scorecardParty girls and grungy hipsters are taking over Gen Z fashion to reclaim Hot Vax Summer 2.0
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Party girls and grungy hipsters are taking over Gen Z fashion to reclaim Hot Vax Summer 2.0

Hillary Hoffower   

Party girls and grungy hipsters are taking over Gen Z fashion to reclaim Hot Vax Summer 2.0
PolicyPolicy5 min read
  • "Indie sleaze" and "night luxe" are Gen Z's favorite aesthetics on TikTok right now.
  • One is a bit gritty, while the other is polished — but both romanticize urban party culture.

You're in your early 20s on a Friday night: What are you wearing, and where are you going?

Maybe you're posted up at a dark, swanky bar in a pair of strappy, sparkly Mach & Mach heels, a Cult Gaia crystal-encrusted shoulder bag sitting next to a plate of oysters and an espresso martini in your hand.

Or maybe you're tearing up the dance floor and shooting pool at a dive bar, wearing a graphic tee and a mohair cardigan, a cigarette dangling from your mouth.

Gen Z is likely rocking one of these two distinct vibes, revived and rebranded as "night luxe" and "indie sleaze." One is the socialite, the other the hipster; both center on urban nightlife. Biz Sherbert, a culture specialist at the creative agency The Digital Fairy, described the former as "polished and luxurious" and the latter as "glittery and grimy."

As is the case with most youth fashion trends of the 2020s, both aesthetics took off on TikTok, where #nightluxe has 22.9 million views and #indiesleaze has 18.5 million views.

At a surface level, they seem to attract opposing crowds.

"One is stilettos and martinis and trying to look rich; the other is ripped tights and PBR and trying to look broke," Casey Lewis, a trend strategist who writes a Substack newsletter called After School, told Insider. "But they're both heavy on excess." Much like the revival of colorful clothing and maximalist interior design, it's a quality that signals a hedonistic thirst — a desire to let loose after two years of economic distress and pandemic restrictions.

In brightly hued tights or feather-trimmed skirts, Gen Zers are romanticizing pre-COVID party culture after the pandemic fast-tracked them into the pressures of adult life and deprived them of normal socialization and partying, Sherbert told Insider. As the hardest-hit generation in the labor force during the coronavirus recession, forced to attend college remotely and socialize through their phones, Gen Z is nostalgic for 4 a.m. last calls and liberation after last year's failed Hot Vax Summer.

The reaction is an escape from an economy that stole the first years of their adulthood — and a stylish one at that.

Hot Vax Summer 2.0 means partying like it's 1980 … or 1920

Reminiscent of an American Apparel model headed to a dance club during the Tumblr era, indie sleaze hit TikTok last fall. Mandy Lee, an analyst of Gen Z trends who goes by @oldloserinbrooklyn on TikTok, first pointed out the trend, identifying its hallmarks as provocative ads, amateur-style flash photography, and a rise in outdated technology like wired earphones.

Dazed's Daniel Rodgers described it as "grubby, maximalist, and performatively vintage," while Nylon's India Roby likened it to a mashup of a Brooklyn hipster, the '80s electronica club scene, and grunge.

"Indie sleaze feels very driven by nostalgia and the way we were living vicariously through vintage snapshots of parties past and wild nights out we didn't experience," Véronique Hyland, the fashion features director at Elle and author of "Dress Code: Unlocking Fashion from the New Look to Millennial Pink," told Insider.

The comeback of hipster grunge — which millennials also revived in the aftermath of the 2008 financial crisis — signals Gen Z's search for a simpler era, one uninhibited by social media and adult expenses.

"Indie sleaze serves as a somewhat painful reminder of the last gasp in time when it was possible to envision a future unscathed by the ravages of late capitalism," Isabel Slone wrote for Harper's Bazaar, alluding to an economy that wasn't hindered by sky-high housing prices and inflation.

A more recent emergence of nostalgia and hedonism, the put-together party vibe known as night luxe appeared this spring, identifiable on social media by chic nightlife photos cast under a darkened exposure. Slipping into a cab in a slinky black dress, sights set on cocktails and a night out with the girls — it's a modern-day take on the Roaring '20s, when people partied in an age of economic prosperity following a flu outbreak and a world war.

In March, Glossy's Liz Flora declared that night luxe had replaced the pastel, Instagram-driven wellness aesthetic that reigned supreme in the 2010s. Turning quarantine into a self-care obsession may have been the final nail in the coffin for the well-being mantras that influencers preached in recent years, while the shock of the pandemic made people question their dedication to work and what they want out of life. For the 20-something, that looks more like having a good time than self-optimization.

"There has definitely been a postpandemic shift away from burnout working culture," said Lucy Davies, a 29-year-old microinfluencer whose TikTok and Instagram accounts are rife with moody lighting, wine glasses, fur coats, and Chanel accessories. "Whereas once images were perfectly curated, there is now a trend for blurry and more candid content of people having fun on a glamorous night out."

A post shared by Lucy Jane (@lucy.xjd)

But Hyland isn't convinced that night luxe has taken hold outside of TikTok. "It may be one of those hyperspecific trends that feels like it's been concocted expressly for the platform," she said.

"But the opportunity to dress up and feel sophisticated is appealing after we burned out on sweatpants and tie-dye," she added, referring to the colorful '90s-inspired loungewear that became one of Gen Z's first fashion trends to become popular on TikTok during lockdowns.

Lewis, the trend strategist, says the unifying thread between night luxe and indie sleaze is an emphasis on after-hours and late-night opulence. Two years into the pandemic, "people are just so incredibly bored of sweats and athleisure and watching Netflix at home on the couch that they want whatever is the opposite of that," she said.

She added: "After the Hot Girl Summer that wasn't, I think people just really want to party again. They want to have fun, and they want to do it in clothing that feels fun, a little messy, a little elegant."

Hyland described dressing up for a night out after being cooped up as an embrace of fashion's social element. "Everyone wants to see and be seen," she said.