Cheugy: The Casual Aesthetic That Tries Too Hard
Another day on the internet, another made-up descriptor: Cheugy. We’ve been scrolling past this phrase on our feeds for the past few weeks. What is cheugy? Coined in 2013 by then highschool student Gaby Rasson, this neologism gives a new name to an aesthetic we all recognize. Urban Dictionary (the only dictionary we recognize) defines it as “The opposite of trendy. Stylish in middle school and high school but no longer in style. Used when someone still follows these out of date trends.”
What is Cheugy?
Cheugy is boring, suburban, and a little tacky, living somewhere at the intersection of Basic, Girlboss and Farmhouse Chic. Classic staples include fur-lined boots, multi-level marketing schemes, wooden plaques printed with pithy remarks (e.g. “I can’t adult today”), chevron patterns, platitudes written in lowercase cursive, jeans with bedazzled back pockets. Even lasagna has been cited as cheugy according to some more controversial figures in contributing to the discourse. Cheugy is “the word you never knew you needed,” to quote the TikTok that rocketed the word into virality.
Cheugy is Not Cool
Coolness is a famously inscrutable phenomenon, but at the heart of any good Trend is a presumed disinterest in being Trendy. Inversely, any visible effort to be Cool immediately renders one Not Cool. To put it another way, “It’s more punk to tell people you’re not punk than to sit there and say that you are punk.”
Part of what has made this such a compelling point of discussion across the internet is that cheuginess hinges directly on this Cool-Not Cool paradox. For example, a minimalistic calligraphic expression of a #dgaf attitude doesn't really read as such under the dim glow of fairy lights. Nothing says “I’m a laid back person who likes to drink wine” less than a “wine o’clock” wall hanging. Cheugy is trying too hard and the internet loves to punish those who try too hard.
The Cheugy Truth About Millennials
While being out of style is certainly a big component of cheuginess, being “out of trend” is an oversimplification. After all, there are plenty of uncool aesthetics, activities, and shticks that aren’t specifically cheugy.
Unfortunately for me, the author of this very article and a person born in 1993, the unique brand of uncool we call cheugy is a largely millennial phenomena. So why are we like this? For a generation trapped in the gig economy, predatory business models like MLMs can seem like an essential-oil scented path out of overwhelming student debt. And although now considered a dated idea, women were able to find support in the 2010s internet from the #girlboss movement. Combine these capitalistic circumstances with the residue of hipster irony and the cheugy aesthetic starts to come into reclaimed wood frame.
Much like the joinery of a reclaimed wood crate storing infinity scarves, cheugy discourse dovetails nicely into the ongoing Gen-X/Millennial online conversation. (If you don't know what I’m talking about - congratulations. You should skip this section.)
As the first generation to grow up online, millennials were the first to be criticized en-masse in cyberspace. Clickbaity think pieces about the absurdity of avocado toast just write themselves when Boomers are running the publication. On the other hand, millennials were also cursed with the knowledge of a pre-internet reality. Although millennials are internet proficient, they tend to lack the nuances of being hyper present online that were downloaded into Gen-Z and iPad Kids at birth.
Once again sitting at a paradox, Millennials have received overwhelming criticism online from older and younger generations. Gen X & Boomers write articles explaining how millennials are leftist snowflake layabouts; Gen Z makes TikToks mocking millennials’ centrist politics and outdated style.
Predictably, the Millennial response has been… a little cheugy! What’s more cheugy than caring that someone called you cheugy? Maybe a #girlboss mug, but that’s about it.
Is Cheugy Misogynist?
Ultimately, “cheugy” is just another entry in a long history on and offline of labeling aesthetics and qualifying trends. Something is in, then it’s out, then it’s in again, but with new rules to follow. Entire industries are built around creating, maintaining, and discarding trends.
While most of the internet has been enjoying a collective chuckle over the naming of this phenomena, some have raised concerns that cheugy is just another opportunity to shame women for enjoying something. While masculine cheugy elements have been identified (cargo shorts, slides, loud tanktops, flat brims, involvement in a fraternity, etc.) the majority of cheuginess is centered around traditionally feminine expressions.
The invention of the word cheugy points towards our societal focus on femmes as trendsetters (or trend deniers). But to interpret cheuginess as an attack on women presumes that it’s bad to be cheugy.
How Much Cheug Would a Cheugy Cheug if a Cheugy Could Cheug Cheug?
Coolness is an immeasurable and intangible element that doesn’t have much bearing (if any at all) on real life success or growth. We’re all a little bit cheugy because we’re all trying to be cool and failing to some degree. Even the Coolest of Dudes will have at least one person who’s unconvinced.
Ultimately, what’s more important than being cool is that we always find time to live, laugh, and love.
written by Pia Marchetti~*