The term “VSCO girl” seems to have entered into mainstream discourse a few weeks ago, but according to Allie, my 25 year-old co-worker, it’s actually been around a lot longer than that, and I am incredibly late to the game. I could feel her secondhand embarrassment emanating through the phone when I told her I was going to write this article. But I’m not writing about VSCO girls because I feel old and out of touch and unable to grasp a trend that doesn’t include me, like most of the articles I’ve read. I care about this new trend, because, you see, I am beginning to suspect that I have a VSCO girl living inside my own home.
The first time I heard the word VSCO girl (pronounced Vis-co) was when Mazzy (age 9) was talking to one of her friends over FaceTime. “What’s a VSCO girl?” I asked her. “Oh nothing. Just this thing,” she waved me off. I knew VSCO as the photo editing app and asked Allie about it. She told me that VSCO actually has a sharing platform now too, where people cultivate a certain aesthetic. Beachy, laid back, soft pastel filters. There are no “likes,” so it’s perceived as a platform with less social pressure than Instagram. She said “VSCO Girl” was the new “Tumber Girl.”
Huh? Okay. Sounded harmless enough.
Then I started to notice some subtle fashion changes. When Mazzy came home from sleep-away camp this summer, she asked me to buy her a pair of Crocs. “Sure,” I said. I was actually thrilled because she has refused to wear anything but dirty athletic sneakers for the past three years. Then, when we were selecting a pair online, she got excited to a level that was really atypical for her. Mazzy does NOT care about fashion. Even slightly ironic fashion. Her aesthetic is “I just threw this on and didn’t think about it.” And not in an effortlessly chic way. She really looks like she didn’t think about it. After much drama about ombre Crocs that were out of stock (oh, the horror), she picked a peach pair, which was surprising because Mazzy hates pink. But maybe peach is different? I didn’t ask. Then she asked to buy assorted jibits (slices of cake, avocados, ladybugs, etc.) which made the Croc excitement more understandable. I didn’t question.
Next, I noticed she started gravitating towards longer boxier t-shirts and over-sized sweatshirts, with an emphasis on tie-dye, ombre and anything with the name of a location written on it. She fell in love with Grammy’s black hoodie that she left behind at our house one weekend. “Sure, you can keep it, ” Grammy said, when Mazzy made the request.
“That things is huge,” I told her when she put it on to go out to dinner. I couldn’t even see that she was wearing shorts underneath. “Let me get you a sweatshirt that fits from your closet.”
“No. I like it this way,” She told me. Then she put the hood up with her long wavy hair hanging out the front and kept it like that for the rest of the night. We met up with friends of ours and their daughter was wearing almost an identical hoodie with the hood up and hair dangling as well.
I didn’t really think much of the big t-shirts and sweatshirts. That’s what I remember wearing at her age too. It was right before we hit puberty and every girl’s body was different so I think the over-sized look was partially due to new feelings of self-consciousness.
Then we went to Rhode Island for the weekend. We went into a clothing store for a souvenir and Mazzy flipped over a table full of scrunchies. “Mom! Can I get one of these? They’re called scrunchies.” I informed her that I was well aware of scrunchies and had worn them all throughout the ’80s and ’90s. She ignored me and put two on her wrist.
On that trip, she also bought an adult-sized, pastel, tie-dye hoodie that says Newport across the front and started wearing it over everything. People on Instagram who had been watching my stories started to DM me, “Is Mazzy a VSCO girl?”
I don’t know. Was she? What did that even mean??
That’s when I started researching. I checked the #VSCOgirl hashtag on Instagram and for the life of me, could not figure out the common thread of what I was looking at. I asked Allie. She sent me four photos of girls who she said were VSCO girls and they all looked different and none of it made sense. “They all just look like they’re wearing what me and my friends wore in the ’80s and ’90s. And not to be trendy or stylish, just because they didn’t make fitted t-shirts or cool sneakers yet, and we had no other options. I don’t get it.”
There were no articles written on VSCO girls yet (this was over the summer), so I downloaded TikTok just so I could understand what was happening. TikTok made me feel old and even more confused. Google search results turned up lots of VSCO Girl YouTube Tutorials, which turned out to be pretty informative.
I learned that VSCO girls dress very similarly to how I dressed when I was Mazzy’s age (over-sized t-shirts and scrunchies), but they like very specific brands— like Crocs, Birkenstocks, Fjallraven Kanken backpacks, and Pure Vida bracelets. They shop at Brandy Melville and Urban Outfitters. They wear Puka shell necklaces, put scrunchies on their wrists and cover their water bottles with stickers, which must be customized Hydroflasks. They use Mario Badescu skin products (which is a place all my friends got cheap facials when we were in our 20s and had time for that kind of thing) and Burt’s Bees lip balm. They care about the environment, which translates into carrying metal straws and wanting to save the turtles.
Wait. Turtles? Is that why Mazzy was so excited to play the part of a turtle in her summer camp play? Is that why, when faced with getting any accessory she wanted at the American Girl Doll store, she chose a pet turtle??? Is that why she answered “turtles” when asked what her favorite animal was a few weeks ago? At the time, I was like, “Turtles??? Really? Since when?”
Things were beginning to make sense.
But really, not that much sense. I still had many questions.
Is being a VSCO girl cool? Is it uncool? Was it ever cool? Is it all just a parody? A parody of what exactly? Was I late to the party or early? Does anybody even want to be invited to the party? The party, FYI, is a trampoline sleepover party and it sounds super fun actually. I watched a YouTube video about it. But what the hell do I know?
Tik Tok definitely does not think VSCO girls are cool. The videos on there seem to make fun of them relentlessly. My favorite being one of a boy named Max Suwarno who names all the VSCO girl brands to the tune of Cell Block Tango from Chicago. I think it was at that moment that I realized I had gone so far down into the VSCO Girl rabbithole that I had come out the other side. I’d embed the video here, but I can’t figure out how to do that because I’m old and it’s on Tik Tok, so I will just link it.
My conclusion is that VSCO girls started as a term that other people called the kind of girls who were posting on VSCO, who are teenage girls who really do know how to do that whole effortlessly casual chic thing. Plus, they knew how to take a decent photo and throw on the right photo filters.
Then people on TikTok started parodying those kinds of girls…
Then younger girls (let’s say, 11-14 year-olds) saw the TikTok parodies, didn’t really understand they were parodies (or just liked what they were parodying) and then went off and made earnest YouTube tutorials about becoming them.
So it went from a term used to describe a certain kind of girl in jest (kind of like basic white girl) to a term girls were actually trying to self-identify with.
And then lastly, kids like Mazzy (7-10yos) saw both the jokes and the aspiration, so they know to say they don’t want to be VSCO girls, but really— they want to be VSCO girls.
That’s my timeline of the VSCO girl trend.
So, is being a VSCO girl bad?
My answer is no.
Saving turtles and using reusable water bottles are both very good, nice things. Wearing over-sized shirts is certainly way better than wearing shirts that are ten sizes too small. If the style includes not caring about “likes” on social media, I can get behind that too. It’s all pretty similar Mazzy’s “I just threw this on and didn’t think about it” aesthetic that she’s had all along, except everybody is secretly thinking about it. A LOT.
Clothing trends for teenagers and pre-teens is certainly nothing new. Neither is wanting to be associated with certain brands. I’m sure every one of us could name at least five brands they HAD TO HAVE when they were kids. When I was in Junior High, I remember everyone had to have a El Bisante bag which started at about $120 (for the record, my mom said absolutely not) and a Coach wallet keychain (which was about $75 and my mom also said no), so if anything, the VSCO girl brands feel a little more inclusive.
What really separates the VSCO Girl trend from fashion trends when we were kids is the role of social media in making it spread. When we were kids, you would notice trends by flipping through a magazine or just by seeing other kids wearing the same thing at school. Now, social media multiplies how much kids are exposed to certain styles by seeing them not just on their friends, but on every single person they follow online. And then algorithms see that kids are engaging with a common theme (made more apparent by the designated #VSCOgirl hashtag) and use that heightened interest to serve it up to them even more. Algorithms will even heighten brand associations because they’ll see that your friends who like #hydroflasks also like #scrunchies and think that you might be interested in both of those too. And then influencers and content creators (whether they work for themselves or for brands) notice the trending theme and use those same trends because it gets them more views on their content. I bet half those YouTube tutorials were created by kids really testing out the trend and the other half are kids who know people are searching for VSCO girl content and just want their videos to come up in search. So, it becomes harder and harder to decipher what is real, what is hype, what is genuine, what is a joke and what is people just trying to get their content seen.
That’s how the trend goes from the like-free VSCO feed to the influencers on Instagram to YouTube tutorials of how to pull the look off to Pinterest boards of VSCO girl starter packs to Tik Tok parodies, until finally, on it’s way out (probably), it lands at the feet of our little kids. Kind of like how all our kids started dabbing at the exact moment it became uncool.
The day Mazzy asked me for a Hyrdoflask, I asked her point blank. “Mazzy. Are you a VSCO girl?”
“No. I think it’s weird,” she told me.
“Do you want to be a VSCO girl?”
“My friends and I want to go as VSCO girls for Halloween.”
I was about to point out that she wouldn’t really have to dress up at all, since that’s what she wears anyway, but then I heard a little voice behind us.
“Sksksksksks!” I flipped around.
It was Harlow, my 6yo.
“What the heck is that???” I asked, but I already knew from my time in the rabbit hole.
“Nothing. It’s just a VSCO girl thing,” Harlow said.
And then a beat later…
“Mom, can we get a trampoline? It would be really fun to have a sleepover on it.”
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