Before VSCO Girls: A Short History of Cool Girls

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Before VSCO Girls: A Short History of Cool Girls

VSCO girls, ever heard of ‘em? The media right now might have a magnifying glass on this teen trend, which ties popular, carefree white girl style to water bottles and scrunchies, but the obsession feels familiar. From the bobby soxers of the 1940s to the WASPy aesthetic of 1980s preps, the VSCO girl is just one over-hyped, popular teen girl archetype in a long history of them. Here, we take a look at the VSCO girls of the past.

Image:Chelsea Beck

1940s: The Bobby Soxer

The origins of the American teenager are highly contested—war will do that to you—but many historians seem to believe that the first real generational divide took place in the early-to-mid 1940s (the “teen-age” term itself dates back to the 1920s, and the portrait of the American teen as an economic force able to dictate popular taste is a 1950s/1960s phenomenon.) Popular teen girls in the 1940s were bobby soxers, named for their choice in socks, and are also the originators of the “teenybopper” term—their love of popular music defined them, and they cared about the same sort of things all popular teen girls care about throughout history: namely, fitting in.

Her loves: Frank Sinatra, Sock hops, socks.

What she’s wearing: Bobby socks—duh. These are typically white, typically ankle length (or folded at the ankle.) She also wore sweaters, skirts, loafers, and glasses painted with red nail polish. Honestly, it’s a very strong look.

Her celebrity aspiration: Shirley Temple

Image:Chelsea Beck

1950s: Poodle Girls

While it seems like a costume you could buy out of a paper bag in any Halloween superstore across America, in the 1950s the poodle skirt was a pioneering teen trend in an era in which teenagers were being hyper-restricted at every turn. The circle skirt, which flattered the waist and looked even better when dancing, was usually made out of felt and could be covered in appliqués for whatever a girl wanted: dogs, cars, a rockstar heartthrob’s name to catch his eye at a concert. Hyper-feminine and fun, this was a look for teen girls alone.

Her loves: American Bandstand, being corrupted by Elvis, driving around with a hot boy but not going any further than some light necking.

What she’s wearing: Saddle shoes, sweater sets, crinolines, her boyfriend’s I.D. bracelet

Her celebrity aspiration: Sandra Dee

1960s: The Youthquake Girl

Image:Chelsea Beck

While teen girls in the early 1960s might roll up to school in a conservative sweater set, the decade quickly became enraptured by a series of carefree, sexually liberated youth subcultures from London’s mod set to fringe-wearing hippies. Trends came and went, but the reigning popular look for teen girls could be boiled down to the “Youthquake” trend coined in 1965 by Vogue editor Diana Vreeland. Instead of hydro flask water bottles, girls had increasingly short mini-skirts, which earned British girls the nickname “Ya-Ya girls” inspired by the “yeah, yeah” cat-call they’d get.

Her loves: The Beatles, screaming at the sight of the Beatles, Seventeen magazine, smoking, ecstatic dancing

What she’s wearing: Flat-ironed hair probably with some, as the Brits she adored would say, fringe; plastic boots; knee socks; too much eyeliner. The look is “sexy baby doll,” duh.

Her celebrity aspiration: Edie Sedgwick

1970s: The Mellow Chick

Image:Chelsea Beck

The cool girl of the ’70s contains multitudes, ya dig? She thinks women’s lib and caring about the planet is important and all—she’s not a fucking airhead, she watches Mary Tyler Moore! Sure, she read Fear of Flying on the low, it was pretty horny and it definitely made her think (and scored her cool points to boot), but she’s not here to be some sort of killjoy. She knows it’s cool to be smart. She also knows it’s cool to have guys like you and think you’re hot. Think of the cool girl of the ’70s ostensibly as a combination of all three girls in the Gilligan’s Island discourse scene from Dazed and Confused.

Her loves: Roller skates, weed, plucking the fuck out of her eyebrows, coochie cutter shorts, Donna Summer, Virginia Slims, Annie Hall because it made her feel mature, dabbling in feminist thought but hesitating to call herself a feminist, Stevie Nicks, Three’s Company, chest hair, bicentennial memorabilia, one of the Cassidys, Cosmopolitan, believing that she is, in fact, a “Brick House.”

What she’s wearing: Tight high-waist flares, peasant blouse, clogs, a slinky jumpsuit on a night out, the most voluminous hair physically possible, halter top, Dr. Pepper Lip Smacker, blue eyeshadow, mood ring.

Her celebrity aspiration: Farrah Fawcett

1980s: The Prep

Image:Chelsea Beck

Immortalized in the satirical bestseller The Official Preppy Handbook and class-conscious teen comedies from Pretty in Pink to Heathers, the WASPy prep wasn’t hard to identify. Media outlets pounced on the trend, born on the old-money stomping grounds of Ivy League and prep schools, but accessible to anyone willing to procure the basics.

Her loves: Dry-cleaning, sailing, getting into Yale with daddy’s connections, monograms, tennis.

What she’s wearing: Pearls, a Lacoste polo with the collar popped, what seems like a dozen cardigans, khakis, penny loafers.

Her celebrity aspiration: Brooke Shields

1990s: The Apathetic Cool Girl

It has been almost 25 years since Liv Tyler proudly posed on the poster for Empire Records in a fuzzy cropped sweater, Doc Martens, and a plaid skirt. But all this time later, that outfit is still synonymous with the effortlessly cool, endlessly apathetic teen that dominated the decade. The straps on her string camisoles were as short as her patience, Winona Ryder was her muse, and she desperately hoped that one day, she could rock a slip dress like Sarah Michelle Gellar in Cruel Intentions. Rendered by MTV Music Videos and aging Hollywood directors, the Cool Girl of the ’90s was unapproachable and mysteriously sad. And while her look was of the popular culture, she would never admit to following the crowd.

Her loves: Reality Bites, smoking cigarettes, Drew Barrymore’s baby bangs, slip dresses, being best friends with guys who exclusively wear baggy cargo pants, tiny flower prints, PJ Harvey, record players, The Velvet Underground, rolling her eyes, sarcasm, and irony.

What she’s wearing: Stretch choker, boyfriend’s leather jacket, camisole, denim mini skirt, and Doc Martens.

Her celebrity inspirations: Drew Barrymore, Winona Ryder, Gwen Stefani

2000s: The New Millennium Princess

Image:Chelsea Beck

The cool girl of the 2000s wanted it all: Naughty and nice, sweet and trashy, the Angelina and the Jennifer. And she ultimately got what she wanted: the ultra-girly flare of a baby pink velour sweatsuit one day and the edge of a “Stripped” era Christina Aguilera music video the next. When we think of this era’s cool girls we can just as easily conjure Regina George and The Plastics from Mean Girls as Manny Santos rocking her bedazzled thong in Degrassi, or Ciara in her cropped hoodie and ultra glossed lips in the music video for “Oh.” The cool girl of the 2000s had many faces, but no matter what look she decided to rock on a given day, you still knew the score: She’s the queen bee.

Her loves: Hotboxing, dancing to “Milkshake” by Kelis, suggestive graphic tees, The O.C. and Laguna Beach, wedge sandals, Ashton Kutcher, Thirteen, her trusty flat iron, her MySpace Top 8, Abercrombie & Fitch gift card, Tiffany bracelet, the belly button piercing she forged her mom’s signature to get, Lip Venom, Pinkberry.

What she’s wearing: Juicy Couture sweatpants, ultra low rise boot cut jeans, thong, Uggs, Victoria’s Secret body spray, Jesus Is My Homeboy t-shirt, ruffle mini skirt or an ultra-mini denim skirt with the pockets sticking out underneath, hoop earrings, trucker hat, Baby Phat accessories.

Her celebrity inspiration: Paris Hilton and Nicole Richie

2010s: The Hipster

Image:Chelsea Beck

In a laboratory in the basement of an old Urban Outfitters, a group of scientists fused together irony, apathy, and an old denim skirt to create the hipster girl. Both reviled and lusted after by the Joseph Gorden-Levitts and Zach Braffs of the world, an army of fashion-obsessed Urban Outfitter junkies descended on the cultural conscious—ready to ruin everything you loved in their vintage t-shirts and dilapidated Toms slip-ons. They quickly became a fixture of blogging’s mid-life among sites like Gawker, Hipster Runoff, and Vice. They couldn’t stop Kony, but they did derail the careers of once renowned bands like Arcade Fire. Their messiah, Lana Del Rey, nearly tore the internet apart with her singing and “questionable” industry backing. To this day, it’s said that spinning around and saying your favorite Feist lyric five times fast will summon one.

Her loves: A band you’d never heard of, scarves, re-watching (500) Days of Summer, vinyl records, the Toaster filter on Instagram, Native American headdress costumes.

What she’s wearing: Cable knit sweater, skirt from American Apparel, fake glasses with the lenses popped out, striped leggings, Toms.

Her celebrity aspiration: Zooey Deschanel, Lana Del Rey, Aubrey Plaza

Today: VSCO Girls

Image:Chelsea Beck

Like most of the popular girl tropes on this list, the VSCO girl is white, skinny, and wealthy enough to afford expensive brands (though her style may appear more accessible than that… it’s not). Her name comes from the VSCO photo-editing app she uses to give her Instagram a beachy filter. On TikTok, she is the prep to the E-girl’s goth. She cares deeply about the environment, which is nice, because political apathy should be deemed uncool. Her humor is ironic (she is the first of the meme-bred cool girl generation); her style is carefree; her makeup is minimal and natural.

Her loves: Reusable metal straws and hydro flasks, Mario Badescu facial sprays, Carmex, friendship bracelets, Urban Outfitters and Brandy Melville, the VSCO app (obviously), vernacular such as “And I oop,” (a reference to drag queen Jasmine Masters’s meme) and “sksksksk.”

What she’s wearing: Her hair in a messy bun, scrunchies (around her hair and wrists, you can never have too many), Birkenstocks, Fjällräven Kanken backpacks, high-waisted jean shorts, an oversized t-shirt, and puka shell necklaces. I’m too old to tell if that last item is meant to be ironic.

Her celebrity aspiration: YouTuber Emma Chamberlain

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