The Modern-Day Indie Sleaze: Messy Makeup, Clean Ingredients
When society exits one distinct trend cycle, we often shift to a starkly opposing aesthetic. Think of it like a pendulum swinging from one side to the other, then back again. This pattern helps the "new" trend feel, well, new again.
Trends typically cycle in 20-year periods. While one aesthetic may resurface from a couple of decades prior, the end result will inevitably be slightly different given the natural shift of modern culture, industry innovations, and other compounding trends.
But because trend cycles have exponentially sped up over the years (along with the rest of our day-to-days), a trend that went out of style in the mid-2010s is already creeping its way back into the zeitgeist. Enter (or shall I say, reenter), indie sleaze. Below, we'll go over how we got here, what this not-so-new aesthetic looks like, and how to nail the corresponding makeup look.
Why is indie sleaze coming back?
About a year ago, we entered the "clean girl" era, thanks to (what else?) TikTok. This look consists of slicked-back buns, gold hoop earrings, minimal makeup, and a perfectly consistent (read: almost impossible) lifestyle of working out, eating 100% clean organic foods, and going to sleep at 8 p.m. If you want to learn how to master the makeup portion (and why we're not totally into this trend), we've covered that before.
Luckily, we are entering a new era that flips the "no-makeup" look on its head. We sat down with Donni Davy, head makeup artist of A24's iconic TV series, Euphoria. Davy is a master of all things makeup aesthetics—she is the brains behind the explosive glitter-covered, gem-obsessed look quite literally referred to as, "Euphoria makeup" by many Gen-Z's to this day. If anyone knows how to nail an aesthetic, it's Davy. Here, her expert POV on the resurgence of indie sleaze.
What is indie sleaze?
Davy is no stranger to indie sleaze, as she lived through this trend in her late teens and early 20s, more or less keeping a similar aesthetic ever since. "It's essentially casual but, like, obscenely confident," Davy says about the look.
The image of indie sleaze you have now is likely a reflection of the last time this trend was popularized in the late 2000s and early 2010s. Think of it like '80s party culture meets alternative hipster era. To be specific: The clothing choices are purposely random and lacking cohesion, everyone's hair is messy (but in a cool, I don't care sort of way), the dance music is loud, everyone parties (a lot), and nobody at the function would be cool if they were posing for a photo—club candids only.
A few staples of the previous indie sleaze era, according to TikTok trend predictor Mandy Lee, include amateur-style flash photography, provocative advertisements, outdated technology, Tumblr quotes, and tons of music mashups.
With the rebirth of this trend, we hope to leave behind some of the more problematic aspects of indie sleaze (no trend era is perfect, after all). The romanticization of eating too little (think negative body talk during the height of the 2012 Tumblr era), glamorization of excessive drug use, and lack of social and cultural awareness can and should all be left in the past.
However, the new and improved version of indie sleaze on the rise may be exactly what we need post-clean-girl aesthetic. It's a refreshing blast of carefree energy with tons of room for self-expression and less pressure to perform on social media platforms. "I would go as far as to say it's actually embarrassing if you look too 'put together,'" Davy notes.
Now that we've covered indie sleaze 101, let's move on to the best part: the makeup. Here, how to get the perfectly disheveled look and some of the best products to get you there.
How to: Indie sleaze makeup.
"In order to nail the look, it really shouldn't look like you put any real effort, which actually makes it pretty easy to achieve," Davy says. She suggests opting out of time-consuming steps like perfecting your nose contour, separating every lash, and gluing down each flyaway hair. Say less, right?
Step 1: Skip the heavy foundation.
Rather than stressing over a perfectly blended, full-coverage base, "embrace your natural skin," Davy says. Keep it natural and glowy: "If you look sweaty, that's fine," Davy reiterates. This trend is all about ditching the word "imperfection" when referring to skin.
Let go of the idea that your blush needs to be placed in the perfect spot and your T-zone must appear poreless. "It has kind of a dirty edge to it that has to look effortless," Davy explains, like you're "living your best life partying in a warehouse wearing an American Apparel leotard." We can practically hear the electro-pop soundtrack.
So embrace your skin as is: Wear whatever base makeup you want, but know that there's no need to try to achieve an airbrushed canvas to nail this aesthetic (or any look, for that matter). Find our go-to light coverage base product linked below, if you're unsure where to start.
Step 2: Opt for an airy brow.
If you hate filling in your brows, you'll be happy about this: Indie sleaze makeup calls for airy, natural-looking brows. "No powder-filled brows or concealer defining the lower edge of your brows," Davy emphasizes.
This means less time and effort on the brows, which is a major win for those who panic over a perfect arch or frozen laminated look. Stick with thin, light strokes of brow pencil or pen instead.
Step 3: As for eyes, do whatever you want, but make it casual.
"In terms of eyeliner styles, colors, and lip shades, I think you can still do whatever you love," Davy says. If you live for colorful, Euphoria-esque eye looks, keep it up. If a solid black wing is your ride-or-die, don't force yourself to let it go. Instead, just remember that nothing has to be perfect and, according to indie sleaze basics, maybe it shouldn't be.
"It's just about keeping it more lived-in and easy," Davy explains. So feel free to apply your glitter outside the lines, smudge your eyeliner on purpose, and dab on lip color without a mirror.
Step 4: Add your own flair.
We're embracing individuality with this look, so feel free to add your own unique flair. As Davy puts it, "Reverting back to old trends is never interesting unless we merge it with other elements and create more of a mashup." This could be a pop of color on the inner eye corner, bleached brows (or a false bleach look), faux freckles, or any other personal staple. There are no rigid do's and don'ts in indie sleaze, so have fun with it.
Overall, the goal is to come as you are and do your makeup for your own enjoyment rather than pleasing someone else or capturing an Instagram-worthy photo.
And even if your makeup look is a little messy, you can still use clean products (in terms of ingredients, of course). Here, some products that will help you rock the look, including some token picks from Davy's vegan and cruelty-free makeup line, Half Magic.
History shows that as one trend gets phased out, another paradoxical trend takes its place. This year, indie sleaze is back to kick the "clean girl aesthetic" to the side. This trend is all about self-expression, embracing imperfection, prioritizing your social life, and enjoying the moment as it is without pressure to capture every second on social media. Makeup-wise, all you have to do to master the look is take the pressure off yourself to be perfect. Instead, opt for a base that embraces your natural skin, airy brows, and whatever eye and lip colors you desire—above all, just remember to make it look a little more lived-in as opposed to completely untouched.
Hannah Frye is the Assistant Beauty Editor at mindbodygreen. She has a B.S. in journalism and a minor in women’s, gender, and queer studies from California Polytechnic State University, San Luis Obispo. Hannah has written across lifestyle sections including health, wellness, sustainability, personal development, and more. She previously interned for Almost 30, a top-rated health and wellness podcast. In her current role, Hannah reports on the latest beauty trends, holistic skincare approaches, must-have makeup products, and inclusivity in the beauty industry. She currently lives in New York City.