new releases by Zach Bryan, who is known for country-pop but indulges in the indie genre. Unlike his other country and country-pop counterparts, Bryan’s music has a more disorganized and messy musical aesthetic, characteristic of the indie sleaze trend. Long-time fan Miranda Scully ’26 reflected on the stylistic changes that sets Bryan’s music apart and how it appeals to his fan base.
“I think Zach Bryan has become extremely popular because he kind of straddles the boundary between indie and country, so he can appeal to both groups,” Scully said. “He also releases music very frequently, which keeps people interested, and does collabs with popular artists in each genre, like The Lumineers and Kasey Musgraves.”
Other popular artists have also taken more liberties in their work. Nicki Minaj’s latest album “Gag City” pinpoints a revival in popular music and culture, embracing pink sparkles and fabulous fluorescence that once colored iconic 2000s Jersey Shore club scenes. Overall, it seems that popular music has become more unserious and lighthearted.
Wewerka said she sees a lot more silliness in lyrics but recognizes that some lyrical playfulness might just be created with the intention of generating a trendy sound bite.
“Generally, I just think people are so sick of rigidness and overly composed and curated media, so when Ice Spice drops a line about farts, it’s sort of fun to enjoy it just because it’s so goofy and playful,” Wewerka said.
Students like Wekerka, Scully, and Helen Deng ’26 all stated that this turning point in popular culture and the indie sleaze aesthetic hasn’t yet translated itself on to Dartmouth’s campus. It seems that students tend to refrain from being explorative with their fashion choices as a mode of expression. However, there seems to be a general shift in events, especially in Greek life, towards a more “maximalist” aesthetic.
“I feel like the themes of semis and other events are generally pretty maximalist, like the ‘Mob Wife Aesthetic’ or ‘Saltburn’ themes, and it’s been really fun to go big or go home,” Deng said.
Wewerka said she wishes more Dartmouth students would embrace the indie sleaze aesthetic and take more agency in their fashion choices.
“I think … this school is overall extremely prestigious and obsessed with image, and the ‘clean girl aesthetic’ hinges on items that are easily identifiable as expensive or high-end,” Wewerka said. “Something like indie sleaze maybe reads as more accessible and less about labels ... is it too much for the Golden Goose tribe?”
Over the years, and even within the last three months, we have seen trends pop up with names like “blueberry milk nails” and “latte makeup,” appealing to society’s ever-increasing consumerism. Often, we buy into these trends, fighting the urge to put in another online order or walk through Target’s beauty section without grabbing an item that may not be needed. If approached correctly, indie sleaze — though still a “microtrend” — resists the consumerist nature of previous aesthetics. The “clean girl” aesthetic was much more focused on specific brands, such as Stanley Cups and Lululemon. Indie sleaze isn’t as concerned about new disposable items.
“I think it’s definitely social media,” Deng suggested. “Now that we’re a very globalized, media-centric world, I would say that media, especially TikTok or Instagram and influencers basically lead or contribute to the shifting of trends.”
Trends such as the clean girl and indie sleaze aesthetic shape our popular culture and the ways we connect with one another through fashion and music. Though we should be conscious of our spending and material consumption, Wewerka says these trends are something we should enjoy.
“Trends always reflect the general social feeling, so why fight it?” Wewerka said. “I live in a society too. I love indie sleaze — I would say I have always matched that aesthetic really well, even when it was not trendy. I want it back, so people feel comfortable being creative and expressing themselves.”