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In one of the 20th century’s most influential books on fashion, Subculture: The Meaning of Style, the sociologist Dick Hebdige studied the punks, mods, and Teddy boys who hung around London in the 1960s and ’70s. He posited that their funny haircuts and jarring clothing was in fact a form of political rebellion related to their status as young, white, and working class: The mods in their polished suiting, he argued, “undermined the conventional meaning of ‘collar, suit and tie’, pushing neatness to the point of absurdity;” punks responded to the neglect felt from society by “rendering working classness metaphorically in chains and hollow cheeks.”
Basically, Hebdige proposed that style is inherently political, and that its ties to music make it that much more so. That postmodernist, ework remains the dominant method of dissecting subcultural aesthetics today.
The problem is that neither Marx nor Hebdige at the time had ever heard of TikTok. They didn’t know about Instagram or the internet, where so many subcultures are born now. (That is, if you can make the argument that subcultures can still exist today without being immediately swallowed by the mainstream.) It was a lot easier to draw connections between a group’s clothing, the music they listened to, and their socioeconomic status when that group did not exist exclusively in the digital ether, casting doubt on whether it actually exists at all.
E-boys are the new teen heartthrobs – and they’re poised to make serious money
I’m talking about e-girls and e-boys, the categories of hip young people whose defining qualities are that they are hot and online. This describes lots of people, of course, but while traditional influencers traffic in making their real lives seem as aspirational as possible, e-girls and e-boys’ clout comes from their digital personas. In other words, they’re not amassing followers by going on vacations to St. Barts or Santorini every other week. More likely, they’re in their bedrooms, alone.
Which is why you’ll almost never see an e-girl in real life. Well, you will, but she’ll just look like a normal young person who shops at Urban Outfitters and is experimenting with her hair right now, just like young people have been doing for eternity. To be an e-girl is to exist on a screen, mediated. You know an e-girl by her Twitch presence or the poses she makes on her Instagram, not by what she wears to school.
What does an e-girl look like? To draw from the most visible stereotypes, she will almost never be wearing her natural hair color (lime green, pink, or half-black, half-white hair are popular shades) and will almost certainly be wearing winged eyeliner. Her clothes are either thrifted (probably from Depop, the app where Instagram influencers make money selling their stuff) or come from alternative-ish online fast fashion retailers like Dolls Kill, which describes itself as an “online boutique for misfits.” E-girl staples include mesh T-shirts, colorful hair clips, Sailor Moon skirts, O-ring collars; on e-boys you’ll see middle-parted hair, chains, and high-waisted pants, though it’s worth noting that to be an e-boy does not require being male; both styles transcend gender. There will be little bits of skate culture, hip-hop, anime, cosplay, BDSM, and goth that will jump out, if you can spot them. In short, e-girls and e-boys are what would happen if you shot a il inner circle app teenager through the internet and they came out the other side.
The implication of the label is that they spend too much time being concerned about their hotness and onlineness, which is why “e-girl” is often used derogatorily, much like the word “hipster” was in 2006. If not mocking, it’s at least filtered through several layers of irony or sarcasm – “Am I an e-girl yet?” you might jokingly ask a friend while trying on a pair of tiny sunglasses at Forever 21.