L to R: Courtesy of Rick Owens, Vivienne Westwood, Celine Homme, Daria Kobayashi Ritch / Rodarte, Rokh, Shoichi Aoki / Marc Jacobs Heaven, Jackie Kursel / Anna Sui, Christian Cowan, Charlie Engman / Collina Strada, Noir Kei Ninomiya, Gio Staiano / Iris van Herpen, Batsheva and TikTok, collage by Tilden Bissell for W Magazine.
The pandemic has elevated style subcultures like never before. Blame it on the fact that most of the world is still in the throes of social distancing, but for many, experimenting with an extreme sense of style is a form of escapism. As a result, more people are expressing themselves by dressing up on TikTok and beyond. There are Goths, punks, Dark Academia kids, cottagecore stans, and scores of other subcultures thriving both online and IRL.
Meanwhile, the fashion world is taking notice—and inspiration. Marc Jacobs recently launched a subculture-y division of his label dubbed Heaven, which takes from early Y2K style, punk, and grunge. Rick Owens and Marine Serre both went Goth for their respective spring 2021 runway shows, while the cottagecore aesthetic reigned supreme at Anna Sui and Chloe. Here, 10 subcultures to inspire a change in your wardrobe.
Like something straight out of a high fashion version of Harry Potter, the Dark Academia subculture revolves around the literary classics, beautiful libraries, plenty of starched collars, tweed jackets, and perfectly worn-in leathers. “Within the Dark Academia aesthetic, the desired look is encapsulated in sophisticated attire,” says Sydney Decker, a theater student who runs the popular MyFairestTreasure Dark Academia-themed Instagram account. “The look stems from fashion of the 1930s and the 1950s worn by students attending prestigious universities at the time. The color scheme centers around black, brown, and tan—earthy tones that compliment each other well. Plaid and wool are the usually preferred pattern and texture.”
On TikTok, you’ll see Dark Academia stans posting romantic tributes to leather-bound books and handwritten notes by candlelight, but the outfits seem to be just as important. Decker also notes that turtlenecks, blazers, loafers, plaid pants, dainty jewelry, and classic brown or black handbags are essentials. Also part of the culture? Thrifting. “Don’t diss thrift stores—they’re the best places to buy these staples at a low cost, especially for those who can’t afford full-priced, name brand clothing,” she says.
Think of cottagecore as Dark Academia’s sister. Cottagecore takes inspiration from a dreamy, quaint, and pastoral lifestyle. Looks revolve around prairie dresses, puff sleeves, white nightgowns, and basically anything else you might see on a fashionable person who lives in a little cottage in a rural area. On TikTok, the cottagecore movement romanticizes nature; you’ll often see posts of greenery, prairie dresses, picnics, and flower arrangements. Along with that, the staples of the movement are dresses from Laura Ashley, Jessica McClintock’s retired label Gunne Sax, Selkie, and Liberty London—styled minimally, with natural makeup and perhaps an oversize bow worn in a loose hairstyle. Luckily, fashion’s obsession with the aesthetic is only growing too, as seen in Rodarte’s pretty floral print prairie dresses for spring 2021—shot fittingly in the open air of the California hills—as well as Batsheva’s homey, simple A-line dresses for spring.
Scene kids from the early Aughts are back. A simple scroll through TikTok and Instagram will reveal all that goes with the scene kid aesthetic: layered plastic bracelets, voluminous neon hair, band tees, tight beanies, and Vans. Not to confused with emo, punk, Goth, or even the e-girl and e-boy subcultures, the scene kid loves experimenting with bright colors and graphic looks. Many of today’s scene kids have been recreating old Myspace photos from the original scene kid era, big hair and all. Think of the scene kid as a cross between a punk and raver. Fashion seems to be getting in on the scene aesthetic, albeit with an elevated look: Collina Strada’s pre-fall 2021 collection, for instance, featured neon tie-dye pants paired with rainbow streaks of hair.
The fashion Goth has been trending for a few seasons now. Just take a look at the spring 2021 collections of Sacai, Rick Owens, and Yohji Yamamoto and of course, mainstays like Noir Kei Ninomiya. But online, too, the Goth is making a comeback with spiked collars, mismatched leg warmers, chains, platforms, and plaid. “Welcome to Goth TikTok,” says the narrator of one video with over 800,000 likes. “Stay awhile and vibe with us.” The good thing is, you can bring a little bit of goth to your everyday wardrobe with accessories, too. Harnesses, fishnet layers, and even the right Victorian collar can give any outfit a fresh Goth vibe.
Punks, too, have made a particularly timely impression on fashion of late—with a renewed sense of flair. Think: purple mullets, long-line leather jackets, structured boots, white collared shirts and even liberty spikes and mohawk hair (with tutorials to go along with it, of course). The aesthetic just happens to resonate with some of fashion’s favorites this season, like Christian Cowan, who took inspiration from the movement for spring 2021, and punk original Vivienne Westwood.
E-girls and E-boys
E-girl and E-boy style takes inspiration from the modern versions of scene, Goth, and punk culture. Think: fishnets, miniskirts, band tees, harnesses, and colorful hair styled in a much more wearable fashion. The difference with E-girls and E-boys? The subculture stems from the gaming scene, and because of that, there’s a definite cyber influence. Think: headphones, anime-inspired clothing and makeup like hearts drawn underneath the eyes. Makeup itself is a huge part of E-girl culture, and as such, there are ample DIY tutorials online. E-boys in particular have already begun to inspire fashion’s biggest names. Take Celine, for example, and the spring 2021 men’s collection which Hedi Slimane described as “a ‘documentary’ collection spanning E-boys and current skate culture” and “a candid portrait of a generation that took advantage of the confinement to assert itself and emancipate itself creatively.”
Witchtok is the alternative subculture that focuses on self-care and wellness. And while the most important thing about Witchtok is the community, there’s definitely a certain sense of style that goes with it as well. Witches can be seen wearing astrology pendants, crystal amulets, lots of black, and ample amounts of silver jewelry. Fashion favorite Rohk infused huge amounts of witchy inspiration into its spring 2021 collection, with long, edgy black gowns as well as thick black dresses with heavy white collars.
“I think what’s interesting about the Witchtok community is the broadness and unfiltered aspect of someone’s practice,” says Ashley Ryan who posts as Pythian Priestess and has over 30k followers for her witchy content. “When we see something like Instagram, we see the end product. Witchtok is raw, and I get to see what people are doing for real.”
Like cottagecore, Goblincore focuses on nature but takes it to an even more extreme viewpoint. Think: fairy-like dresses, colorful hair, little charms, and a color palette of earthy greens, red, browns and plaids. Many of the self-proclaimed Goblincore members are found looking for mushrooms online or taking long, leisurely hikes. Mushrooms, insects, shells, and any other ephemera found in nature are overwhelmingly seen in the clothing choices of this down to earth aesthetic. But mushrooms overall seem to be one of the most impactful motifs of fashion right now—with labels from Iris Van Herpen (who looked to Entangled Life, a book by Merlin Sheldrake about how fungi sustain life on earth, for her spring 2021 couture show) to emerging brand Lirika Matoshi (who recently released mushroom knit sweaters) feeling the fungi.
All you need to indulge in Grandmacore is your biggest, coziest sweater, anything crochet, and lots of oversized collars. Like its predecessor dad style, Grandmacore emphasizes comfort and a wholesome approach to dressing down. Similar to its sister style of cottagecore, you can often find its fans wearing loose, floaty dresses or the aforementioned sweater. In times like these, it makes total sense, too: designer labels such as Anna Sui and Batsheva both indulged in floral printed house dresses for spring 2021 that looked wholly granny-chic.
Break out the flannels and dark eye shadows—grunge is coming back for a new era. Patchwork sweaters, ripped jeans, and grown-out roots, (worn to the tunes of Nirvana) are all over TikTok. The new grunge—much like oversized flannels paired with sequins and massive sweatshirts with crystal chokers seen at No. 21’s spring 2021 show—also mixes in unexpected touches, like pearls and a more Goth approach to makeup such as heavy cat eyes and black lipstick.
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