The VSCO girls are killing again. According to a story in Fortune, contouring is their latest victim: The financial magazine reports that they’ve “traded in heavy makeup for Carmex lip balm, Mario Badescu rosewater facial spray and single-item, multi-use products from Glossier.” It’s just the latest evidence of the fashion and beauty industries bowing before the awesome—in the biblical sense—powers of the VSCO girl, named for the photo-editing app. Canonically a teen or tween, she can be identified in the wild by signifiers like Crocs, Hydro Flask water bottles, or bike shorts. But her undone, just-back-from-a-hike aesthetic has been bubbling up in fashion as well. Now you see as much tie-dye at Fashion Week as you do snakeskin, plus a healthy representation of Birkenstocks, Tevas, and other gear formerly reserved for the trails.
When I was a kid, you might have played with Skipper, but you wanted to be Barbie. Barbie was an adult, with a convertible and a bachelorette pad. Skipper had…a scrunchie. But these days, she’s getting her revenge—or at least her fashion moment. A playful, tomboyish affect is trending, even among adults. You can see it with Instagrammers like Bianca Valle, who posts about wellness and nutrition while wearing very VSCO-appropriate fleeces and bike shorts, and Aemilia Madden, a tie-dye-loving fashion editor who favors the same Birkenstock style as her dad. Meanwhile, brands in that grown-up, Fashion VSCO Girl vein include Ganni, the sustainable Danish line whose scrunchies took over Copenhagen Fashion Week; Outdoor Voices, with its pastel-happy, crunchy ethos of unstructured play, which it calls “doing things”; and Madhappy, an L.A.-based line of snuggly pastel streetwear that recently got an investment from LVMH Luxury Ventures.
But it’s the ethos, not just the aesthetic, that’s taken off. Hydro Flasks are not just a cool fashion statement, they’re a nod to environmentalism (no single-use plastic) and self-care (maximum hydration!). Luxury now means taking care of yourself and the world around you. To wit: At the Collina Strada show in September, attendees were given fresh produce to tote home in reusable bags. Designer Hillary Taymour says that sustainability is the starting point for every aspect of the line. “I always go into it being like, ‘Is this food for the earth, or is it poison? And am I creating more poison than I need to?’ ” she says.
Another reason VSCO appeals to women, not just girls: It’s a refreshing rejection of the male gaze, in favor of oversize T-shirts and comfortable shoes. It might remind you of the way you dressed as a kid, when you couldn’t care less about what anyone else thought of you. For Madden, the style is a way of honoring her younger self. She remembers an old photo of herself as a child, where she’s “wearing an ombré Gap bucket hat with zip-off pants and a cast on my arm. We get pulled in by the trends that spoke to us from the very beginning,” she says. “I’m still the dorky bucket-hat wearer I was at nine.”
This article appears in the February 2020 issue of ELLE.