The Secret to Nailing the Scumbro Aesthetic

Irony is not a new concept in mainstream fashion. It is, however, a variable one. Case-in-point: The “scumbro”: an iteration of normcore popularized by men who pay a lot of money to look this bad. It’s part of a trickle-up effect — classic skate rat meets Steve Carell in Crazy Stupid Love. It skews VICE over GQ. Think Justin Bieber, Pete Davidson, Jonah Hill.

The movement’s forefathers sport Gucci hoodies that retail in the thousands, modeled after something your uncle purchased on Amazon. They belong to a roster of Facebook groups entitled “Buy/Sell/Trade Kicks.” They drink Pet Nats with Spaghetti O’s. They hiked once, and they’ve got the fleeces to prove it. They’re high/low culture, all grown up — the embodiment of a Land’s End x Supreme collab — and somehow, by way of some unknown force, they are high fashion manifest.

Perhaps the scumbro aesthetic is an answer to the nation’s overwhelming political malaise. Maybe it’s a brilliant work of satire. Regardless, its growing prominence amongst disciples of Virgil Abloh begs the question: Is “scumbro” for everyone, or merely for the foremost class of soft-boy celebs? Sans Prada hoodies can we, the proletariat, pull off “I shower infrequently” to the same effect?

When Harling offered to style me as my sartorial icon — one Justin Bieber — I had already determined my answer to that very question: yes, obviously, a thousand times over. Since my own wardrobe (an amalgam of Little House On The Prairie-inspired frocks and pieces you might find on a prepubescent French boy) typically skirts away from maximalist fuckboy territory of the variety made famous by Bieber (think head-to-toe tie-dye), I thought this might be my opportunity to introduce Thrasher T-shirts and eccentric khaki into my standard rotation. I figured “scumbro” was textbook enough to replicate, gender identity aside.

Each of my three looks embodied a different variety of scumbro. Up first was a trucker hat-Hawaiian shirt mash-up akin to the uniform you might find on a preteen employed by a local theme park. Next came a louder, liberal arts college-inspired get-up, followed by an ensemble that seemed to say, “I camp.”

Over the course of the photoshoot, the doorman, who watched me emerge from the back entrance to Man Repeller’s office in each outfit, only paused to tell me I “looked nice” when I wandered out wearing the Levi’s I’d arrived in.

Much to my dismay, I agreed with him.

Through all the costume changes, the wild form of blind, unwarranted confidence that seems part and parcel to the scumbro shtick hadn’t arisen within me. In fact, the whole process felt ever-so-slightly like dressing up for Halloween, or borrowing my mother’s slacks for a chorus concert. I rarely resist the opportunity to opt for “extra” in the realm of fashion, but this felt more imposter than it did maximal.

It occurred to me, while still sporting a bucket hat, that “scumbro” had as much to do with the wearer as it did the apparel itself. Done well, the look implies a lack of intentionality — as if to say: I tripped and fell… into my outfit! I don’t even remember purchasing these Acne sweat shorts! Bathing is so gauche! But a seeming lack of intention can, ironically, require a certain form of curation. Scumbro is all about contrast: Each get-up is crafted in service of the ideal high:low ratio. It’s diet runway fashion — haute-couture-lite.

The ratio is not fixed; it reconfigures itself for the bro at hand. Shia LeBouf skews mountain man, while Pete Davidson leans high school student (his aesthetic seems to say, “I hate my mom”). Jonah Hill, fittingly, seems to fall into a mid-90s skater realm and Frank Ocean, an honorary scumbro, comes at the whole phenomenon from an apres-ski angle.

For this reason, my scumbro imitation felt something like cheating. In my Bieber ensemble, I was merely a shadow of the thing — a neon, drop-crotch shadow cosplaying as a paper cup. To achieve true scumbro, I’d have to do more than costume myself as someone else. I’d need to curate my own undercutting of the very high with the very low. I’d need to combine the components of my personal wardrobe in a flurry of purposeful mismatch — to poke fun at my own absurd, sartorial tendencies.

Dressed to imitate Bieber, I wasn’t doing scumbro’s ironic sensibility justice. I had never coveted a Rick Owens hoodie, nor had I maintained a particularly impressive sneaker collection. I’d never lusted after Balenciaga hiking boots, so who was I to mock them? The commentary wasn’t mine to offer — it was Bieber’s. Were I subverting the prairie dress trend, I might have had more license — but here, I merely looked like I’d returned home from a sleepover, dressed in someone else’s least-prized attire.

The case has been made that scumbro is a manifestation of Big Dick Energy. I don’t disagree, so long as you strip BDE of its gendered connotation. The look is about leaning in unabashedly to the form of high/low that suits you best. It’s Avril Lavigne in 2004, sporting Converse high tops with her formalwear. It’s Chrissy Teigan eating McDonalds in bed. Carrie Bradshaw stowing her heels in the oven. It’s luxury watered down: The champagne of beers, or rather, the beer of champagnes. Had I opted for a more bespoke-to-me version of scumbro — perhaps gym shorts with a Marni blouse — the glaring sense of BDE might have followed more naturally.

Yes, Pete Davidson’s personal affinity for Hanes pullovers and open-toed shoes might feel particularly uncouth, but we see the sentiment replicated all across the fashion world. It’s about subverting luxury — fashion as a form of contradiction. By that definition, mid-calf socks and sandals, one of summer’s more prominent footwear trends, is, at its core, a scumbro move. It may feel chicer at its baseline than Davidon’s sweats, but nonetheless, it’s born of a similar philosophy. The same is true of monochrome beige. Of overalls and Carhartt jackets. Of puffer coats modeled to resemble the Old Navy iteration you donned in elementary school. It’s about the high and the low coexisting peacefully.

In any case, I would posit that scumbro is not gendered at all. It extends beyond fashion. It’s a social movement, and I humbly urge you to lean in.

Photos by Louisiana Mei Gelpi. 

Eliza Dumais

Eliza Dumais

Eliza Dumais covers food, fashion, lifestyle, and Justin Bieber in no particular order.

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