Aesthetic Detective: E-Girls and boys

Jenessa Williams 30 November 2021

In a new series, Jenessa Williams unravels aesthetics trends emerging on social media, and advises on how you can embrace them for yourself. First up: the e-Girl/Boy

Where does the e-girl and e-boy trend come from?

(Look 1:  Misery Worldwide Hat, Monki Earrings, Billie Eillish X Hot Topic T-Shirt, EMP Striped Top, Adika Necklace, Hollister Skirt, Lil Peep Come Over When You’re Sober Album, Soda Heart Make up Stamp, ASOS Boots)

Though trends like this are difficult to pinpoint to a specific inception, the e-girl (or boy) has been considered part of internet lexis since at least 2009, capturing a sense of “electronic” teens and young people who spend great hordes of time on social media or online gaming.

An inherently digital trend, early e-girl labels could be seen as a objectifying pejorative, describing a sexually provocative, precocious young women who would seek out traditionally masculine online spaces, utilising their “cuteness” or “babylike” behaviour for social cache. Deeply problematic in both its stereotype and potential exploitation of often underage girls, many e-girls now simply identify as fans of internet culture, building up their own personal brands by experimenting with make-up and clothing.

E-culture builds on the noughties imagery of the “scene” kid—a concept heavily affiliated with the music of emo or punk-rock bands, creating safe space for emotional vulnerability and subversions of gender identity. e-Boys in particular have been known to embrace introversion, sensitivity and androgyny, while e-girls alike are able to access alternative visions of womanhood, often by embracing childlike imagery and community positivity towards curvier body types.

Tumblr was a popular site for e-girls and boys in the early 2010’s, but with the rise of TikTok, e-aesthetics have become especially commonplace. Music tastes have also changed—while pop-punk or rock might still be staples for an e-fan, they are just as likely to enjoy electronic music, K-Pop or Soundcloud rap, a style of hip-hop popularised on the streaming platform Soundcloud that is known for emotional lyrics about mental health and self-esteem. Billie Eilish, YungBlud, Beabadoobee, Chloe Moriondo, Lil Huddy and Grimes are all musical artists who have been known to use the e-aesthetic, making music that suits Gen-Z tastes.  

What does the e-girl and e-boy aesthetic look like?

(Look 2: New Girl Order Hello Kitty T-Shirt, Monki Skirt, Casetify Phone Case, John Lewis Knee-High Socks, H&M Cat Ear Headphones, League of Legends Gameplay Guidebook, Hunkemoller Thigh Garters, Koi Footwear Heels, Milk Make-Up Highlighter)

Heavily influenced by comic book, video game and cosplay culture, e-culture is a fusion of a great many internet-age trends and identities, taking advantage of a lack of geographical limits. It can most clearly be thought of as a fusion of cute, Kawaii or Harajuku styles, such as wigs, Lolita bows and frills, juxtaposed with gothic, grungy or BDSM accessories—chunky boots, rings and chokers, body harnesses, dramatic winged eyeliner—either in black, or in bold vibrant colours, depending on personal style. When in doubt, think of an early noughties Bratz doll—cute and colourful, but with a definite edge.

E-girls and boys have a lot of fun with make-up, but not necessarily worn in the traditional way. It can be customary within the culture to wear blush on your nose (as if you have a cold), to fake freckles, or to allow eyeliner to run as if recently fresh from crying. Make-up stamps of hearts and stars may also appear, worn under the eyes. If you’re wanting to go all out and dye your hair, a half-and-half approach is popular; either black and bleached-blonde, or vibrant shades of lime green, rosy pink and acid yellow.

How can I embody the e-girl or e-boy aesthetic for myself?

(Look 3: Miaou Mesh Top, Corpse Bride X Revolution Make-Up Palette, Attitude Clothing Belt, Killstar Corset Harness, Grimes Art Angels album, Vans Trousers, Jellycat Backpack, Buffalo Trainers)

Put simply, some serious hours on the internet. E-Girls and boys dedicate a lot of time to their internet presence, and many have turned their interests into full-time brands—as Instagram and TikTok influencers, as models and DJs, as Depop shop owners and OnlyFans sex workers.  To embody the e-aesthetic is to embrace your identity, and to be open and honest about both your flaws and fan favourites, finding a community where it’s OK to talk about who you really are.

When shopping for the look, don’t be afraid to get thrifty. Hello Kitty, Hot Topic, Urban Outfitters, DollsKill and Ragged Priest are all key brands, but you can just as easily find what you need in charity shops or online platforms such as eBay and Depop.

Shopping lists might include smock dresses, loose band t-shirts layered over fishnet or mesh shirts, short tennis skirts in pastel colours, striped socks and arm warmers. On your feet, combat boots or thick Mary Janes work well, while Claire’s Accessories and Etsy offer a great deal of playful jewellery that can be used to tie the look together.

Black is a staple that never goes out of fashion, but e-culture isn’t all about monochrome—push yourself out into galactical prints, acid hues, slogans and checks. Wherever the internet inspires you, follow that nose; you never know where it might lead…

Read more: The history of scarves

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