Instagram Style Tribes: Post-90’s Minimalism or Post-Childhood Feminism

Which camp do you salute?


Of all the lonely hearts clubs to follow Sgt. Pepper’s band — bars at 3 a.m., Myspace profiles, Tinder, the DMV, anywhere that still plays “I’m Blue” by Eiffel 65 — Instagram must be the loneliest for the ease with which it swallows those who seek (anything but sleep) into deep, dark holes.

And yet for every ‘gram-related grunt and gripe is a reason to double tap the screen. Among those reasons: the Style Tribes of Instagram.

Instagram allows voyeurs not just to observe in stylized subcultures, but to partake. For one to engage in a particular IG style club activity, the only form she must complete is the filling-in of a photo’s heart. For one to become a member, she simply has to “follow.”

But before it gets to that point, as with any good organization, there is, of course, the opportunity to audit.

I have been sitting in on two different aesthetic groups for a while, both rampant enough to be declared as “everywhere.” The first one: that post-90’s, post-normcore, post-hipster-meets-model-off-duty look of @LisaSaysGah, @Maryam_Nassir_Zadeh and those who copy. The second: that literal-90s, Lolita bb girl, art-hipster-who-denies-the-title-hipster look of @PetraCollins, @ThisIsMayan and their digital posse. And as with any true Thing, it’s about more than just the outfits. These are “lifestyles.”

The first group’s style begs the cliché question of birthing order versus existence: what came first, the chicken or the pale blue suede? Did Instagram breed the collective vibe, or did the human collective inspire the mass Instagram perspective?

I can certainly tell you that these items lived in our world ages before phones could capture pictures that inspired our way of dressing:

– Potted aloe plants
– Palms
– Ferns
– Cacti
– The color saffron
– Clean lines
– Muted hues
– Deserts
– Sophistication
– Minimalistic architecture
– Libraries
– Intellectuals
– Fake intellectuals
– The 70s
– The 90s
– Kate Moss
– Clay/terracotta (tone and materal)
– Exhaustion due to existentialist over-thinking and the subsequent, angularly-strategic flopping across post-modern-furniture

And yet the Lisa Says Gah/MNZ collective (which includes dedicated Instagram members who dress in this liberal uniform and pose — tired, apathetically — by waiting room plants) has not only taken aesthetic ownership of the above list of items, but manages to find non-professional photographers who shoot with a flash in the likeness of Juergen Teller on the regular.

The second group’s aesthetic is, on purpose, more political but less grown up. It’s a “take-back”of femininity, sexuality, age and feminism. Depending on your point of view, it can read artistic (“Perhaps it’s a commentary on society’s obsession with innocence!”) or perv-y (“Why are these women so obsessed with innocence?”), which is, I think, the point. They may not suck their thumbs, but they’ll document a zoom-shot of the deep red tooth marks left behind on one’s spit-covered finger. Pubic and armpit hair’s the norm. Flesh is part of the picture. It is your 11-year-old diary brought to life but far more body positive.

There is an element of anime, bits of cutesy kitsch like Emojis and millennial text speech: “feels,” “rn,” “bae,” “bb.” But wardrobe is, of course, highly important: unflattering dad denim; ribbed sleeveless turtlenecks; ribbed, cap sleeve tops; those black tattoo chokers; thrift shop finds (bombers, dresses); grandparent underwear; grandparent footwear that manages to lean even more orthopedic than the equally geriatric sandals of camp one. But like camp one, it’s also about the home decor. Think:

– Pre-teen bedrooms ripped from the covers of books by Beverly Cleary
– Pink
– Pink
– Pink
– Some white
– Pink
– Bubble gum
– Sexual-in-some-way artwork
– Menstruation stains (cannot be bought at West Elm, by the way, if you were looking to recreate; this is DIY)
– Ruffles
– Stickers
– Tears (salty)
– Ominous, someone-may-have-been-murdered-here motel settings
– Yard sale lamps
– Your aunt who lives in Tampa’s couch from from 1992
– Glitter

At my truest core, neither is very — or at all — me. I am fascinated by these bands of insiders; riveted; prone to deep dives during late nights into their aesthetic underbellies; likely never to be more than a fly on one very well-curated wall who scrolls and takes notes and creeps.

But with Instagram Style Tribes, that’s just the thing. You don’t have to be born into the community. You don’t have to choose. You seek.


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