'Night luxe' is the aesthetic set to define our roaring twenties

RIP to That Girl – her reign of wellness terror is over.

by katie tobin
22 March 2022, 8:00am

In 2022, the unattainability of the “that girl” lifestyle is slowly dying a much-needed death. In its place have come a slew of replacement aesthetics that are the antithesis of the put-together, exclusivity of her vibe (twee, goblin mode, indie sleaze). The most recent: night luxe. With over 16.8 million views on TikTok, ‘night luxe’ is the 21st-century embodiment of the hedonistic spirit of the Roaring Twenties. And with its ethos of hedonism and decadence, it’s far more fun than being “that girl” could ever be.

For the past year or so, our collective social media feeds have been plagued by the image of “that girl”. The lifestyle and aesthetic embraces all things wellness related: avocado toast; waking up at 6am every day; an intricate, Glossier-heavy skincare routine; regular yoga, manifestation, hustling and girlbossing. Naturally, this is all to be achieved while appearing calm, sleek, minimalist, and totally put together. But what began as a source of collective inspiration for the girlies to be their best possible selves, for some the pursuit of becoming “that girl” quickly descended into an obsession with links to toxic comparison culture, disordered eating, perfectionism and inevitably, burnout.

Despite its emphasis on work and productivity, attaining the “that girl” lifestyle isn’t accessible to everyone. Molly-Mae’s recent declaration that we “all have the same 24 hours in a day” and Kim Kardashian’s advice to women in business to “get your fucking ass up and work — it seems like nobody wants to work these days”, were received with immense backlash. Twitter was quick to condemn these tone-deaf sentiments, with one user tweeting: “has it even occurred to Molly Mae that not everyone’s sole ambition is to be rich? Some people’s ambitions run deeper than ‘doing everything it takes’ ie promoting businesses built on modern slavery, in order to accumulate excessive wealth”.

It might seem unrelated (aesthetics and work feel like very separate worlds after all) but in fact, toxic capitalist culture is inextricably connected to the appeal of night luxe. In an emboldened rejection and much-needed cultural antidote to our obsessive working culture, night luxe’s embrace of leisure and luxury, and the consequence free fun that comes from a good night out, might be exactly what we all need right now.

Lucy Jane, who has a following of over 31,000 people on TikTok, embodies the night luxe aesthetic to a tee. With a perfect mix of late night cityscapes, sleek black outfits and designer accessories, Jane’s pictures not only seduce her audience into wanting to look like her — they want to hang out with her too. “I think that, post pandemic, there has definitely been a rebellion on burnout working culture; people have had the time to stop and consider how they were living their lives before and whether it was really as productive as they once thought,” Lucy says. “I think life is about balance — although I do go to the gym, look after my skin and eat a healthy diet; I love going out with my friends until past midnight, drinking martinis and just letting loose. The current ‘that girl’ aesthetic doesn’t really allow any room for that.”

But outside of the actual ethos of night luxe, what does the aesthetic look like? Photographs of hazy neon lights, crystal chandeliers and rooftop cocktail bars fill Pinterest mood boards alongside grainy film shots of gorgeous women clutching espresso martinis. Elsewhere, the expensive contents of a handbagChanel lipstick, sky-high heels, a garland of pearls — spills out across a tiled floor. Think Gossip Girl and parties of The Great Gatsby-esque magnitude. Like the original Roaring Twenties, frugality and domesticity are being ditched for all things lavish, glittering and boozy.

TikTok fave Lucy Jane explains that her style has been inspired by the likes of fellow content creator Christina Grasso, as well as the hyper-luxurious accessories she’s seen on the runway. “I think recent fashion trends have contributed to the popularity of the [night luxe] aesthetic,” she says, “for example the cult diamanté Mach and Mach heels and the crystal encrusted Prada bag”.

The Cut predicted this “vibe shift” in a February 2022 piece, based on a Substack article by trend forecasting consultancy 8Ball, founded by Sean Monahan. He suggests that this new vibe (or micro-culture) could be inspired by the resurgence of “early-aughts indie sleaze”, complete with American Apparel attire, flash photography, and messy hair and makeup. 
“I think the interest in opulence and the interest in transgression are in some ways just pent-up frustrations from the pandemic where people are like, I want to have fun,” Sean writes. “Also, the 2010s were such a politicised decade that I think the desire people have to be less constrained by political considerations makes a lot of sense.”

There’s a double appeal to the night luxe vibe shift then — both visually, but also as a contradiction to the premise of our pre-pandemic times, which suggested that all of our time, labour and productivity should be monetised. Rather than pushing us towards a constant striving to be That Girl, night luxe tells us that we don’t only deserve to have fun, freedom and nice things when we’ve worked hard: we should be able to have those things whenever we want. While the visual premise of night luxe is all about opulence, grandeur and indulgence; its philosophy is best thought of as enacting the praxis of anti-work feminist politics. Contrary to its name, the school of thought behind anti-work is not about laziness, or the refusal to work. It’s fundamentally about envisioning a working life beyond the confines of capitalism, worker solidarity and better working conditions for all.

It’s unsurprising, then, that films exploring the ever-expanding wealth gap have found resonance in recent years. From Bong Joon Ho’s Best Picture-winning Parasite to Rian Johnson’s Knives Out, filmmakers aren’t shying away from the idea that hard work doesn’t always pay off. While The Batman — released in March in all its neo-noir glory — also found immense popularity for its thematic exploration of class and socioeconomic inequality, searches for all-leather ensembles inspired by Zoë Kravitz’s Catwoman have dramatically increased too. The nocturnal femme fatal helped spark a 40% search increase for leather trousers, 60% for leather coats, and 72% for leather bomber jackets. Notably, Alexis also suggests that “sensual tactile fabrics like vinyl, leather and silk” are key parts of the night-luxe look.

But beyond its symbolic status as a rejection of all things burnout, night luxe is primarily about just having fun in the moment — captured perfectly through blurry candids taken on a disposable camera. For 18-20-year-olds, Alexis suggests that the aesthetic is about romanticising the nightlife they were denied; that they’re “going for it hard, fast and fabulously”. And for those of us born before the new millennium? Night luxe also captures the nostalgic rebellion of those messy nights out we’re probably too old to be having, but can’t seem to resist.

Follow i-D on Instagram and TikTok for more.

Indie Sleaze