The moody days of early 2010s Tumblr reblogging are immortalised by memories of Arctic Monkeys’ album covers, scrappy handwritten poems, American Apparel tennis skirts, and the more-than-occasional soft porn gif. For many Gen Z and Millennial teens and young adults, Tumblr served as an online diary, escape, and scrapbook. The microblogging site was founded in 2007 and for the following decade, it became the Internet’s best-kept secret (Tumblr's popularity dropped off since its porn ban in 2018).
Over the years, most of our Tumblrs have slowly gathered dust and turned into a distant memory that we fondly look back on — it is the age of ‘newstalgia’, after all. Until recently that is, after popular TikTok trend forecaster Mandy Lee predicted the return of Tumblr-inspired subcultures for present-day 2022. Almost a decade after its prime, Tumblr is rearing its indie head again and bringing with it its graveyard of aesthetics.
Three main subcultures are currently making the social media rounds: indie sleaze, Tumblr girl, and twee. It is my greatest pleasure as someone who first created a Tumblr blog in 2012, to introduce you to or remind you of these online communities.
What is indie sleaze?
Pull out your digital handheld cameras and get ready to smudge your heavily-lined eyes — indie sleaze is back, and it wants to party. Thanks to MySpace and Tumblr, indie sleaze’s simultaneous embrace of social life and social media rocked the late 2000s and early 2010s. Characterised by its mismatch of grunge, ’80s and ’90s influence, the movement was loud, unabashed, and fuelled by hedonism.
Fashion-wise, indie sleaze didn’t skimp on glitter, neon, metallics, or extravagant layering of chain necklaces and plastic party accessories. Smudged mascara was paired with messy hair streaked with pops of colour and side-swept bangs; completed by nails with cracked polish.
Its content centred around nightlife: candid shots from house parties and flash photos from a club (watermarks encouraged) were mirrored by faux-effortless American Apparel ads.
What is Tumblr girl?
Circa 2014, Tumblr was home to a certain type of angsty teenage girl, one who wore her emotions on both her sleeve and public blog. As opposed to the saturated, low-effort aesthetic of indie sleaze, Tumblr girls revelled in dark, gloomy tones and content. Marina and the Diamonds, Lana Del Rey, Arctic Monkeys, The 1975, and Lorde were on repeat on her record player or wired earphones.
Skinny black jeans with knee rips, a pair of Doc Martens, faded band tees, fishnet stockings, chokers, and denim jackets could be found in her wardrobe rotation. Tumblr was where mysterious, soft-grunge girls came to play; where melancholy and lust could coexist.
You could find song lyrics scrawled on the back of a Tumblr girl’s hand, and heartfelt poetry written in the columns of her notebooks. Brooding was always encouraged.
What is twee?
While indie sleaze and Tumblr girl have their roots firmly in the grunge scene, twee is anything but that — think of it as their goody-two-shoes, straight-A cousin. Twee fashion is heavily inspired by quirky and indie films of the time, which includes anything from Wes Anderson, as well as Juno, Perks of Being a Wallflower, and 500 Days of Summer (anything Zooey Deschanel, really).
As the name suggests, twee style is quaint, cute and feminine, and draws from the ’60s and ’70s. Take a peek at Alexa Chung’s early blogging days and you’ll get a grasp of the aesthetic — ballet flats, Peter Pan collars, tights, giant bows, cardigans, berets, longer hemlines, and satchel bags. To add to its sentimentality, objects like typewriters, teacups, and ukuleles typically make their way into the mix too.