As the legions of teens who posted on Myspace, shopped at Hot Topic, and coaxed their parents into buying them a pair of Converse sneakers or Vans slip-ons will tell you, the image and attitude of the alt-girl isn’t new or original. The aesthetic is an adaptation and evolution of styles drawn from the culture of alternative music (aka, “alt” music).
OG alt-girls Joan Jett, Cyndi Lauper, and Stevie Nicks informed the aesthetic through the ’70s and ’80s. The trend re-emerged in the ’00s, this time defined by a new generation of alt-girls, such as teenage pop-punk poet, Avril Lavigne, and rock ‘n’ roll frontwoman, Taylor Momsen. Their signature looks consisted of chokers, studded belts, crop tops, low-rise boyfriend jeans, plaid skirts, and cargo pants. A lot to digest, sure—but at the time, we were sold.
Another popular source of inspiration in the noughties came from Grammy-award-winning artist Gwen Stefani and her offbeat, unapologetic style. Not only did her stage presence as lead singer in rock-ska band No Doubt speak for itself, but her wardrobe—which oscillated between goth, emo, punk, and cyberpunk—made her a role model for alt-girls-to-be.
Because alternative fashion has dozens of subcultures (goth and emo being the most popular), some overlap is inevitable. These categories, although non-conforming and separate from core fashion trends, go through evolutions of their own and play a part in influencing the mainstream.
Of course, alt-style is inherently cyclical, coming in and out of fashion with changing seasons and shifting musical tastes. Still, all it seems to take is a new alt-adjacent musical act to set things back into motion. Just like that, alt-style returns to the spotlight, mixing with trends and finding a new way of life.