A Misanthrope’s Guide to the Clean Girl Aesthetic

I keep seeing this Clean Girl aesthetic everywhere online, accompanied by a litany of Clean Girl “rules” to follow. I dunno. It sounds pretty insulting to everyone else. Like you’re just a Dirty Skank if you’re not a Clean Girl. Why not just call it, “Basic Bitch, Fresh Out of the Shower”? Essentially, the Clean Girl aesthetic takes the “no-makeup makeup look” to obnoxious levels, not only pairing it with a set of rules and bylaws, but also incorporates what can loosely be construed as “fashion” in the mix.

What is the Clean Girl Aesthetic?

According to Barney’s, a subsidiary of Saks Fifth Avenue, the Clean Girl aesthetic involves minimal makeup, natural bushy brows a la Brooke Shields, and hair slicked back into a bun or ponytail so tight that you couldn’t register an expression if you tried. In terms of wardrobe, Barney’s notes that:

“To pull off the clean girl look, we need to avoid anything too bold. Save your stripes, polka dots and florals for another day. For this vibe, we need monochromatic clothes in generally muted tones. Think black, white, brown, taupe.”

Thrilling.

The gist is to make it look like you didn’t spend any time on your look. In reality, your ensemble is carefully curated from a selection of mix-and-match neutrals devoid of any jolt of color with the potential to evoke even a sliver of joy. You should also look as if you were expelled from the womb looking effortlessly chic, despite having taken 30+ minutes to shellac your hair into place and obliterate any whiff of a pore.

Also, make sure that your lip gloss perfectly matches your nipples.

How to Pull Off The Clean Girl Aesthetic

To get the look of a Clean Girl, you must transform yourself into the human equivalent of freshly-laundered 2,000-thread count sheets in cream or ecru. Think: expensive, but inexplicably bland.

A Clean Girl is fresh and dewy, as if she’s newly emerged from her noontime Barre Method class — or has troweled on enough makeup and highlighter to give that illusion. Not a hair is out of place, pulled off her face into a low ponytail or ballerina bun. None of that high-and-proud pony craziness, lest you be barred from the country club and from summering (a verb, not a noun) in the Hamptons!

Hoop earrings are permitted, so long as they are small and discreet with the ability to potentially double as a ring, but no larger. As for your wardobe, stock up on crisp, white button-downs over khakis or a neutral-hued “shacket,” which has replaced the Han Solo puffer vest as the coveted couture of the Pumpkin Spice Latte-quaffing crowd.

Where the Did This Clean Girl Shit Come From?

From the people who brought you greige living rooms and minimalist decor — including photo frames that could be purchased at Dollar Tree, but go for $50 when you slap a label like “Fair Trade Synthetics” on them — here’s the Clean Girl Aesthetic!

You can triangulate the origins of the Clean Girl trend from 1.) the “minimalist” movement (read: if the boring, boxy and flavorless shapes of Ikea furniture were a lifestyle), 2.) the desire to emulate vapid, Old Money coastal elite trust fund babies who make up for their lack of soul and personality with a shit ton of cash, and 3.) TikTok, a social media platform so banal it makes X-Formerly-Known-as-Twitter look like a fucking MENSA chapter by comparison.

So, What’s the Opposite of a Clean Girl?

Is the implication that the opposite of a Clean Girl is a Dirty Girl? Does she have acne or visible pores? Sorry, but hormonal surges or genetics that translate to less-than-perfect skin do not make you “dirty.” Not everyone has the budget and free time to make fortnightly trips to the dermatologist. (Side note: Does anyone else long for the accessibility of DIY skincare, when the pinnacle of luxury could be obtained with just $10, some St. Ives Apricot Scrub, Noxzema, and Biore strips? Man, nothing topped the thrill of yanking that Biore pore strip off and seeing a forest of clogged blackheads lined up like porcupine quills!)

If the Clean Girl opts for no-makeup makeup, does her Star Trek Mirror-verse counterpart sport glitter eyeshadow with a vibrant pink lip and heavy mascara? Does she eschew the Dippety-Doo in favor of big, wavy hair — possibly going so far as to pump up the volume with a Bumpit or two? Is she the lady in red when every Clean Girl is wearing tan? You bet your sweet ass!

If the Clean Girl is exemplified by the Hailey Biebers and Kylie Jenners of the world, then perhaps her antithesis would be Fran Fine or Snooki. If given the choice, I know who I’d rather hang with.

Can We Stop With Trends and Just Be Ourselves?

Would it kill some people to have an original thought? We’re still in the throes of cottagecore, having endured a brief-yet-exhausting resurgence of twee fashion like Cabbage Patch Kids on stilettos. On top of the world having been transformed into a raging dumpster fire, we’ve got threats of Y2K style making a comeback, complete with low-rise flares and a looming epidemic of eating disorders required to fit in them. (You can start singing the Ozempic jingle to yourself right now.)

As if it wasn’t exhausting enough to be alive, the Influencers That Be are now attempting to coerce you to join the Clean Girl rank-and-file.

Personal expression is one of the simple luxuries remaining to us. It would be one thing if the sight of an all-white or grey living room actually sparked joy. If it does, good for you. Ditto for spending an hour to look like you’re not wearing makeup and opening your closet to see nothing but a sea of white, tan, and cream apparel.

It’s an entirely different bowl of quinoa to adopt a trend just because others are telling you to. Instead of waiting for a trend to emerge and subscribing to it, create your own style. That style may evolve over time, but it’s yours as a result of exposing yourself to the many flavors the world has to offer. Life’s too hard and short to chase trends.

Want to merge the spandex and sequinned epaulets of ’80s hair metal fashion with muted earth tones instead of neon? Cool! Yearning to blend bold Afropunk style with flowing pre-Raphaelite romanticism? Sweet! Feel like wearing joggers with a Gordon Gecko-style dress shirt with a contrasting collar? Not my bag. But if it makes you happy, then fucking do it!

Just find something that speaks to you that you discover for yourself instead of following the herd. Meanwhile, I’ll be over here waiting for the “Middle Aged Trash Pig” aesthetic to catch on or trying to make it happen.


Header photo by: Shiny Diamond photo @ Pexels

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