A History of Counterculture: Emo and Scene

Shoutout to your Myspace top 5.

From poodle skirts to Instaglam, and cloche hats to bell bottoms, the history of mainstream fashion is well-known to the everyday fashionista. But not all aspects of fashion are mainstream. This semester, I’ll be exploring the history of counterculture movements – and how they differ from the fashion history you already know.

This week, I’ll be taking you back to just a few short years ago, when Myspace was the social media of choice, and when fingerless gloves were the last word in accessorizing. When mainstream fashionistas were wearing ultra-low-rise jeans, baby tees, and frosty pink lipstick, emo and scene kids were teasing their hair into improbable shapes and listening to high-energy music. 

Emo and Scene Influences

Both the emo and scene subcultures grew primarily out of music styles. However, emo originated as a part of the hardcore punk movement in Washington, D.C. – in fact, the word emo comes from ’emocore’ which refers to how the music was ’emotional hardcore’. Scene, on the other hand, grew out of followers of deathcore and electronic music. 

Themes of rejecting mainstream superficiality and commercialism were (and remain) common in both emo and scene music. The rise of the Internet meant that discovering unknown and local bands was easier than ever before, and many emo and scene kids could connect and share ideas without ever being able to meet in person. This led to strong in-group behaviors, with imitators being labeled ‘posers’

Emo and Scene Fashion

Although emo and scene were two different subcultures, they shared more than a few stylistic elements. This marked the height of the skinny jean craze, with tight pants being worn by men and women alike. But while emo fashionistas would pair theirs with band tees in more subdued colors, their scene counterparts preferred bright colored, tightly fitting clothing. 

One of the most iconic parts of both these subculture’s aesthetics was the hair. Unlike anything seen before (or since!), hair was worn with short, teased layers on the top, and long, straight layers on the bottom. Long bangs often covered all of the forehead, and even the eyes. However, emo looks demanded that hair be in a uniform black, while scene kids were free to dye their hair blonde or bright colors. Makeup, reflecting the conventions of the decade, was generally heavy, with eyeliner being applied generously. 

Scene accessories were generally brightly colored, loud, and childlike – with tiaras, jelly bracelets, and charm necklaces all being popular. Emo accessories were more subdued, focusing primarily on thick-rimmed glasses, but also including moto gloves and studded belts. For shoes, Converse and Vans were popular. 

Emo and Scene Impact

While neither emo nor scene had a particular political message to the world, they exist as an interesting example of how the Internet massively affected how ideas and culture could spread – as they each represent very different ideological and cultural behaviors than the grunge movement of just a few years prior. 

Another major impact that remains from each of these groups is the music – many modern alternative bands, such as Paramore, Fall Out Boy, and Panic! at the Disco, all got their start through the emo and scene genres, and have reached mainstream fame and success today. 


Are you interested in theatricality while retaining emotional sensitivity? Are you going to defeat the demons and all the non-believers? Let us know in the comments below.