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Why Gen Z loves to dress up as e-girls

The moody, imperfect aesthetic is a rebellion against Instagram’s picture-perfect beauty standards

E-girl Vrinda Suri.
E-girl Vrinda Suri. (Courtesy Vrinda Suri)

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Divya Hoon likes to call her style aesthetic e-girl. The 20-year-old fashion student from Noida has been “stuck with it” since 2020, when she saw online videos of teenagers wearing the e-look: hypersexual attire, bright coloured pigtails, pink blush on the nose and cheeks, tiny hearts under the eyes. Think anime meets emo. Soon, Hoon was trading her basic T-shirts and mom jeans for e-girl staples like mesh tops, ripped black jeans and thrifted corsets.

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E-girls have existed in online gaming communities since the late 2000s. But in the past two years, especially after the pandemic, the aesthetic—influenced by K-pop and skate culture—has become more popular among youngsters, including music artistes like Billie Eilish and Doja Cat, as a way to rebel against social media’s picture-perfect beauty standards. Such is the rise in interest that shopping app Lyst saw a 16% spike last year in searches for skirts inspired by the anime show Sailor Moon, and a 20% increase in sales of mesh T-shirts.

Dressing as an e-girl online feels more liberating than having long hair, flawless skin and perfect makeup, says Delhi singer-songwriter Viepsa Arora, 20. She, too, enjoys putting together her e-girl avatar. “Conventional beauty seems unattainable to me. This style makes me feel confident and pretty. And when you feel confident, you feel more like yourself,” she says.

Arora insists the trend isn’t entirely new: It’s a modern iteration of the emo and goth aesthetics. “I’ve been wearing fishnets and dramatic eye makeup since I was 13. But it has definitely become a more permanent part of my personal style now,” she says.

Like many of her peers, Arora shops for e-girl essentials at brands like Zara and Urbanic while exploring local markets and thrift stores for unique finds.

For queer rights activist and YouTuber Nishtha Berry, 24, embracing the e-girl trend had more to do with “feeling connected” with herself. Inspired by K-pop artistes, she wears oversized sweaters, blazers and shirts, teaming them with a spiky hair fade style, minimal make-up and a single dangling earring. “When I was a child, my mother used to make me wear skirts and dresses, and I always felt like a different person in them,” says Berry. “Being an e-girl helps me express myself.”

It has also helped her become more comfortable in stepping outside. “People assume I am a guy, which makes me feel a lot safer in public, especially around men,” she says.

Vrinda Suri, 19, however, doesn’t like to step out in her e-girl look. “It’s just a nice way to express your darker side online,” says Suri, who prefers attention on social media rather than in real life. But Hoon, who has over 20,000 Instagram followers, wants to be recognised anywhere and everywhere. With ambitions to become a global fashion influencer, she has taken to documenting her style experiments, including pairing e-girl make-up with the early 2000s Y2K aesthetic. “It makes me feel like I am in a 90s rom-com.”

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