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Fashion Statement, or Deathwish?

By Claire Watson

A strike of that familiar G-note, and suddenly it’s 2006 again. 

The early 2000s’ emo scene freed many of us from soul-sucking days spent in sweaty uniforms, struggling through crowded school hallways. Pop in those earphones, and suddenly there’s a door to feel all that pent up rage you’ve been waiting to let out. 

With every music scene, there is a look. Whether that’s monochromatic marching uniforms, striped shirts, crusty band tees, or even vaudeville costumes, though an emo’s closet is plentiful, it is at least recognisable. 

Is it time for emo to make a comeback? My Chemical Romance sure thinks so. Or did emo never die? Well, you might have to ask Ryan Seaman and Dallon Weekes about that one. While not proclaimed to be emo, bands like Will Wood and the Tapeworms and Mother Mother are definitely influenced by old school emo, with the former taking on that dark, vaudeville aesthetic, and the latter dipping into the edgier vein of emo. 

There are a plethora of emo artists, old and new, to see live, just what to wear? 

While emo grew from the 80’s punk scene, this article will be a dive into more recent waves, starting back in 2005, with the unholy emo Trinity. 

Resist conformity. Reject artificiality. Wreak havoc.

Early emos sought to combat the fake happiness that was advertised across billboards and dressed in bright, sparkly colours on 00s TV. As My Chemical Romance so boldly put it, “It’s not a Fashion Statement, it’s a Fucking Deathwish.” Everything about the craze rejected a marketed idea of happiness and embraced anger and sadness. Paramore’s “Misery Business” encapsulates both the anger of the movement, as well as those infamous fringes. Their lyrics are so fuelled by spite, and this translates well into the outfits. 

Oversized tees, scooping to the side and riddled with holes. The asymmetry and jaggedness of these looks chewed through the marketed trends of the times. Primarily black, splatters of neon colours added a startling contrast to these outfits, bringing an energy that allowed them to express their anger, while they performed their sadness under sweeping fringes. 


Then, there was the whole carnival subculture of a subculture that celebrated petticoats and eccentric lace. 

Back in the good old days, right back to “A Fever You Can’t Sweat Out,” Panic! At the Disco merged a strange twist of vaudeville and steampunk aesthetics with the current grunge scenes, creating a bizarre, visual celebration of death. If the world celebrated life, then emos did the exact opposite. 

Urie’s iconic red suit and top hat underline the emo’s convergence of modern and vintage aesthetics, giving the artists a timeless feel. With red being the only pop of colour among a sea of black, vampirism was central to the emo aesthetic. If you couldn’t grow fangs then spikes and studs would suffice. Studded belts were a great way of adding an edge to an outfit And why should you stop at just one? Layer them belts up!

I’m not going to let myself give Urie all the credit. My go-to artist when I was a wee emo was Icon For Hire. Ariel Bloomer was my fashion role model. The pink hair, her crazy tights, the tutus and the corsets- there was such a campiness and theatricalism to her look that I adored.

Gerard Way and Gender

This vampiric vein of the emo subculture was a spectrum, with one end being the frilly gothic and the other being the blood-sucking monster. Though the dress seemed so specific from the outside, on the inside there was such a fluidity of expression, which leads me to an important point: androgyny. 

I will be shouting this from the rooftops, but we’d be nothing without our lord (or lady, if he would prefer to be called) Gerard Way. Way is an undeniably androgynous figure, blurring the boundaries between masculine and feminine. He uses his music career to outwardly express his femininity through make-up, long hair and the sheer campiness of his performances. 

There were no guidelines for who wore what. Hairstyles, accessories, shoes- nothing was gendered. 

While glam-rock is suddenly relevant again, Way’s marrying of glam-rock aesthetics with the distressed punk’s, defined a whole subsection of emo fashion. This convergence was a way of bringing colour and uniformity to the distressed looks. 

Though while we’re discussing freedom of expression, there were of course some flaws within the community. 


The Dark(er) Side of Emo

Briefly, I want to discuss the relationship between the emo subculture and pro-ana- anorexia. This of course will be triggering for some readers, so you can skip this next paragraph if you need to. (Editor’s note: I’ll get Aoife to put in a cute photo of a cat or something.)

There was a tendency in emo fashion to romanticise illness, using motifs of sickness and death to inspire lyrics and internal fashion trends. While this skeletal and vampiric imagery could be completely innocent, it wasn’t difficult to marry this to a twisted idea of thinness and beauty. There was a terrible celebration of eating disorders within the community. Weight should have nothing to do with fashion, and there is no need to be skinny to dress emo. I think the subculture has definitely grown from this dark period, but it is something to watch out for when admiring emo mood boards on sites like Instagram and Tumblr. There is a way to use the aesthetics of decay, without harming ourselves and others. 

Anyway! Back to the cool, light, and happy things. 

Emo in 2022
Flannel. Black jeans. Black converse. Black eyeliner… Sometimes I look around and can spot in an instant someone who used to be an emo kid. Or at the very least I can tell who watched Dan and Phil and called themselves an emo kid. These past years have seen every trend, big and small, making a comeback. Yet emo seems to be slipping through the cracks, while punk and goth aesthetics climb back into popularity. 

If emo were to become as big as it once was again, I believe we’d be calling it something along the lines of emo!core, and merely mimicking the past trends. But so much development happened to emo, it changed and expanded so much that it can’t be reduced to just the occasional flannel and pair of black jeans. 

No matter how emo looks, it always has the same value- anarchy. It embraces feeling sadness and anger and expressing those through art and presentation. But to step away from the controversies of the movement, we must embrace our physical selves alongside our emotions. 

While it’s debated whether artists like Olivia Rodrigo and Willow are the new faces of emo, there is something in the way that they present that pays homage to emo dress. I can’t not write this article without shedding light on Florence Pugh’s latest mop look. 

The emo subculture hasn’t been without sexism. In fan communities, there are a plethora of nasty stories involving artists and female fans. While the truth of these is often disputed, there has been an obvious, yet silent, movement to overlook female artists like Hayley Williams, Ariel Bloomer, and Amanda Palmer, to name a few. 

While a lot of emo’s aesthetics were truly androgynous, there was the upkeep of the twisted idea that masculinity is powerful and strong, while femininity is dainty and weak. Emo girls were shy and tucked their sleeves over their hands, while emo boys were studded with piercings and platform boots. Of course, it wasn’t practised by everyone, there was still a binary being upheld in many spaces. Androgyny was often the only way for girls to escape this. 

Regardless of gender, isn’t there something so rebellious in embracing femininity? Not as a way to oppose masculinity or the patriarchy, but as a way to express a different kind of power. It’s not just softness, it’s harshness. And this isn’t something restricted by gender, or to AFAB people. The rebellion that comes from presenting as feminine is so unapologetic and guiltless.

The new phase of emo will take the artificial idea of femininity that has been marketed towards us, chew it up and spit it back, all while embracing a non-binary view of feminine aesthetics. And, of course, all this while have to be done with layers upon layers of black eyeliner.