Where are the sad girls now?

Is the sad girl subculture still relevant in 2022?

Maheshwari Vickyraj Black and white photo of a girl staring outside the window with a cap

Sad Girl is an aesthetic that became popular in 2015 but is still relevant in 2022, young girls from affluent Western countries would spend time online and embody a peculiar paradox: the desire to convey their innermost thoughts through a formulaic aesthetic. This trend was given more depth by American singer Lana Del Rey who is known to produce records that are full of dreamy depression, masterfully producing songs that entail plenty of misery. The star carved a niche for herself by becoming the poster child of a ‘sad girl’.

Where did the concept of the ‘sad girl’ come from? 

In 2015, teens were using their angst to create an aesthetic through various platforms and configurations. Tumblr and Instagram became places where they were most predominant. Girls shared blurry selfies crying in the bathroom with captions that seem meaningful, tweets about missing their ex, pictures with teardrop motifs painted on their cheeks, pills in vivid pink colours with animated captions that read “having a threesome with anxiety and depression” or “100 percent sad” are all instances of content made by sad girls. This trend has changed the perception of what it means to be a strong woman by rethinking actions and feelings that were previously considered weak and turning them into strengths.

While the trend might seem extreme at first glance, at its core it is a form of self-expression. A sad girl is characterized more by her clothes and manner, and most sad girl hobbies are independent. Their interests are used to create an aesthetic fad that hinges on the hallmarks of teen depression. For instance, young girls who are struggling with mental illness and finding solace in identifying or creating art that sad girls use purely for its cool cache.

In Hannah Williams’ article, The Reign Of The Internet Sad Girl Is Over And That’s A Good Thing, she explains how working women started relating to this trend when they became victims of wage stagnation and an escalating housing crisis, poor access to mental-health services, and increasingly limited reproductive rights; these women had many reasons to be unhappy and cynical. Boom! This trend enabled women to share and listen, or at the very least relate. Every retweet, like, and “same” served as confirmation that their feelings are legitimate and that they are not alone in the battle.

Los Angeles-based artist Audrey Wollen, produced the Theory of Sad Girl. The theory originated as a study on the cultural trope of the suicidal woman, which eventually evolved into the idea that women’s sorrow is a political agent whose unwillingness to make apologies for her misery and suffering is an act of revolt. The theory proposes “routine female sadness and bodily stress as a general state of social/political opposition.” Sad Girl theory is based on “the notion that a woman’s sadness and its saturation on the body might be an active, autonomous, and articulate form of staging resistance.”

Black and white photo of a girl being sad wiping her tears with her hand.

[Katey Kettell]

But, like, what is the sad girl aesthetic? 

Shaila Ankolekar, 24, discovered this trend at 15 when it was trending on Tumblr accounts of influencers and models like Kylie Jenner, Alaviaa Jaffrey and Tania Shroff. She was in tenth grade and facing pressures of secondary board exams in India, her classmates would break scales and try to cut themselves but instead of harming herself, she found solace in this trend. “My life was stagnant at that time and my parents pulled me out of tennis coaching because they thought I could not handle the pressure of studies and sports together. I had a lot of pent-up energy so I began listening to music and discovered Lana Del Rey and Arctic Monkeys,” she says. Alaviaa Jaffrey was contextualizing Kylie Jenner’s fashion for the Indian audience, that combined with the gloomy Mumbai weather inspired Ankolekar’s sad girl look comprising silver jewellery, dark kohl eyes, black kurtas and black tights.

Pinterest is a wellspring of inspiration for Olo Aketho Yeptho, who stumbled upon this trend when she noticed girls drawing teardrops on their faces and taking pictures with unexplained bruising in a gloomy landscape with shards of glass or dead flowers. Soon her moodboards were populated with sepia tone photographs and very feminine indie outfits. “I feel women who post pictures of themselves when they are sad or being performative about it publicly are seen as someone who is exhibiting their grief as a sort of agitation and reclaiming it,” explains Yeptho who is a makeup artist. Her love for make up reflects in her style. “I do not see a sad girl as someone who is only moping but as someone who has a very girly personality too. I like glitter! Lots of body glitter, I like to experiment with makeup and colours. I have one of those sad girl eye palettes that I use when I make TikTok videos. I was very excited that Dr Martens had come out with sad girl platform boots,” she exclaims.

Being creative and expressing yourself through art is something Amber Fox has always believed in. Editor of the digital magazine Sad Girl Review, she explains to me, “I was a sad girl when I was studying at Vancouver Island University. I was very much drawn to the visual imagery that the sad girl aesthetics depicted, it is a very gendered language to me”. Pink, soft pastels and flowers are images that go through her mind when she associates herself as a sad girl. The idea of this website came through a project where she wanted to build a community, where people share the best in girly, melancholy material: art, creative nonfiction, and poetry. However, she stresses that “the topic of girliness does not mean that this is a women’s only magazine in terms of contributors; all creators are welcome to submit their own take on ‘girliness’ whatever that might mean to the contributor in question. I see being a “sad girl” as a state of being or more of a vibe.”

The sad girl in recent years

In 2021, The Guardian released an article ‘Well-dressed and distressed: why sad young women are the latest book cover trend’ and Harper Bazaar’s ‘The Joy of Sad Girl Music’ gave rise to the sad girl autumn. Singers like Taylor Swift, Adele, and Mitski all released their album in November setting the perfect mood for the resurrection of the sad girl. What was common in all these albums was the longing for love or heartbreak which could be felt during chilly evenings on a couch with a cup of coffee. ‘The guide to sad girl autumn’, an article in The Tacoma Ledger, a collegiate newspaper of The University of Washington Tacoma, further explains the seasonal music trend and recommends sad girl tracks which helps us get in the mood for sad girl autumn in 2021. A new age take that challenges the sad girl from 2015 by wearing softer baggier jeans with an oversized sweatshirt. “Make a trip to H&M and you will end up buying a couple without realising you are part of the sad girl autumn trend. Switch from pumpkin latte to chai in hand and have Taylor’s version of Red on repeat, you will not be confused for a regular autumn girl but sad girl autumn who seeks comfort in clothes and music,” says Divyani Vardhan, a student at City University.

Girl holding a cup of coffee

[Nikola Topic]

ELLE US’ article ‘Sad Girl Fall Is The Best Time To Be Cold, Cozy And Honestly A Little Miss’ breaks down the sad girl autumn look. “The sad girl in 2015 is about brooding in dark colours or extremely girly attire with lots of glitter and a tint of soft girl vibe but in 2021 it’s more about being sad in neutral colours, more like ‘Hygge’ vibes except you are sad,” explains writer Anamika Haridas.

Adele Cardani, a student at UAL believes the sad girl autumn aesthetic entails listening to moody songs and reading romantic novels with sad endings in a creative cozy setting. The season plays a significant role in creating this trend because autumn represents the state of mind of a girl who feels things deeply and does not know what to do with all these emotions. “A constant question of how can I make this life and mood a romantic aesthetic,” she says.

So how can you dress like a sad girl in autumn? Cardani answers, “wear warm oversized cashmere sweaters with chunky scarves and pair it with neon socks, or dark sheer tights with a sweater dress and pair it with boots almost similar to the dark academia style.”

According to Fox, “sad girl autumn is more inclusive, and comforting compared to its former trend, the movement has moved on from just being a thin white girl crying and taking selfies to comfort and relaxation.” In contrast, Ankolekar believes “the new age trend is just a faux, and the real depth of this lies in 2015”.

The sad girl aesthetic in 2015 was raw and robust. But in 2022 it has evolved from dark angsty posts on Tumblr to sad girl autumn, a theme adopted by girls seeking comfort in a cozy space by listening to soft pop by Taylor Swift and Adele who use emotional bravery through lyrics to comfort millions.

Featured image: Maheshwari Vickyraj