If you’ve ever been online, then you’ve likely seen an e-girl. Among the many internet subcultures known as ‘aesthetics’, the e-girl aesthetic is one of the few that stands out for being born entirely during the internet era. Though other subcultures like Cottagecore and Angelcore have historical precedents in art movements like Impressionism and Rococo, the phenomenon of the e-girl is unique to platforms like Tumblr, Instagram, and TikTok.
But learning what the e-girl aesthetic is means knowing who the e-girl is. To understand the e-girl requires an understanding of the social sphere she exists in.
What Is An E-Girl?
The name e-girl comes from the 2000s naming trend of slapping ‘e’ onto existing words to denote a newer, upgraded version of what that word referred to. In this case, e-girl means ‘electronic girl’, a type of teenager or young woman that is often seen on the internet.
Emerging as an alternative fashion trend, the e-girl aesthetic has its roots in Tumblr. Sometime during the late 2000s and early 2010s, we saw a trend of microblogs posting photos and collages, known as ‘mood boards’, with troubling imagery.
These mood boards would often have dark color palettes and featured images that suggested themes such as drug use, alcoholism, mental illness, and self-harm. The mood boards of the early e-girl aesthetic, which didn’t have a name at the time, were a way for teens to express their thoughts on the world around them and how that external world influenced their internal one.
There are several predecessors of the e-girl aesthetic, but the closest one in appearance and thematic influences is the pastel goth subculture. Also known as ‘nu goth’, the pastel goth aesthetic peaked around the early 2010s and featured young women sporting accessories and make-up that we commonly associate with e-girls today. Pastel goth girls of the 2000s-2010s dyed their hair in bright shades of pink, purple, and other pastel colors. They also wore studded belts, spiked bracelets, and leather chokers like the e-girls that would come after them.
Most important of these, however, is the pastel goth’s custom brand of ‘creepy cute’. Heavily influenced by the visual kei, Harajuku, and lolita subcultures of Japanese street fashion, pastel goth combines cutesy, feminine aesthetic with startling gore imagery. While the e-girl aesthetic doesn’t put on eyeball hair clips like the pastel goth style, it still kept the use of accessories that alluded to self-harm, chief among these are the razor blade chokers that are still worn by e-girls and e-boys today.
Elements of the E-Girl Aesthetic
The unique visual language of the aesthetic makes it relatively easy to identify the elements of the e-girl style. Compared to other aesthetics, which often have softer visuals, the e-girl aesthetic has more similarities to the scene, emo, punk, and grunge subcultures. Because of its influences, the e-girl aesthetic shares its basic building blocks will its predecessors with the only difference being the way the style is executed.
Similar to the scene and emo styles of MySpace and Friendster, the TikTok famous e-girl aesthetic makes heavy use of dark colors. An e-girl’s wardrobe is dominated by black and is accented by pops of color with red, purple, and neon green being among the most popular ones.
Popular clothing staples of the e-girl aesthetic include graphic tees, which are almost always oversized, that reference bands, video games, or 90s anime. Pleated mini skirts that have a similar cut to that of anime schoolgirl uniforms are another staple.
Remember the heavy black eyeliner of early 2000s artists like Avril Lavigne and lead singers of hit emo bands? It’s back and it’s all thanks to the e-girl aesthetic.
Bold, sharp eyeliner is a signature of the e-girl look. Compared to the scene kids of the 2000s, the e-girl aesthetic doesn’t go for the smudged, smoky eyeliner technique. E-girls are known for their killer wingtips and intricate eyeliner designs that are often topped off with thick mascara and bright, neon eyeshadow.
Aside from vibrant eye looks, the e-girl aesthetic also makes use of generous blush that’s applied throughout the middle part of the face. It gives the wearer a flush that looks as if they’ve had one too many beers. If that doesn’t sound like it would look good to you, trust me, the e-girls manage to pull it off.
You can thank Ramona Flowers for this one.
One of the key parts to a picture-perfect e-girl aesthetic is to dye your hair in bright, eye-catching colors. It doesn’t have to be one solid color as e-girls will also bleach their hair to platinum or give themselves bright highlights. Billie Eilish, the poster girl of the aesthetic and music taste, is a wonderful example of this. The singer has worn her hair with neon green highlights, bleached platinum blonde, and even blue hair.
The popularity of the e-girl aesthetic is part of why Margot Robbie’s Harley Quinn in Suicide Squad has so much staying power. Her blue and pink twin tails and fun, skimpy outfit were a dead ringer for the style.
Steel and Leather Accessories
There’s no other way to put it: e-girls wear accessories that are toned-down versions of fetish gear. Not all e-girls do it, in fact, many just stick to chains and spikes like the scene and emo fashion styles before it. But the e-girl aesthetic takes notes from the pastel goth style when it comes to accessorizing.
Both the e-girl aesthetic and pastel goth style use leather accessories that are inspired by lingerie and BDSM clothing. Examples of this include leather garters that are often worn with knee-high socks and miniskirts as well as leather harnesses. To a lesser extent, the choker necklaces worn by e-girls will sometimes be reminiscent of a dog collar like the one shown in the picture above.
An Online Presence
You can’t be an e-girl without the “e.”
E-girls are daughters of internet culture and their existence is inexplicably tied with it. Unlike the Cottagecore girl who exists both online and out in real life, the e-girl requires an online social media presence to be real. Without one, you just aren’t an e-girl.
While not all e-girls are internet famous, many women who are popular online are e-girls. Aside from Billie Eilish, an iconic e-girl whose fame is solely online is the streamer Emma Langevin. If Emma looks familiar to you, that’s because you’ve probably seen her as a YouTube thumbnail for a song by another famous streamer, Corpse Husband.
Yeah. Emma is the girl from the ‘choke me like you hate me’ song, ‘E-Girls Are Ruining My Life‘.
But why is she so popular? Emma Langevin’s lively Brooklyn accent sets her apart from other e-girls who often have more ‘generic’ accents or even a cute tiny voice. That said, her uniqueness hasn’t exempted Emma from the dilemma every woman has to face when they go on the internet or literally just exist for that matter: receiving creepy messages.
Emma Langevin took it all in stride, making a funny video that takes a jab at all the creeps in her DMs. But not all e-girls are as lucky. When 17-year old Bianca Devins was murdered by a fan rumored to be her ex-boyfriend, the media reduced her to nothing more than a dead ‘Instagram E-Girl’.
Worse still? Salty fans and angry Redditors felt Bianca Devins had it coming simply because she wasn’t the perfect image of a kind, soft, and virginal femininity.
And that brings us to a conflict the e-girl has with the very internet that gave birth to her.
The E-Girl Aesthetic, the Madonna, and the Whore
If OnlyFans and Twitch are to go by, the truth is that the internet loves e-girls. E-girls, due to the fact that they exist on social media, rely on being perceived to exist in the first place. The women who wear e-girl aesthetic clothes may not exist for the sole purpose of being perceived, but the e-girl as a concept does. The platonic ideal of the e-girl, with her killer eyeliner and platform Mary Janes, is inexplicably tied with looking conventionally attractive, especially to a male audience.
This doesn’t mean other aesthetics don’t rely on social media for their popularity, but that the e-girl aesthetic is closely tied with female sexuality in a way that aesthetics like Angelcore, Dark Academia, and Cottagecore aren’t.
And when women are both openly sexual yet reject being treated as sexual objects, the internet starts vilifying them. Sure, the nameless faces fawning over e-girls behind their screens may love her beauty and sexually suggestive nature. But the moment it becomes clear that she doesn’t have any real interest in being the internet’s girlfriend, the e-girl becomes a whore.
The tension between the e-girl aesthetic and the very audience that consumes her image is evident in the most upvoted definition of e-girl on Urban Dictionary.
To be an e-girl is to be a Cool Girl. She’s beautiful, as a girl is expected to be, but she’s not like other girls. She plays video games and she’s willing to be suggestive for the camera. But never too suggestive, otherwise she’s a sex worker, making her no better than ‘other girls’.
If that sounds familiar, that’s because the e-girl’s problems are old news. The e-girl aesthetic itself may be a daughter of the internet, but the complicated relationship she has with society at large is an old one.
Enter the Madonna-Whore complex.
The sociopsychological concept of the Madonna vs Whore dichotomy portrays a divide in the way we see female sexuality, or better yet, female existence. It separates women into two categories: the noble, pure, and nurturing archetype of the Madonna and the titillating Whore who is both desirable and despicable for being attractive.
Women are then expected to fit in either of these categories, never pushing the boundaries far enough to be hated. The ideal woman is a Madonna who, in the wise words of Doja Cat, is a good girl who only does bad things for her man. She’s exclusive to one man and a passive subject of sexual attraction.
When the e-girl rejects her audience, she ends up dead like Bianca Devins. Should she actively pursue men and express her sexuality openly, she ends up ostracized like Hester Prynne.
Going Beyond the E-Girl Aesthetic
The e-girl aesthetic is a successor to a long line of women, both real and fictional, who have tiptoed the line between Madonna and Whore before her. Her timeless dilemma of what it means to exist as a woman is immortalized in art, literature, and even history. So, if you’d like to learn more about the world the e-girl exists in, this quick-reading list is for you.
Tess of the d’Urbervilles by Thomas Hardy
Tess of the D’Urbervilles is a 19th-century novel written by English author Thomas Hardy. It follows the story of a young Tess Durbeyfield who, as she grows into a woman, must walk the tightrope between being seen as virginal and being seen as ruined or corrupted. Unlike many writers of the era who wrote stories of the corruption of young women as a cautionary tale, Thomas Hardy is very sympathetic to Tess and understands that she’s a victim of circumstance.
Thomas Hardy’s clear affection for Tess oozes in each page. Not once does he blame her for being a ‘whore’, instead focusing on the hypocrisy and cruelty of the people around her that have forced her into a difficult position.
La Symphonie Pastorale by André Gide
André Gide’s novella La Symphonie Pastorale might sound like it’s a sweet romance set in an idyllic cottage on the English countryside, but it’s the story of a country priest who lusts after a blind orphan girl that he adopts. André Gide portrays the story as a tragic romance, but let’s be real: there’s a serious power imbalance between a grown man and a blind minor girl.
The Scarlet Letter by Nathaniel Hawthrone
The Scarlet Letter is set in 17th century Boston. In it, Nathaniel Hawthorne narrates the tale of a woman who is ostracized by her community for having a child out of wedlock. Despite the public shaming that she goes through, protagonist Hester Prynne refuses to reveal who the father of her child is. Hester’s heart-wrenching quest to be treated as an actual human being is used by Hawthorne to explore themes of morality and female sexuality.
Up for reading more classics? Check out these 6 Classic Books Written By Authors With Mental Illness.