For much of Generation Z, the trendy meme of the summer was the VSCO girl, an aesthetic consisting of scrunchies, pastel clothing, and Hydroflask water bottles.
Whether you love her or hate her, there's not a lot of the internet that hasn't been touched by the VSCO girl this year. Summer 2019's "it" girl developed into an iconic look across YouTube and TikTok, resulting in a flurry of teens sporting - and parodying - her look. Don't be surprised this Halloween to see a number of people breaking out a costume of high ponytails and puka shell necklaces, metal straws and Fjallraven backpacks, Birkenstocks and Polaroid cameras.
The origins of the "VSCO girl" name trace back to a photo-editing app that launched back in 2011. VSCO - with a pronunciation that rhymes with Cisco - is known for its preset filters with cult-like followings used by photographers and Instagrammers alike to produce artsy, aesthetic-focused pictures. It's also a platform devoid of likes and follower metrics, which social networks like Instagram have been built on.
So if you're wondering exactly what inspired the VSCO girl trend, you may want to start at the source. Here's how to use the popular photo-editing app VSCO:
VSCO has two primary functions: photo editing and photo sharing. The app's layout is not all that different from Instagram. Here's your feed, where you can see the latest pictures the accounts you follow have shared.
However, unlike Instagram, VSCO doesn't prominently feature photo metrics like the number of likes and comments your content gets. The app's minimalist design and white background puts the focus on the images. If you press and hold on any of the photos in your feed, two options will pop up: favoriting the picture, or reposting it onto your own VSCO feed (similar to Tumblr's reblog or Twitter's retweet functions).
Tapping on any photo in the VSCO app will bring you to its details: the account that posted it, chosen hashtags, and where the picture was taken, etc. You can also see what VSCO filter was used to edit the photo, in case you want to mimic the picture's aesthetic and use it on your own content. Additionally, beyond the options of favoriting or reposting the photo, VSCO also has a messaging feature you can use to share photos with other accounts. Use it by clicking on the right-most icon that resembles a 2D paper airplane.
You can click on the name of any account to be brought to their profile page. You can scroll through an account to discover more of their photos, and follow them to see their photos pop up on your feed in the future.
Beyond photos, the VSCO feed will sometimes also include "Journals." Users can choose to create blog-type posts on VSCO that can include words and multiple photos to tell a story, like this one VSCO made to commemorate World Mental Health Day.
From your feed, you can tap the icon in the top-left corner for the "People" tab. Here's where VSCO will offer some suggestions of accounts to follow, import your phone contacts if you choose to find those who use VSCO, and also show you who you're following and who is following you. The number of followers and following are not displayed on VSCO, in another departure away from Instagram's metrics.
When you launch the VSCO app, it opens on the Discover tab. VSCO's Discover is similar to Instagram's Explore page: It's where you can discover photos you like from people you don't follow, but may like based on what you click on and who you follow. Under Discover, you can find photos sorted in categories and types. You can also search VSCO — with the magnifying glass icon on the top left — to find trending hashtags or look up certain accounts or content.
You can find your own profile under the tab with a smiley-face icon in the horizontal menu that runs along the bottom o the VSCO app. Your profile has three tabs: Images, where the photos you post are kept; Journal, where any blog posts you create are saved; and Collections, where the photos you favorite and re-post are stored.
But if you're looking to use VSCO not just for photo-sharing and discovering, the app's photo-editing features can be found in the Studio tab in the center of the menu bar. The Studio is where all of the photos you want to edit with VSCO are stored, living in-app separate from your phone's Camera Roll itself. You can filter the photos in your Studio to sort for the ones you haven't yet edited or published.
To import photos for editing into the VSCO Studio, tap the plus sign in the top-right corner of the app. That will pull up your phone's Camera Roll, and you can select multiple images at a time to import into the VSCO app.
Doing anything to your photos in VSCO is as simple as selecting any of them with a tap. Selecting a photo will trigger a number of options to appear in place of the existing menu bar along the bottom of the app. You'll know you selected a photo when a black border appears around its frame.
To edit any of your photos in Studio, select the icon in the menu bar that's second from the left. Under here, you'll be able to explore the dozens of preset filters VSCO has, with simple names like C1 and FP8. VSCO will suggest some preset filters based on your specific photo (under the "for this photo" tab), or you can explore all the presets if you're still new to the app. You can also adjust settings like exposure and contrast, like on Instagram, under the second tab in the editing menu bar.
After you're done editing your photo, click "Next" in the top-right corner to publish onto VSCO. You can add a caption, hashtags, and location to your VSCO posts. The app also lets you choose to also save your edited photo to your Camera Roll.
If you're heading into the Studio section on VSCO just to publish some photos that you've previously edited, there's a shortcut for that. In the menu bar along the bottom, the arrow-looking icon (second from the right) will go straight to the "publish to VSCO" screen — tap the checkmark in the top-right corner to publish.
From Studio, you also have the option to create a Journal, the blog-type entries mentioned earlier in this article. If you tap on more than one image in your Studio, the menu bar at the bottom will instead read "Create Journal."
In addition to editing each photo with filters and presets, you can also easily choose to add text before and after photos in the entry. Publishing a Journal works the same way as publishing a photo: Click the checkmark in the top-right corner.
The right-most icon in the Studio menu gives you the option to share your VSCO creation to other apps, like Instagram and Snapchat if you're using VSCO to edit photos for posting to other platforms.
You'll know your photo or Journal has successfully been uploaded to VSCO when "uploading" appears along the bottom, along with a rainbow status bar. After the photo has uploaded, a tab with "share options" will pop up for a couple of seconds to give you the chance to post the photo to Instagram or Snapchat.
While using VSCO is free, there are some presets and features that are locked behind a paywall. For $20 a year, you can buy a VSCO membership to access additional preset filters, the ability to edit videos, and more. If you're interested in what a VSCO membership consists of, the details can be found under the right-most icon in the main menu bar.