Never underestimate the power of youth culture. Trends start with teens and twenty-somethings and slowly make their way through the population, which would explain why my mother started saying “bling” about five years ago and never stopped.
While having a “look” is nothing new–as the retired goths and punks of the 80s will tell you, right after we stop looking for our reading glasses. These days, the youths have an aesthetic, and it’s about way more than just clothes.
If you’re over the age of, say, 25 then you probably only have a vague idea of what an aesthetic even is, and with all the subcultures and confusing names, it might seem easier to just throw on jeans and a t-shirt.
However, an aesthetic goes beyond fashion. It’s a little world that you create for yourself, filled with things that make you happy. Clothes and accessories, makeup and hair–but also decor, books and movies, food and drink.
Yes, You’re Too Old for These Aesthetics
As a general rule of thumb, if you were around the first time a trend was popular, then you’re too old to join in on the new wave of retro-ironic grunge or vaguely goth e-girl looks. Sorry!
You should also pass on vaporwave, a holo/neon dreamscape of late 90s pop culture that both embraces and critiques the era. Y’all, aesthetics are serious business.
Another subculture that’s only for the young? VSCO girls. Named for a photography app, the VSCO lifestyle is very specific: Hydroflask water bottles, pastel tie-dye and light-wash denim, Birkenstocks, and scrunchies. There’s a “summer camp” vibe that’s rather wholesome and natural while also emphasizing loyalty to a handful of brands.
Hyper-trendy, brand-specific, and often intentionally unflattering, these types of trends are best left to the teenagers who can make them work through sheer attitude. But does that mean you can’t dabble in any aesthetics if you’re over 25? Thankfully, no!
Cottagecore is essentially pretending that you live in the world of Anne of Green Gables. Romantic dresses and pinafores, straw hats, baskets of wildflowers, freshly baked bread, and homemade jam… It’s a very sweet aesthetic with a distinctly 19th-century vibe.
Cottagecore got a lot more popular during the pandemic as we dreamed of a simpler, more beautiful world. The old-fashioned trappings of cottagecore are appealing to a wider range of ages than many other aesthetics, so if that speaks to your heart, then go for it!
Not quite your thing? What about academia? Commonly subdivided into dark academia and light academia, this aesthetic is a little bit Harry Potter, a little bit Oxford before World War I. Lots of tweed, elbow patches, and baggy trousers–and leather messenger bags, of course. Actually, I’ll let fashion YouTuber Rachel Masky show you:
Vintage is a catch-all term for aesthetics that stick close to a particular decade. If you’ve ever seen Dita Von Teese, then you know that she’s all-in on the 50s pinup girl look. As long as you didn’t live through the decade yourself, then embracing a vintage aesthetic could work for you.
But Actually, Ignore All of This and Do What You Want
You know what’s really cool? Wearing whatever you like and decorating your home however you please. It can be fun to express yourself through an aesthetic, and it makes the world a more interesting place when people commit to doing things that make them happy.
If you want to be a mori girl in your 60s or dress like a consumptive Victorian ingénue while shopping at Target… honestly? You do you.