Emo Style Is Back — But It's Not the Same Trend You Loved in Middle School

Fashion stylists weigh in on how to give this throwback aesthetic a fresh, celebrity-approved twist.

Emo Girl Style
Photo: Getty Images/InStyle

If the return of Y2K fashion has you breaking out pastel-colored butterfly clips, cropped baby tees, low-rise jeans, and platform sandals, that's all fine and good. But for those who prefer something a bit...darker and, possibly, sexier? Well, there's another aughts-inspired aesthetic to embrace: emo style. (Cue the Machine Gun Kelly ft. Willow Smith song, "Emo Girl," which is undoubtedly about to be stuck in your head.)

Unlike fantastical, romanticized escapist ways of dressing, like cottagecore, fairycore, and light academia, emo style is more akin to that of gothcore with some artistic elements of dark academia. It's dark and grungy, and in many ways, might reflect how someone is actually feeling rather than how they wish they felt. That's essentially how the aesthetic got its start in the late 1990s and early 2000s, back when sensitive souls downloaded bands like Dashboard Confessional and My Chemical Romance to their iPod, and cut their hair in choppy layers before dying it black.

Emo Girl Style
Kelly Osbourne and Avril Lavigne during 2003 MTV Video Music Awards. Getty Images

"The [emo] style goes all the way back to the early 2000s when the Internet was just a wee thing," celebrity stylist, Cindy Conroy says of the comeback trend. "Singer and emo princess Avril Lavigne brought it center stage as websites like Myspace were being used for the very first time. We saw blunt side-swept bangs, stacked leather cuffs, Dr. Martens, studded belts, and color always grounded by black."

But that was then. Now, with celebrities like Kourtney Kardashian, Meghan Fox, Willow Smith, and Olivia Rodrigo fronting the scene, emo style in 2022 has gotten a bit of a makeover.

In the early aughts, emo-girl style was considered particular and niche. It involved wearing all black and painting your nails in the same color, accessorizing with studded belts and safety pin accents. These days, the director of styling at Dia & Co Liz Bader-Natal says that emo style is much more aesthetically diverse.

"Today's emo-girl gets her inspiration from K-POP and anime," Bader-Natal tells InStyle. "She watches makeup tutorials on TikTok and scours thrift stores and her grandma's attic for vintage treasures. She doesn't believe in traditional rules when it comes to her look, so she'll change her hair color or style from one week to the next, jump headfirst into a fashion faux-pas — think socks with sandals — and mix and match feminine pieces and colors with more industrial counterparts."

Emo Girl Style
Kourtney Kardashian and Travis Barker in New York City. Getty Images

So, what does that look like in terms of the modern-day emo-style wardrobe? We asked Conroy, Bader-Natal, and a few other fashion stylists to list their top tips for nailing emo fashion in 2022, below.

Black Is the Color Palette

Emo Style
Getty Images

Even though the overall emo look has been slightly altered, dark hues are still the marker of this aesthetic. Any hue that closely resembles ink, shadows, and/or pitch darkness void of any stars or light has the emo-girl's stamp of approval. Conroy recommends having an endless supply of black clothing, from dark lace corsets to black chunky boots, in order to nail the look.

Leather Outerwear Is Essential

Emo Girl Style
Willow Smith. Getty Images

Fashion stylist Kiki Baltzi tells InStyle that in order to fully embrace emo fashion, some serious leather pieces — or, rather, black leather pieces — are required in your closet. "A leather trench coat or biker jacket, depending on which better suits your style and body type, should definitely be on your shopping checklist — preferably for the near future, alongside a pair of black vinyl leggings," she says.

Balance Out Sexy With Grunge

Emo Girl Style
Getty Images

Baltzi said it best when she shared via email that "emo is flirting with goth in 2022." There's really no denying it: sex appeal is part of the aesthetic, thanks in large to Kardashian and Fox's influence. In order to nail the, Baltzi suggests pairing a vintage-inspired corset top — bringing out the sexy side of the modern emo girl — with oversized cargo pants. "It's the ultimate outfit for an emo girl who knows what she's doing! Because emo nowadays is all about the contrast between sexy and grunge."

RELATED: How to Style a Corset Without Looking Like You're Attempting Victorian Cosplay

Your Shoes Make a Statement, Too

Emo Style
Getty Images

The emo-girl aesthetic is a head-to-toe commitment and the style's signature footwear is a classic pair of chunky platforms (preferably in black, of course). For inspiration, Baltzi says Versace's Medusa Aevitas pumps are the quintessential modern take on the trend.

Swap Your Skinny Jeans for Straight-Leg Cuts

Emo Style
Getty Images

According to Bader-Natal, the emo-girl aesthetic is all about proportions — smaller pieces on top with something oversized on the bottom, or vice-versa. So if you're reaching for a cami or bra top, step into something straight leg and high-rise.

"Bonus points if those jeans have some sort of detailing like patchwork or stamping," she says." And stay away from whiskering. Go for a more saturated color."

Cargo Details Are a Must

Emo Style
Getty Images

Emo-girls love an endless supply of pockets — pockets on button-downs, pockets on skirts, pockets on pants, etc. That being said, Bader-Natal stresses that extra pocket details should be limited to one item per ensemble. So if you're wearing cargo pants, it's best to keep your top more streamlined.

RELATED: Everyone From Rihanna to Katie Holmes Has Worn This Ridiculous Pants Trend

Baby Tees, Please

Street Style - Afterpay Australian Fashion Week 2022

One piece giving the emo-girl style a refresh in 2022 is the Y2K baby tee. "They're great for layering — you can continue to play with proportions by wearing one under an oversized vintage sweater vest — as well as for giving a peek of skin," says Bader-Natal. "For an emo-look inspired by Y2K, try one under a pair of overalls and add butterfly hairclips, dad sneakers, and layers on layers of necklaces."

Pops of Color

Emo Style
Getty Images

Yes, you read that right.

While black is a major player in the emo wardrobe, MIKADO personal stylist Jordan Stolch would like to remind you that color is not off limits.

"Offset the heaviness of dark shades by incorporating accents of classic primary colors, red always being a big one, as well as jewel tones and supporting neutrals, like white and silver," Stolch tells InStyle. "Print is also key in order to bring the emo wardrobe to life, with a major focus on plaids, polka dots, vintage florals and graphic tees."

Was this page helpful?
Related Articles