‘It’s not a phase mom!’ and other hard truths

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When Covid meant I had to kiss my summer plans goodbye, I soon settled into a new routine back home working part-time in a supermarket. In between till training and repeatedly having to tell customers I didn’t have a clue where the dried apricots were kept, on my first day I found myself striking up a friendly rapport with a colleague the same age as me who’d gone to a high school not far from mine. Having gone through an exhaustive list of potential mutual friends and recalling memories of growing up in the local area, I remarked how funny it was that we had crossed paths under these circumstances. My friend nodded in agreement, adding that it was unlikely we’d have met in our school days. When I asked why, they simply replied that, ‘We probably hung out in different groups’.

‘Well what group do you think I would have been part of?’ I asked.

Without even hesitating, they replied, ‘The emos’.

Slightly stunned, I asked how they had guessed and was simply met with, ‘You give off that vibe’. Impressed, albeit confused, I tried to think what could possibly constitute that vibe. An angst-ridden outsider? A miserable music lover? Someone who irons their ultra skinny criminal damage jeans religiously just to sit in a park and drink Monster Energy with their friends? While all sorts of clichés may have befallen the movement’s past, looking back on this encounter, I am reminded of the ways in which my teenage investment in emo culture has seeped its way into my adult life.

For all I half-heartedly denied it, my 14-year-old self would have been elated to have been recognised as a follower of what the Daily Mail labelled ‘the sinister cult of emo’. Back when My Chemical Romance were still making music and before Bring Me the Horizon were being played on Radio 1, I would stay up all night watching videos on YouTube of teenage girls giving tutorials on how to perfectly execute raccoon-like eyeliner and tease a spiky side-fringe, which I would attempt to emulate the next morning, only to be told off for wearing too much makeup at school and have my fringe fall flat, leaving me looking more like Justin Bieber than Melissa Marie Green. Whilst I have since ditched the extreme eyeliner and vowed never to have another side-fringe, this experience certainly ignited a desire to experiment with bold, daring looks and take risks with my style. While some of these moves have been questionable (think millimetres of a micro fringe and a Clockwork Orange-esque white boiler suit), I am grateful for the time I spent trying new things and feel more comfortable in how I look now knowing that the way I style myself is according to what looks best on me based on trial-and-error judgement.

While I may occasionally look back at pictures of my cat-ear-hoodie-cladded younger self and cringe, I do recognise that a lot of the interests and style choices I make today can definitely be traced back to my embrace of 00s emo culture. Revisiting the movement through nostalgic Spotify playlists helped me to discover a whole range of earlier emo bands from the 90s I’d overlooked as a teenager. I still have a weakness for red eyeshadow and love my checkerboard Vans. Even as I find myself more drawn towards other subcultures these days, I still have a fondness for peripheral groups whose darker style screams excess.

With Y2K fashion dominating my Instagram feed and the occasional immortalised Paris-and-Nicole-quote-on-a-screenshot popping up, I wonder whether emo fashion will be making an equally iconic comeback too. Perhaps its already arrived in a regenerated form encompassing sad-eyed Phoebe Bridgers stans and similarly-styled E-Girls on TikTok. Maybe the next generation are going to burn their wide-legged jeans and bring business back to Blue Banana. Or maybe, as demonstrated by my total inability to fully grow out of what was meant to be ‘just a phase’, the now-grown-up emo kids have been keeping it alive all along.

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