VSCO Girls, E-girls and Heathers: The Royal Court of Tik Tok Aesthetics

Culture, Style

VSCO Girls, E-girls and Heathers: The Royal Court of Tik Tok Aesthetics

For a long time everyone wondered what the generation underneath Millennials would look like. What do they like to do? How do they move about their digital landscape? What do they consider “normal” that other generations wouldn’t? Thanks to the monumental uprising of social media platform Tik Tok, there is now a direct window into the lives of Gen Z. And through that window we see aesthetics, subcultures and stereotypes that don’t fit into the regular old “nerd,”“prep,” or “freak” that might speak to Millennial and Gen X’s younger years. Instead we see the VSCO Girl, E-Girl and Heather–updated classifications for old tropes. So what exactly makes these new school Tik Tok aesthetics different?

The Rise of the VSCO Girl

The most popular Tik Tok aesthetics, VSCO girls are known to love the beach and the environment
Credit: Analise Benevides / Unsplash, Header Credit: Athena / Pexels, cottonbro / Pexels

Once the term VSCO Girl hopped off of Tik Tok and started to seep into everyday life (for many by way of a satirical viral video), it required a lot of explanation. It wasn’t as easy as just saying a “preppy” girl. This beachy girl also specifically cares about the environment and embraces youthful, childlike trends of stickers and pastel colors. The scrunchies around her wrist, puka shell necklaces and Birkenstocks might also make you want to say “90s.” But the fact that this label is named after photo editing app VSCO inherently makes it a new age classification. This popular of Tik Tok aesthetics was the more mainstream introduction to setting apart the 2010s from the 2020s–Gen Z has an identity and this is an example of what it looks like.

While the trope soared to popularity, the VSCO girl was still aspirational for most. Not everyone can afford Kanken backpacks and Hydroflasks. The label took on a life of its own by way of parody, where people couldn’t help but poke fun at such a simplistic style (that had some expensive upkeep). No matter what generation passes through their teen years, there are always people who aren’t a part of it that instinctively want to pass judgement. But can we really say the VSCO Girl is any worse or better than the multi-layered shirts, popped collars and Rainbow flip flops of 2009? Or maybe the cargo shorts, Sketchers and new millennium slug bug as seen in Mandy Moore’s video for her single “Candy” in 1999? 

The Soft Girl aesthetic involves pastel pink, butterflies and flowers
Credit: Karley Säägi / Pexels

It’s also notable to mention the Soft Girl, who is similar to the VSCO girl but with the added element of butterflies, hearts and stars. The Soft Girl aesthetic exists as a similarly childlike version of femininity that embraces traditionally girly styles. Dainty necklaces, pastels and butterfly hair clips are a must. If she had a 1999 counterpart it would probably be Bianca Stratford from 10 Things I Hate About You or even The Plastics in 2004’s Mean Girls.

The Edge of the E-Girl

Tik Tok's e-girls usually have a punk aesthetic mixed with edgy, girly elements
Credit: Anastasiya Lobanovskaya / Pexels

Tumblr was always a platform with a pretty multi-generational cross-section of users. At its peak, Millennials and Gen Z were the ones scrolling the pages for inspo and memes. Out of Tumblr and Tik Tok rose the E-Girl (and E-boy) with their punk/skater-inspired clothes, thick black makeup, thin black stripes, and colorful hair. Before the VSCO Girl hit so publicly in the way that it did, this subculture almost completely existed on social media without the same level of parody videos and think pieces.

One of the edgier Tik Tok aesthetics, the E-girl is a modern day emo kid
Credit: Steven John Pascua / Pexels

In the same way that the VSCO girl had its predecessors, the E-Girl has a more visually noticeable link to 2009’s emo and 1999’s skater kid vibes–A bit of a Hayley Williams and Avril Lavigne circa “Sk8er Boi” mashup. Today’s E-Girl doesn’t stray too far from these looks, adding a couple new eyeliner tricks here and there. There’s also the ‘90s and y2k elements of oversized belted denim and layered shirts, which goes to show every style will probably come back around. Different versions of the same girl will be reinvented about every 10 years, and the E-Girl is no exception.

The Heathers of Tik Tok

One of the most recent categorizations to come from Tik Tok is the Heather–bringing everything full circle with its inspiration from the 1988 film of the same name. The direct link of the trope with the movie comes from a viral challenge that involved lip synching to a clip from Heathers: The Musical. This was also combined with Tik Tok star Conan Gray’s song “Heather,” which refers to the girl your crush is crushing on. Between the two references, Heather is the pretty, popular girl that exists as someone her peers look up to aspirationally. Getting labeled a Heather may be a compliment, but possibly also an insult if they think you’re being a little too bougie.

Heathers of Tik Tok are usually the popular, pretty girls that everyone wants to be
Credit: Adrienn Heiszter / Pexels

While Heather is more of a meme than an aesthetic, it’s pretty easy to locate the Heather in your own life. For some Tik Tok users its their sister, their mom, their best friend or even their former self. It’s tied to a sadness and longing with a feeling that you may never be good enough to be liked. But then there also comes validation in someone reassuring you that you are in fact a Heather in their eyes. This pretty, popular girl has always been around and will always exist in some form. In 2009 it could have been Kristin Cavallari from The Hills. In 1998 it was Jennifer Love Hewitt’s character Amanda in Can’t Hardly Wait. And aside from the actual movie Heathers, there was also Molly Ringwald’s 1985 character Claire in The Breakfast Club.

Tik Tok Aesthetics vs. Real Life

In both Can’t Hardly Wait and The Breakfast Club, the movies send distinct messages about how the popular girl’s life wasn’t all that it appeared to be. She still had problems, insecurities and didn’t have everything figured out as well as everyone assumed she did. It’s important to note that these same conclusions are true not only of today’s “Heather,” but also the rest of the Tik Tok royal court. Gen Z influencers and Tik Tok stars are good at portraying themselves a certain way online. However those digital representations will never speak for them as a whole. In a world where visual images can be completely dissociated with real life, it’s easy to forget many of these girls are in fact human beings with their own issues.

Wearing black and white stripes is an essential part of the E-Girl aesthetic
Credit: Olenka Sergienko / Pexels

Whether its Cottagecore, Dark Academia, Kidcore or anything else, Tik Tok aesthetics will always be intriguing to those watching. Social media giving access to more detailed and “in the cut” styles of fashion leads to even more specific subcultures in your sightline. It’s a unique experience getting to develop an aesthetic you share with thousands of people who are just like you.

As much as it feels new and fun getting into it, it’s also good to know that similar styles have been around before. And similar people have gone through the motions of adopting them. Use former styles for inspiration, and also as a reminder that styles do come and go (and come back, and go once again). And at the end of the day, YOU will never go out of style. Be a Soft Girl today and an E-Girl tomorrow, as long as you remember your Tik Tok aesthetic will never define or limit who you are.

What do you think about the styles of the Tik Tok “Royal Court?” Drop a comment with your thoughts below!

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