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Sensitive Content Notice ⚠️
The following article contains and discusses content that may be distressing to some readers.
Reason for Warning: This article discusses drug addictions, eating disorders, unhealthy lifestyles and unhealthy fashion standards, and this style has also been linked to deaths and anorexia cases. This page exists for the purpose of documentation and the administrators and moderators do not necessarily endorse the values associated with the aesthetic. Reader discretion is heavily advised.

Heroin Chic was a fashion style popularized during the early 1990s, emerging in a period of greater awareness about drug addiction in society. The general aesthetic is characterized by pale clammy skin, dark circles under the eyes, stringy hair, and a very thin, androgynous and almost emaciated look. Other common features include dark red lipstick or angular bone structures. It surged as a reaction against the "healthy" and vibrant look of models during the 80s. Gia Carangi, an American super model, is often cited as the pioneer of this fashion style, although Kate Moss has also been really influential when she participated in Calvin Klein's infamous Obsession collection.

This aesthetic was often used in covers for fashion magazines as well as clothing or underwear catalogs, with most of the images being black and white and uncanny. However, it also raised controversy for potentially romanticizing heroin addiction, unhealthy lifestyles and even eating disorders. Certain photographers like David LaChapelle helped the fashion industry to move away from Heroin Chic[1].

It can be seen as a predecessor to multiple internet aesthetics that focus on unhealthy beauty standards, namely Waif, Lobotomy Chic, Pastel Grunge, Messy French It Girl and Coquette.

History[]

Heroin Chic as a trend emerged in the early 1990s, and although originally unnamed, it was popularized by fashion models as well as brands like Calvin Klein with their Obsession collection, featuring Kate Moss. At the time, Moss was extremely skinny and young and the campaign was meant to oppose the aesthetics that were prevalent in the 80s, namely those of models like Naomi Campbell or Cindy Crawford[2]. In 1996, Los Angeles Times described the state of the fashion industry of the time as "nihilistic"[3].

Heroin Chic, like most styles, was influenced by the other trends of the time. During the same decade, Grunge became one of the most popular countercultural movements in Seattle with iconic bands such as Nirvana, and movies like Pulp Fiction and Trainspotting were released. Grunge in particular brought public attention to heroin addictions in the United States because there many musical artists known to consume it, such as Kurt Cobain. Some songs, for example "God Smack" by Alice in Chains, had explicit references to injecting oneself with heroin, which lead to a public craze about drugs and their glamourization. And indeed, extremely skinny bodies became a significant part of popular culture and fashion standards.

Decline and Public Criticism[]

"This is heroin, this isn't chic. This has got to stop, this heroin chic." ― Ingrid Sischy (1997)

"American fashion has been an enormous source of creativity and beauty and art and, frankly, economic prosperity for the United States, and we should all value and respect that. But the glorification of heroin is not creative, it’s destructive. It’s not beautiful; it’s ugly. And this is not about art; it’s about life and death. And glorifying death is not good for any society." ― Bill Clinton, 42nd president of the United States (May 1997)

Heroin Chic started falling off in popularity in 1997 when Davide Sorrenti, a prominent and influential photographer in the trend, actually passed away from a heroin overdose during his sleep. His familiars started supporting campaigns against drug usage in the fashion industry. The term "Heroin Chic" is sometimes deemed controversial because it's a reference to Sorrenti's death. It originates from a commentary by Ingrid Sischy as a reaction to the event: "This is heroin, this isn't chic. This has got to stop, this heroin chic". The Heroin Chic trend was also noticed by Bill Clinton, the president of the United States at the time. He argued that American fashion has been significant for creativity, beauty, art and even the country's economy, but that glorifying drugs and death was not "beautiful", but ugly and destructive[4]. Consequently, the aesthetic approximately almost fully faded out by 1999. During the same year, Vogue cited Gisele Bündchen and Carmen Kass as "The Return of the Sexy Model" and the end of the Heroin Chic era.

Nowadays, despite the controversies surrounding heroin and drug-related deaths in the fashion industry, it has made small comebacks on the internet, but the criticism is still very present. Heroin Chic made small comebacks in 2022 and 2023 and its influenced various modern internet trends, namely those that focus on topics of toxic feminity, womanhood and unhealthy body standards. It mainly retains influence in online echo chamber communities (such as Pro-Anorexia Twitter or UG Subliminals), and some examples of aesthetics that were influenced by this style include Waif, Lobotomy Chic, Messy French It Girl, Pastel Grunge and even Coquette.

Fashion[]

Heroin Chic fashion typically includes:

  • Loose-fitting black clothing, typically exposing the body
  • Emaciated features
  • Dark red lipstick
  • Stringy hair
  • Romanticization of unhealthy body features; including eyebags, extremely thin bodies and pale clammy skin
  • Angular bone structures
  • Androgyny and lack of gender roles
  • A sense of detachment and apathy

Criticism[]

Heroin Chic is probably one of the most criticized eras of American fashion, and to this day it remains as such for multiple reasons. One of the most prominent criticisms of the trend lies in its strong potential to distort the body image of young women, since it presents really skinny bodies with emaciated features as something "beautiful". The focus on eyebags, stringy hair and pale skin also shows how it glorifies unhealthy traits that can be achieved through unhealthy habits (like consuming drugs, not taking enough care of oneself or suffering an eating disorder). So along with that, it can promote unhealthy weight loss methods like starving oneself.

The style was notably criticized by anti-drug organizations, fashion experts and even Bill Clinton during the 90s because it makes heroin addiction appear as something "fashionable" or "desirable". The association of a sickly heroin-addicted appearance with a sense of rebellion and edginess could've easily distorted teenagers' view on drugs and make them seen like something "necessary" to appear more mature or fashionable. The trend is in fact deemed dangerous because it drove some people (most notably Davide Sorrenti) to their deaths and others suffered cases of anorexia due to the style's negative influence[5].

Media[]

Film[]

  • Basketball Diaries (1995)
  • Kids (1995)
  • Permanent Midnight (1998)
  • Pulp Fiction (1994)
  • Trainspotting (1996)

Personalities[]

  • Gia Carangi
  • Kate Moss
  • Kembra Pfahler (in the 90s)
  • Nan Goldin (formerly)
  • Drusilla from Buffy the Vampire Slayer

Gallery[]

References[]

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