This summer, I started experiencing symptoms of anxiety I have come to refer to as “Panic! At The VSCO.” But “Stranger Things” happened, and now I have high, high hopes.
Yeah, maybe I should explain.
It all started when my two daughters, ages teen and tween, began adopting the term, “VSCO Girl” (pronounced like “disco” with a “v”). Were they becoming VSCO Girls? Were they Mean-Girling VSCO Girls? What even is a VSCO Girl?
Scrambling for clues, I would walk into a room and exclaim something like, “You two seem to be having a regular VSCO ball in here!”
“Sksksk,” they would respond. “And I oop-!”
Before “Stranger Things,” I might have been flummoxed by this foreign language. But then I remembered these same daughters and I dig-dug out my Nintendo 64 this summer to play classics like Galaga and Pac-Man, a video game session inspired by the the hugely popular Netflix show set in the ‘80s of my childhood. (I mean, it’s one thing for me to think the circa 1984 “Palace Arcade” scenes were rad, but the kids were stoked to the max! And so outwardly I was all, “Have a cow, kids, you are barfing me out.” But inside I was like, “Psych! This is wicked tubular. We can veg like homies!”)
If this Netflix generation can embrace things important to a Gen Xer like me, surely I could walk a mile in platform VSCO Vans.
But I would need a Dustin. Fortunately for me, one of the region’s leading VSCO instructors is my niece. At 16, Rachel Kimberley is versed in VSCO vernacular, but she also can speak the language of fragile, elderly uncles. When she was just 10, she baby-stepped me through the confusion and betrayal I experienced during that whole Prince Hans plot twist in “Frozen.”
Up for another challenge, Rachel agreed to teach me the ways of the VSCO. Knowing this wouldn’t be easy, she enlisted the help of fellow VSCO sensei and Central Valley High School student, Ali Hassett.
“A VSCO Girl is someone who fits a certain aesthetic,” Rachel began.
And with that, the girls barely took a breath breaking down the VSCO bona fides of beachy bracelets and Birkenstocks, shell necklaces and scrunchies, Hydro Flasks and hair in a messy bun, AirPods and oversized T-shirts — “with shorts under them, so you can’t tell they are wearing pants,” Ali explained, adding that the whole vibe is “supposed to look effortless, but you put a lot of effort into it.”
“Yeah, like you have to make it perfect, but you say, ‘just woke up,’” Rachel agreed.
Not that the girls are complaining, as apparently this VSCO thing has really taken off.
“It’s nice to have it be trendy to not look super nice all the time, to be able to wear shorts and T-shirts and still be considered trendy,” Ali said. “You can look more natural, have your hair in a bun, and that’s kind of cool.”
This particular craze has its roots in a photo editing app called VSCO that is known for accentuating a laid-back, beach day feel with its photo filters. (Helpful tip: The app’s most popular filters are probably C1, F2 and G3, so I would totally start there if you ever find yourself across the table from a VSCO Girl, playing Battleship.)
Unlike Instagram and similar social media sites, VSCO photos shared within the app cannot be “liked” or commented upon. This adds a level of purity to the VSCO allure. VSCO Girls have a look, but they are unpretentious about it.
In fact, VSCO Girls are often quite outward-focused and practical, particularly when it comes to environmental causes. In online caricatures especially, however, VSCO Girls can be portrayed as annoying, with over-the-top references to catchphrases like “sksksk,” “and I oop-” and “#savetheturtles” (see “VSCO Vocab,” below).
“The good part is that some people actually want to save the turtles, like there’s actual VSCO girls that fight to save turtles, like no joke, so that’s kind of cool,” Rachel said.
So cool that Rachel and Ali would self-identify as VSCO Girls?
“I feel like we’re VSCO, but some people have a certain personality that goes with it, and we just don’t have that personality,” Rachel said of the exaggerated representations.
Ali said there is a style of VSCO that is more pure and pragmatic, like her cheerleader friend who is collecting plastic bottles to bring attention to trash in the ocean and its impact on endangered species.
“If (VSCO) had started as not being annoying, I would definitely want to embrace it more,” Ali said.
Extreme typecasts aside, both girls embrace the practical, easygoing and purposeful aspects of VSCO wholeheartedly, and Ali in particular.
“But I don’t say, ‘And I oop-’ unless I’m joking around,” she laughed.
By the end of our conversation, Rachel and Ali had not only put my mind at ease about my daughters’ VSCO sensibilities but had gained an ambassador. Emboldened by the lesson of “Stranger Things,” I suggested that perhaps older folks should break out a few VSCO moves ourselves.
“If my mom started wearing shell necklaces and big T-shirts, I would be like, ‘What are you doing? What is going on?’” Ali said, letting me down gently. “I think it’s more of a high schooler type thing.”
But it’s still pretty cool, this bridging of the generation gap through mutual interest and understanding. Now I know VSCO. As my old Army friend, Joe, likes to remind me, “Knowing is half the battle.”
VSCO: Short for Visual Supply Company, this photo editing app is known for preset filters that convey a sun-drenched, California vibe.
VSCO Girl: Someone who fits the VSCO aesthetic, telltale signs for which typically include a beachy, informal fashion sensibility and a concern for environmental causes.
TikTok: A platform for sharing short-form mobile videos credited with popularizing the VSCO Girl caricature — particularly an annoying, exaggerated version of the VSCO Girl. This social media outlet is especially popular among teenagers.
“Sksksk”: VSCO-speak for laughter, typically as a typed replacement for “lol” in a text message or online comment. When spoken aloud, this “laughter” is often intended to be an extension of the joke itself. Along with “And I oop-” below, it is commonly used as the catchphrase of the VSCO Girl stereotype.
“And I oop-”: If a Hydro Flask falls in a high school cafeteria, this phrase will be right behind it. More than a simple “oops,” this phrase expresses surprise, shock or embarrassment. It is often written with a hyphen at the end, as if to say, “there’s more that could be said here about how I’m feeling, but I’m going to cut if off and move on.”
“Spill the tea”: Another way to say, “share the gossip.” Also commonly heard in other variations such as, “that’s the tea, sis,” this phrase enjoys wide usage, so while common among VSCO Girls, it is not VSCO-specific.
#savetheturtles: The most famous cause of the VSCO Girl stereotype, this hashtag is almost always connected with a message of saving marine animals like sea turtles from plastic straws and other common ocean garbage.
Sources: Rachel Kimberley, Ali Hassett, Google
As with all coffeejosh.com conversations, my discussion with the VSCO Girls included coffee, this time from Wake Up Call in Liberty Lake. I ordered a mocha (Wake Up Call’s version has a particularly smooth taste). A fan of all things pumpkin, Ali loves that Wake Up Call serves the autumn flavor year-round. She selected her go-to order, an iced pumpkin spice latte. Rachel? Well, she is a mint milkshake connoisseur trapped in the coffee-mad Inland Northwest. She ordered a white hot chocolate and said it was great, but for all her help, I probably owe her a shake.
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