Messy "Indie Sleaze" Waves Are Making a Comeback

Channel your inner Olsen.

The Olsen Twins with indie sleaze waves

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Picture this: You’re me, circa 2010—fresh out of college, working a retail job and going out dancing at dive bars and rock clubs on the regular. Your fashion icons are Mary-Kate and Ashley Olsen and you find beauty inspiration via the It Girls of the moment, like Kesha and her wild waves and glittery makeup and Gossip Girl star Taylor Momsen and her layers of dark eyeliner and smoky shadow. (MAC Pro Longwear Fluidline in Blacktrack, $19 was the absolute go-to.) You shimmy into skintight American Apparel bodycon dresses and ripped tights with boots. It’s a great time to be in your early twenties.

Did I think the “indie sleaze” era, as it’s now being called, would make a comeback quite so soon? No, but that doesn’t mean I don’t look back at the era with extreme fondness. I’m not the only one, either, because it’s back in our wardrobes, our makeup routines and now, our hairstyles. Turn up the Yeah Yeah Yeahs and ditch your Dyson Airwrap in favor of a more freewheeling, party girl look, because indie sleaze waves are making a comeback.

Kesha with indie sleaze waves

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The Trend

The indie sleaze period began around 2006 and lasted until about 2012. The trend had roots in the downtown New York scene and was more commonly known at the time as hipster fashion—think vintage graphic tees, Edie Sedgwick-inspired miniskirts, striped shirts and black tights, and Converse sneakers. We snapped pics on digital point-and-shoot cameras and posed for Polaroids, which we then posted on Tumblr. We wore big glasses without lenses and huge belts over our dresses. Chipped black nail polish was the coolest, especially if it was Chanel’s coveted Black Satin. 

The trend died around the dawn of Instagram, flashy glam Kardashian style, and YouTube beauty vloggers, but indie sleaze waves—a stark contrast to the trendy fluffy blowouts of today—are seeing a resurgence as the aesthetic itself cycles in popularity. 

Zoë Kravitz indie sleaze waves

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Indie sleaze waves are all about effortless cool: the aforementioned Kesha and her mane of defined but not overly styled waves, the Olsens and their perma-bedhead, Kate Moss’s ultimate model-off-duty looks and Zoë Kravitz’s loose, tousled curls. These aren’t the waves you’d see walking down the Victoria’s Secret runway or the red carpet; they’re the kind you style on day one and wear for several days, enhanced by texture sprays, late nights and lots of dry shampoo. While the indie sleaze wave is more undone and messy than its polished late-2010s and 2020s counterpart, it does have a defined wave pattern like you slept in braids after a night out or used a three-barrel iron and let the waves evolve over the course of a few days.

“[The wave circa] 2010 was much cooler, looser and more lived-in,” says celebrity hairstylist Dominick Pucciarello. “It was more of a vibe and looked a lot more chic.” The indie sleaze wave is a much more natural, undone look than today’s popular supermodel beach waves, which are typically created with a curling iron or blowout tool. “The wave of today is more of a set look. It makes everyone look like they are going to a pageant,” says Pucciarello. “I’m a fan of the 2010 wave. I try to make my clients rock and roll chic.” 

The trend also has the Jen Atkin stamp of approval; the celeb stylist and Ouai founder posted a TikTok video all about the indie sleaze waves and her plan to bring them back in 2023 alongside the rest of the hipster chic aesthetic.

How to Get the Look

The indie sleaze wave is about working with your natural hair texture; it’s a no-brainer if you already have waves or curls, and easy to replicate on straight hair types. Just remember to keep your hair from looking too perfect while still maintaining definition.

If you have straight hair, utilize a classic overnight method and skip the hot tools. Pucciarello recommends parting damp hair down the middle, then separating it into two or four sections. “Twist or braid the sections,” he explains. “Sleep on it and and in the morning when you take the hair out of the braid or twist, you will have texture to your hair.” Go looser or tighter with your braids or twists depending on the look you want. After undoing the style, Pucciarello recommends flipping your hair and scrunching a cream like True Botanicals Shine and Protect Hair Cream Oil ($52) from the ends to the roots, then flipping back upright and smoothing any flyaways while gently breaking up waves.

For curly or wavy hair, enhance your natural texture with a hair cream and alcohol-free gel. (Pucciarello also recommends the True Botanicals Shine and Protect Hair Cream Oil, $52 for these hair types.) “Section by section, work a quarter-size amount of products from ends to roots on wet or damp hair,” he says. “Allow product to air dry or use a diffuser on a low, cool setting.” When your hair is dry, flip your hair and shake it out—and don’t use your hands or fingers, which could create excess frizz. 

You can also use a three-barrel waving iron to create the signature indie sleaze wave; just make sure to break up the waves and spritz in some wave or texture spray of your choice so the hair isn’t too “done.” We’re going for rock ‘n roll after hours vibes here. If you really want to lean into the era, wrap a slim, stretchy headband around your temples across your forehead for maximum indie sleaze style.

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