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Decoding the most popular Gen-Z fashion aesthetics

Kylie Jenner embraces the Y2K aesthetic with a bucket hat, mini bag and handkerchief top. Picture: Instagram.

Kylie Jenner embraces the Y2K aesthetic with a bucket hat, mini bag and handkerchief top. Picture: Instagram.

Published Feb 5, 2021


Gen Z are really enjoying experimenting with fashion and lifestyle trends as they begin entering their late teens and early 20s.

Social media culture has us categorising people based on their online aesthetics.

Whether we’re talking VSCO girls or e-boys, these subcultures are mainly distinguished by their sense of style, rather than the typical differentiators like music genres to or the activities they engage in.

What are the different Gen-Z fashion aesthetics?


Loose braids, hair ribbons, picnics in wildflower fields - cottagecore embodies a carefree lifestyle that is more in sync with nature than fast fashion trends. A style built from hand-me-downs, thrifted items and vintage pieces from the wardrobes of friends and family, you’ll often see people with this fashion sense rocking pretty frocks, frilly socks paired with Dr Martens and crocheted purses. Their Instagram is a wholesome range of outdoor snaps and polaroid pictures that almost look like they were taken a decade or two earlier thanks to thoughtful editing.

Soft girl

Pastel hues, mini A-line skirts, plush knitted jumpers, velvet scrunchies and fairy lights. This aesthetic is all about owning your femininity in whichever way you choose. There’s no such thing as too much pink, because as far as soft girls are concerned, you should be comfortable in whatever you wear and not worry about coming across as ‘too girly’. A soft girl look is only complete once the maximum amount of accessories have been added to the outfit and the makeup consists of natural makeup boasting rosy cheeks and glittery eyelids.

Dark academia

If this aesthetic could be made into something tangible, it would be the taste of black coffee, the smell of old books and the quiet hum of an almost empty library. Dark academia encompasses the love for classic literature and a need for knowledge, learning and self discovery. This fashion takes inspiration from “goth” culture with its rather limited colour palette ranging from neutrals to black and maroon hues. However, the main aim is to dress like a mysterious academic who spends their time hiding out in quaint bookstores. Berets, pleated skirts, pantihose, scarfs, spectacles, boots and blazers pretty much sum things up.

VSCO girl

Named after the VSCO photo editing app, the term ‘VSCO girl’ has been used online to describe one of the most common lifestyle and fashion stereotypes for teenage girls since ‘preppy’ and ‘emo’. Messy buns, Starbucks lattes posted to Instagram on a regular basis, scrunchies worn on wrists, white Birkenstocks, polaroid cameras and oversized t-shirts are some of the trends that define the VSCO girl aesthetic. However, once the trend began to go viral - rising to popularity - it met its demise in the eyes of the internet when the meme-making community got a hold of it. Now, it’s pretty much a term used to describe girls who are “basic” purely because they openly enjoy things that are stereotypically “girly”.


Frosted lip gloss, Von Dutch handbags and so much body glitter, festival goers of today would be in awe - the 2000s was a unique era in fashion defined by a range of trends that are gradually making their way back into popularity. Seen everywhere from the streets to major runway shows, this trend has especially blown up on the video sharing app, TikTok, which is huge among Gen-Z. However, you’ll have also seen celebrities like Kendall Jenner rocking low rise bell bottoms and Bella Hadid flaunting a hairdo with butterfly clips, proving that everyone wants to steal their fashion inspo from the Y2Ks.


Skatercore or grunge, became a phenomenon in the 90s but really took off during the 2000s. Skaters are often seen sporting clothing that is baggy to offer them a free range of motion allowing them to do their tricks without any restriction. To embody this trend, you’ll need to invest in graphic t-shirts, loose fitting clothes like baggy jeans and hoodies. As for the shoes, you’ll need to stick to the classic skater shoes like Vans and Converse.


E-girls and boys exist only on your screens. You may encounter them in real life, however their main place where they express themselves is online so it’s usually confined to their bedrooms. They spend a lot of their time creating TikToks, editing their pics in photo-editing apps, and playing around with exciting hair, makeup, and clothing styles (mostly thrifted).

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