All the Feels

There’s a new cool kid in town and he’s more unimpressed than you

Words: Buntu Ngcuka | Photography: Ian Engelbrecht | Styling: Akim Jardine

Sadness has always been a touchy subject, and expressing sadness means venturing into awkward territory – especially if you’re young and expected to be the most jubilant person in the room. Except we now live a time where Lana Del Rey sings about death over melancholy beats and Drake can rap-sing about a stripper he’s fallen hopelessly in love with (even though said stripper won’t give him the time of day). There’s a mixture of unhappiness, anxiety, insecurity and discomfort in their material and how they carry themselves, and a group of young people all over the world have taken this demeanour, added a few key fashion items and turned it into a subculture. They call themselves sad boys.

We live in a time where being literal is almost too easy, and every little detail – every item of clothing – is a deliberate choice that carries lots of subtext. You won’t find the sad boy wearing black on black on black, in a pool of tears or a fit of rage. Nope. Instead, he’ll probably be wearing an oversized pink puffer jacket, matching bucket hat and very likely, a pair of Reeboks. He won’t always be withdrawn or socially awkward either. He may actually be a regular at your favourite bar, or make frequent appearances in your social circles. Followers of this subculture will sport a resting bitch face but still have an approachable air about them, which is quite a contrast to those who identified as goth or emo in their 1980s heyday, and looked like extended family members of the Addams family with their morbid mood and painfully dark outlook on life. It’s almost as if they’re so cool, they’re almost a caricature of themselves.

But how did this subculture and persona come to be? Well, technically the sad boy has always existed – it just didn’t have a name, and didn’t exist in a postmodern place where it could be taken on as a means of identification. Some of the most famous figures in pop culture are sad boys – men who wore their sadness, anxiety and apathy in style and did so uniquely. Peter Murphy, a British singer and musician, is known as the godfather of goth thanks to his deep bellowing voice and gloomy lyrics. His career started off with the group Bauhaus, one of the first musical acts that joined the goth movement in the early 80s. He’s since distanced himself from the darkness associated with the goth subculture but his influence can’t be denied – he even made a cameo in the second Twilight movie.

Yung Lean is a teen from Sweden who’s taken the sad boy label quite seriously. Always seen sporting a bucket hat, he has a record label called Sad Boy Entertainment and released a mixtape titled Sadboys2001. He can be blamed for single-handedly creating the current wave and popularity of the subculture.

The most relevant, meme-able and GIF-able sad boy of our time though, is definitely Drake. Since he blazed on to the music scene with his So Far Gone mixtape almost a decade ago, Aubrey Graham’s unique blend of atmospheric beats, surprisingly emotional subject matter and most of all, his sense of style, has turned him into an idol. When the “Hotline Bling” video dropped last October, everyone wanted to know where that knit sweater was from and how they could get their hands on it. His music has inspired a legion of thinkpieces and his on-and-off romance with Rihanna and unrequited love from many a stripper is a wake-up call to all of us that stars too, can experience unrequited love. But it’s how he channels this longing and sensitivity into an aesthetic that makes him, and many other sad boys so fascinating.

It’s an attitude, and it’s in the packaging of the product. It’s not to suggest that everyone who joins the subculture is depressed, but the performance of sadness is what adds depth to. It could be seen as a form of social commentary. It’s like a costume you would wear, the same way that try-hard colleague of yours who brings vegan cupcakes to work every Friday wears the mask of the ever cheerful, ever eager to help champion of the office. The typical sad boy look is sports luxe, meets cozy style, meets a “I literally just took this out of my dad’s wardrobe” kind of carelessness.

Wearing the trend means showing your mood through the colours and textures, but in a counterintuitive way. How else would you show that you’re currently going through the most without looking like you’re on your way to a funeral? Soft, pastel hues are one way of going about it. Often associated with femininity, the colour is somewhat complemented by the ruggedness of the sporty styling. Oversized fits are also key to the look. Take Drake’s “Hotline Bling” sweater, for example, or any large trousers you might find on a model in a Rick Owens collection. There’s a sense of hiding behind the clothes – hiding your body literally, but figuratively hiding your disdain for the ridiculously, super perfectly tailored looks often praised, or at the very least channelling your annoyance at the effort it takes to achieving such a look by doing the very opposite.

Accessories like bucket hats and brands with a heritage story of rebellion and a role in the rise of streetwear are also key components and can be used to finish off the look. But above all else, whether the look is authentic or not is in the way you wear it. The same way a suit looks even better if you’re clean-cut and poised, the sad boy aesthetic isn’t perfect or suave. It isn’t trying too hard, and it isn’t easily readable either. So if you ever find yourself smiling in a squad pic, stop. Immediately. Looking emptily into the camera while throwing up a peace is the signature pose, but if you can’t pull that off, then drag your feet and walk away. Looking as unimpressed as you possibly can, of course.


Hair & Makeup: Roxanne Sayers

Model: Martin @ Twenty Model Management