Life&Style Writer Josie Taylor comments on the return of the naughties ‘indie sleaze’ aesthetic in the wake of hit film Saltburn, questioning whether its return should be welcomed as an alternative to the latest ‘clean girl’ trend
Content warnings for this article include: references to eating disorders, alcohol, substance use, and body image
Emerald Fennell’s hit period film Saltburn (2023) has certainly kept the online community well fed. From the revival of Sophie Ellis Bextor’s hit song Murder on the Dancefloor to the infamous bathtub scene, the drama has proved something of a cultural reset. The film’s 2006 mid-noughties fashion, however, is emerging as the star of the show. The effortless style of the Catton family, owners of the extravogant Saltburn mansion, coincides perfectly with the resurgence of indie sleaze as the twenty-year trend cycle anniversary, 2026, rapidly approaches.
Indie sleaze fashion, popularised by early 2000s icons such as Kate Moss, Amy Winehouse, and Sienna Miller, is defined by VICE as disco pants, flannel shirts, skinny jeans, jean shorts, ridiculously oversized sunglasses and hair bands. The style emerged, according to Harper’s Bazaar, as a response to the party-girl culture of the early 2000s in an effort to encapsulate the laid-back, don’t-care aesthetic of the mid-noughties ‘It Girl’.
The style of Venetia Catton (Alison Oliver), Felix’s (Jacob Elordi) scatty party-girl sister, brings to mind Skins’ effortlessly cool Effy Stonem. Characterised by her heavily smudged eyeliner, signature chipped black nails, and edgy outfits, Venetia bears a striking resemblance to cultural icon Effy, whose messy character captured the hearts of the mid-noughties British indie-sleaze scene as their #problematicfave.
In an interview with Offscreen, Saltburn hair and makeup designer Sian Miller describes Venetia as ‘crippingly self-conscious’, with ‘clumsy hair extensions’ and ‘roughness around the edges’. Desperate to conceal an eating disorder and maintain the Catton family’s quintessential English stiff upper lip, Venetia’s style is masterfully crafted by Miller to convey her don’t-care attitude while offering glimpses of the fragile teen beneath it. In that same interview, Miller describes Venetia’s ‘brittle ends’, her costume design conveying a carefully constructed image cracking around the edges.
Not unlike indie-sleaze icon Effy, Venetia’s character has become a TikTok sensation, with outfit inspiration, makeup tutorials, and style guides showing viewers how to recreate her signature look. In a video with over 24 thousand views, TikTok user @loveziggyofficial, dons Venetia’s classic oversized sunglasses with an extravagant sequinned skirt and a shiny metallic top reminiscent of VICE’s mid-noughties disco pants.
So, is the resurgence of indie sleaze a good thing, and should we be appointing the kids of Saltburn as our fashion icons? Of course, the lived-in and laid back indie sleaze aesthetic comes as a welcome departure from the popular Gen-Z ‘clean girl’ aesthetic, characterised by minimalist glowy makeup, slicked back hair, and simple, monotone outfits. Indie sleaze embraces a live-in-the-moment ideology, nostalgic of a time before Instagram influencers and ‘Productivity TikTok’ when reproducing the indie ‘It-Girl’ effect was relatively achievable for the everyday person through high-street brands.
However, pop culture’s favourite idols of indie sleaze are typically problematic, and Venetia is no exception. Rooted in party culture, indie sleaze depends on a lifestyle of heavy drinking and substance use, with early indie sleaze adopter Kate Moss being linked to harmful ‘thinspo’ posts and the damaging body standards associated with the 1990s supermodel.
Ultimately, Venetia’s kind of indie sleaze is essentially unachievable for the everyday person. Sian Miller acknowledges that her ‘casual’ look is underpinned by a ‘thrown-on, moneyed’ luxury. The quintessential style of the mid-noughties era is a difficult one to affordably source in 2024, given it is no longer sold in high-street stores, especially when considering the overinflation of second-hand pieces labelled ‘y2k’ or ‘00s’ on popular secondhand clothing apps Vinted and Depop. Unless you too can afford the vintage AGENT PROVOCATEUR pieces of Amy Winehouse’s wardrobe like Venetia, it is unlikely we will see indie sleaze dominate 2024.
Though the laid-back, luxury elegance exemplified by the Saltburn characters may be out of reach almost twenty years on, we can usefully draw from the live-in-the-moment ideology accompanying Saltburn’s resurgence of indie sleaze. Nostalgically drawing on a time before widespread social media, algorithms, and personalised advertising like never seen before, the return of indie sleaze may just do some good for a generation obsessed with curating the perfect look and online presence.
Read more from Life&Style: