Getting dressed is, in a sense, always a prelude to a performance. It’s your daily pregame routine, the moment when you pull on a pair of flared pants or a crochet dress, add a scarf or earrings, take off one thing, then brace yourself for leaving the house. Musicians know this better than anyone, which is perhaps why they so often lead the way into new style territory. For the past several seasons, when it came to the intersection of music and style, the street sign might as well have been emblazoned with the words “indie sleaze.” But something softer, more like “indie sweet,” has been brewing backstage, sending the 2010s club-kid cliché in a new direction—one that is texture-rich, craft-forward, and brushed with the glittering, sepia-tinted gold of Daisy Jones & the Six’s Laurel Canyon look. It’s glam rock meets art school, vintage-inflected but still contemporary, complete with lean lines and impeccable construction. It’s a hit song, and we’re all listening.
While there’s plenty of variation in this new iteration of rock style, certain elements have taken center stage. From the exaggerated fringe in LaPointe’s fall 2023 collection to the slinky red fishnet dress at Ferragamo pre-fall 2023, designers have been embracing the bold textures of ’70s funk and ’80s glam, as well as the happy-go-lucky art-school ethos of Ella Emhoff and her generational cohorts. But rather than looking haphazard and sloppily boho, the new version is elevated through self-imposed limits. At R13 pre-fall 2023, this meant a neutral color palette to evoke “simplicity and edginess,” explains designer Chris Leba.
At Celine, Hedi Slimane returned to his signature streamlined silhouette, which he zhuzhed up with plush shearling jackets and glittering metallics, and turned classic L.A. concert venue the Wiltern into a runway—with Iggy Pop, Interpol, and the Strokes performing, and the Kills deejaying. Blumarine’s Nicola Brogano chose to highlight a similarly elongated form for pre-fall 2023, with plunging V-neck dresses and dangling fabric belts. “Since my first show, the Y2K aesthetic has served as a constant inspiration in this evolving journey of the Blumarine woman,” Brogano says, “and there are some elements of indie sleaze that match the self-awareness and strong attitude of her personality.”
For designer Batsheva Hay, the central trope for her pre-fall 2023 collection was the ideal of the “grunge doll.” Hay has been working at the forefront of various “-core” fashions since 2016. But this time, she cut back on the cottagecore ruffles in favor of a sharper, more downtown look. The pigtails were long, the ribbons were plentiful, and the overall vibe was one of measured, polished chaos, embodied by the doe-eyed Charlotte Kemp Muhl. “She’s not really a model; she’s a musician. I’m drawn to musicians,” says Hay, whose list of inspirations includes Courtney Love, Yoko Ono, and Melissa Auf der Maur. These are envelope-pushers who embody style, which, according to Hay, is distinct from fashion. “Rock stars carry the confidence,” she says, taking the designer creations “above and outside, elevating it.”
Though fashion has always loved rock stars, that love wasn’t always mutual. Even during the OG indie sleaze years, it was considered a bit shallow for a performer to focus heavily on their wardrobe. “Authentic” artists weren’t interested in something as mainstream as fashion. Like Hay, stylist Ron Hartleben has fond memories of his scenester days, and he’s drawn on his firsthand knowledge of this bygone era to help style rock goddesses, including Sky Ferreira. “I’m from a suburb of L.A. You couldn’t throw a rock without [hitting] someone listening to Peaches or having a layered haircut,” he jokes. Yet Hartleben also remembers the schism that existed between “serious” punks and performers who didn’t want to “cross-pollinate” with the fashionable hipsters or camera-ready scenesters. Now labels have become less important, and gatekeepers aren’t as obsessed with checking the authenticity box. Serious musicians can embrace indie sleaze style, Hartleben says, and “no one will blink an eye.”
Inclusive, textured, thoughtful, and personal—these are the hallmarks of the post-twee, post-sleaze, post-punk ideal. In many ways, the craft-focused, lighter-hued, and playfully subversive looks have more to do with the riot grrrl greats than with mass-marketed festival
style circa 2010. Like a game of exquisite corpse, the influence has been passed back and forth between fashion and music, swapping concepts, trading ideas, and gaining momentum. Just in time for Rock Girl Summer.
This article appears in the June/July 2023 issue of ELLE.
Katy Kelleher is a freelance writer and the author of The Ugly History of Beautiful Things: Essays on Desire and Consumption. She’s written for a variety of publications, from The New York Times to Jezebel, all from the comfort of her home in rural Maine. Her essays have been anthologized in both Best American Food Writing and Best American Science and Nature Writing.