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  • Writer's picturePaula Luengo

The Party Girl Question and L.A. Hallucinations

Some reflections from the inside of a red plastic cup.

 


Streets are saying that Los Angeles feels exactly like the early 2010s — and we all know they’ve been coming back for a while now. 


It’s not always easy to know when nostalgia is playing tricks on us, but it’s even harder to know when it comes to fashion. As Indie Sleaze morphs into its summer counterpart and Isabel Marant’s wedge sneakers take hold of the Internet’s smaller corners, those of us who are particularly vulnerable to the thrill of a sunny day and a warm night begin having L.A. hallucinations. 


There has always been something transcendentally Party Girl about Los Angeles. Beachy waves, salty blonde hair, hot pink, heavy kohl eye makeup… whether you love it or you hate it, messiness has slowly taken over the polished way girls have been presenting themselves these last couple of summers. While messiness — waking up in your bathtub, racking up $46,305.04 in Chateau Marmont debt, et cetera — seems like an easier gig, surprisingly enough, it is, in fact, harder to be a Ke$ha girl in a Hailey Bieber world. Is cool messiness harder to achieve in a world hostile to problematic women? Or is the clean girl aesthetic so ingrained in our brains that we find it almost impossible to let go? And, more importantly, what does Los Angeles have to do with it? 


It’s not easy to find a Los Angeles blog from someone who actually lives there; visitors are the ones providing city tours on YouTube. Look no further than the recent wave of nostalgia TikToks providing quick glimpses of what one could see were they to visit the (in)famous city at the height of its power. However, these blogs, TikToks, and even movies set in L.A. have one thing in common: they portray the city as a breezy landscape where all of its landmarks are adjacent, easy to access, and full of magic. Why face the reality of an unwalkable city when one can dream about a forever-sunny land where reality is suspended under the shadow of a thousand palm trees? 


Its unseriousness as a city is equally well-known. Forever acting as New York’s antithesis, it has become the embodiment of athleisure, leisure itself, and influencer culture against New York’s gritty, frantic, razor-edged tempo. To whatever extent this may or may not be true, it seems that Los Angeles has now decided to embrace its own stereotypes — a land of promises with a dark underbelly, of which a thousand poorly-written novels and films have been written — and is luring us back. YouTubers are back from the dead, Minnesota teenagers are making Erewhon shopping lists, and we all want to go to Coachella once again. 


The Bling Ring (2014)

Everything in the City of Angels feels very specific and tied to its infernal core. Stacey Battat, who works regularly with director Sofia Coppola and was responsible for the costume design of her 2013 film The Bling Ring, mentioned that one of her main inspirations at the time was the mere act of being in Los Angeles — and that it was essential for them to use Juicy Couture sweatsuits and Uggs, which she thought was “a very L.A. thing at that time.” An arsenal of flashy tracksuits, fur pieces, chunky jewelry, and glittery jeans made up the cast’s wardrobe and represented not only what celebrities were wearing back then but the Los Angeleno ideal at large — all without appearing too costumey or artificial. Some of these trends may be nothing new to avid internet users; everyone’s already witnessed the Y2K revival and is familiar with names like Von Dutch, Playboy, or Ed Hardy. Still, celebrity culture is a huge part of L.A., and the style of professional Party Girls such as Paris Hilton, Ke$ha, and Lindsay Lohan influenced the Los Angeles landscape as much as they were influenced by it. 


This type of messy Chateau type of L.A. girl is intimately related to McBling — and touches on a very specific obsession with hedonism, trash, and celebrity culture of the early 2000s. Twenty years ago, people wanted to see celebrities being celebrities; fed by reality TV, the masses craved a glimpse inside the life of those inoculated by messiness and excess. Reality shows such as Jessica Simpson’s Newlyweds or The Simple Life forever changed the celebrity game, establishing Paris Hilton and Nicole Richie as the standard Beverly Hills girls and bringing socialites back into mainstream media. It was also during this time that celebrities started calling the shots in the fashion department, with brands relying on them to dictate trends and boost sales. Celebrity casual style, which combined regular garments with logo-slathered luxury items, kicked off a fever of imitations and dupes that sidelined exclusivity in favor of consumerism and mass production. Opulence and manufactured beauty, already a central piece in Los Angeleno identity, became the cornerstone of the L.A. girl. 


It is quite easy to get tired of excess and obnoxiousness, though — and the messy party girl slowly faded away: too rowdy, too tarnished, too “much.” She would soon be replaced with sun-kissed, natural, and discreetly fun-loving Malibu girls. With the Hadids as the archetype, the group eventually included now well-known Kendall Jenner, Camila Morrone, and even Internet celebrities like Madison Beer. Excess was still there, but it took a different shape: Starbucks drinks instead of wine bottles. Victoria’s Secret workout sets instead of Juicy Couture tracksuits. Philosophy body washes instead of stolen hotel room soap. Açaí bowls instead of coke for dinner. The L.A. Girl identity was still there — just cleaner. To a certain extent, that change encapsulates our contemporary tension between excess and minimalism. Here is the cool, calm, and collected put-together girl, commonly associated with control, discipline, and slightly crunchy sophistication; here is another girl who actually gets to have fun. 



However, whereas the clean girl uniform is easy enough to recreate, there is a secret ingredient to the L.A. Party Girl formula. Few modern attempts at “messy girl style” — of which TikTok rakes in thousands of videos — get it right. Even those who nail the mismatched glittery outfits or slept-in-eyeliner lack the nonchalance of a rich girl gone wild. In the 2020s, algorithmic life compels us to stay polished and controlled, and even when we attempt to be messy, we still, inevitably, come off as polished and controlled. Now that the tables are turning and the masses are yearning for silliness and fun, it seems that we still cannot stray too far away from the disciplined, comforting beauty of our already familiar ways. 


Perhaps some things are meant to remain elusive. As Susan Sontag writes in Against Interpretation: “To speak of style is one way of speaking about the totality of a work of art. Like all discourse about totalities, talk of style must rely on metaphors. And metaphors mislead.” Identity plays a bigger role in fashion than what one may assume at face value, and fashion would not be as alluring as it is if it lacked the element of mystery. After all, it can be hard to draw the line between style and costume or to pinpoint what makes a city the symbol of something bigger than itself. Alas, taking off the clean girl slick bun or unplugging the Dyson hair wrap might not be the key to the L.A. Party Girl look, but it might mark the beginning of a new era, with Los Angeles as a backdrop instead of a final destination. 🌀


 

Paula Luengo is a freelance writer based in Madrid. Her interests draw from music to fashion and media analysis, with special emphasis on all that’s old and battered. You can find her on Instagram at @0030300.

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