TORONTO — Move aside, pumpkin-spice-latte-sipping “basic” girls, there’s a new aesthetic dominating youth pop culture that’s bubbled into the mainstream: VSCO girls.
“VSCO Girl” — pronounced vis-co girl — is the term for the aesthetic of the preppy, beach-inspired look and it’s just the latest viral trend and source of parody for tweens and teens in the Gen Z-dominated spaces of Instagram and the micro-video app Tik Tok.
Although Instagram memes outright say what a VSCO girl dresses like, the group isn’t exactly a monolith. But their attire can include:
- Crocs or Birkenstocks with socks;
- oversized T-shirts that cover most of their shorts;
- light and natural-looking make-up;
- Fjällräven Kånken backpacks;
- Puka seashell necklaces;
- colourful velvet scrunchies and Pura Vida bracelets on their arms; and,
- Hydro Flask reusable water canisters in hand.
The natural, beach look is meant to counter the heavy makeup, carefully curated look of influencers on Instagram and YouTube who became popular in recent years.
Elaine “Lainey” Lui, host of etalk and CTV’s The Social, loves the look because “it’s pretty casual – these are not the teenagers of ‘Gossip Girl.’”
In a phone interview with CTVNews.ca, she described VSCO Girl as “more of an aesthetic … in my world, it’s all about a look.”
The look has been promulgated by predominately thin, privileged white girls wearing high-end accessories and clothing, Lui said, explaining that they’re the new “All-American girl” similar to what cheerleaders were in the past.
Caprese Wippich told NBC News that part of the VSCO Girls lifestyle is caring or “virtue-signalling” their feelings for the environment. “The girls who weren’t interested in protecting the environment before are now all upset about it because it’s part of their aesthetic now,” she told the U.S. outlet.
Lui called it a “performed authenticity” which walks the line between genuine concern for the earth but also acting blasé about what people think.
WHERE DID THE PHRASE VSCO GIRL COME FROM?
The phrase “VSCO Girl,” and its accompanying aesthetic, takes its name from the photo-editing app VSCO — formerly known as VSCO CAM — which allows users to take pictures and features a set of preset filters emulating classic film photographs.
App users can post the photos to their app profiles similar to the app’s competitor, Instagram.
The app’s software originated in 2012 by Joel Flory and Greg Lutze who set out to create the “Anti-Instagram” with larger focus on creating high-quality digital photos that look like classic film. In an email to CTVNews.ca, VSCO representatives said the app has more than 20 million active users per week.
“VSCO’s business is accelerating at a pace that we haven’t experienced since the launch of the mobile app in 2012,” the company said, adding that 75 per cent of VSCO’s online community are under the age of 25. “We hear often that the VSCO membership is one of the first purchases teens are making with their own money.”
More recent adopters of the app — primarily in the past two years — have even been profiled in The New York Times and The Cut.
PHRASES CO-OPTED FROM BLACK, LGBTQ+ GROUPS
Certain phrases which originated in black and LGBTQ+ communities have become co-opted and are now associated with VSCO Girls including “And I oop’” — taken from a video by drag queen Jasmine Masters – which is used to express shock or embarrassment.
Another term taken from those communities is “here’s the tea,” which means to share gossip. VSCO Girls also use the keyboard mashing of “sksksk” which is used to type laughter and express an awkward feeling at something online, according to PopBuzz.
The site also traces the phrase “sksks” to the way laughing was expressed in the black Twitter community and Portuguese-speaking people.
“It all goes back to what they (VSCO Girls) feel as authenticity,” Lui said.
HOW GIRLS ON APP BECOME AN INTERNET MEME
The VSCO Girl has always a bit of a joke with the term being used as an insult to describe the young, laidback girls who were using the app. Lui said most adults were late to the party as the term began being adopted by tweens back in 2016.
“Not to call ourselves out for being too old … it’s actually been around for three years,” she said, adding that she’s related to a teen who grew up on the VSCO Girl aesthetic.
But over this summer it grew from a quiet subculture and exploded into a parody and viral meme by autumn.
Throughout VSCO Girl’s evolution, the aesthetic has been copied and imitated — sometimes un-ironically — by various YouTubers including Caiti’s Corner and Greer Jones, Instagrammers like Sydney Serena and Emma Chamberlain, and people on Tik Tok .
Some of these YouTube videos include titles such as “becoming the ultimate VSCO girl for a day” or “transforming into the ultimate VSCO girls.” And Instagram is flooded with photos of tweens and young teens using the #VSCOgirl with varying degrees of irony.
“You can’t ignore that they’re (VSCO Girls) from a certain demographic — white privileged,” she said. “The parody is not just making fun of them, it’s making fun of a certain value system — a certain status quo.”
“And the fact that we are talking probably means that it’s almost over,” Lui chuckled. “The fact that they’re willing to talk about it means that they’ve got something else that’s secret where they’re hanging out and they’re happy with us knowing what VSCO Girls are.”
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