What Are E-Boys, and Why Is TikTok Overrun With Them?

And why are these questions keeping me up at night?
September 10, 2019
9 mins read

A close-up of ringed fingers painted with black nail polish, then sleepy eyes rolled back in indifference and a padlock on a chain close to the taut skin on someone’s throat. Puzzle these pieces together, and you have yourself the makings of an “e-boy.” E-boys are identified by their signature style on TikTok and only seem to exist on the social media video-sharing app. Their style combines goth and skater boy style with the male equivalent of the not-like-other-girls attitude.

To complement the chains, black nails and a single cross earring, the e-boy typically dresses in some edgy T-shirt with a black and white striped shirt underneath. His straight hair parted down the middle with a beanie or slick like Leonardo DiCaprio’s hair in “Romeo + Juliet.”

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Although the origins of the e-boy are unknown, the trend is now entrenched in the TikTok and meme-saturated culture of Generation Z. TikTok — which some describe as the “new Vine” but probably shouldn’t — is an app for creating and sharing short videos.

Most of the videos feature users filming themselves while lip-syncing or acting out sketches using songs, effects and sound bites from just about any other medium they want. This might sound similar to its predecessor, Musical.ly, which was acquired by the Bejing-based tech company ByteDance — which already owned TikTok and absorbed the older platform in August 2018.

Soon after I became curious enough about the social media platform to scroll through a friend’s feed, I encountered this horde of lip-syncing, eye-rolling teenage boys and became obsessed with understanding their sudden rise in popularity and its meaning.

The first thing that stood out to me was that e-boys felt extremely familiar. Even while watching compilation videos of them winking at the camera and pretending to choke themselves, a hazy feeling of déjà vu compelled me to continue watching.

Then, the realization came to me. I have seen creatures like this before. They looked extremely similar to every fake deep, skater boy type that I crushed on from afar in high school, even though they were kind of gross and grungy.

It was their similar appearance, but more likely their confidence, that brought me back to those high school boys who smoked cigarettes and ignored everyone, preferring to read obscure classics during our lunch break.

These boys knew that they were hot, just like e-boys. In some of their most popular videos on TikTok, e-boys show off their good looks, highlight their bone structure and other features many of their peers would find attractive. They smirk, roll their eyes and touch their faces in suggestive ways.

As they present their handsome features to their fans, they have a vibe that makes them seem like they don’t care much about their looks; they just are effortlessly attractive.

If you didn’t have these kinds of guys at your high school, the perfect example I can think of is Timothée Chalamet’s character in “LadyBird.” The first time viewers meet Kyle, the mysterious bad boy is playing bass in a pretentiously-named band at a house party.

Kyle shares his paranoia about cell phones, complains about money as a concept and reads “The People’s History of the United States.”

Of course, no one really accredits the e-boy trend to Timothée Chalamet or my “cool” classmates at an art school. My familiarity with e-boys is possibly just because we recycle trends over and over again with a slightly different filter and shared on different social media platforms.

The style that e-boys are sporting is clearly not brand new and even the meaning of the title e-boy has changed over time, so we should investigate their female counterparts in order to understand them better.

The concept of “e-girls” existed for a while before the creation of TikTok. Between the ‘90s and ‘00s, the “e” in e-girl or e-boy would stand for “electronic,” referring to young men and women online. However, by the early ‘00s, the word would reference people online who were interested in the emo aesthetic or other alternative styles like goth, skater and grunge.

People even used the term “e-girl” to describe and insult young women who played video games, shared their passion for gaming online and typically enjoyed anime as well, all based on the assumption that these women were only interested in video games to get attention from men.

Now, e-girls are reclaiming and revamping the identity. Almost meshing all of these concepts together into one type of woman, e-girls are now the cool girls of the internet — well, at least, TikTok.

An average e-girl on TikTok is first identified by their makeup. They are experts with dramatic eyeliner and cute little shapes drawn under their eyes who probably watched a lot of beauty bloggers growing up.

Hearts are the most common, but sometimes there are dots or X’s, similar to the style of makeup made popular by the teen drama “Euphoria.” Highlight and heavy amounts of blush are also key to their look.

Their specific style is also influenced by goth, K-pop and cosplay fashion. An e-girl usually has her hair in youthful pigtails or pulled back with colorful hair clips. Think Avril Lavigne meets Wednesday Adams meets Taylor Momsen in the later seasons of “Gossip Girl” and the scene girls from your middle school, all rolled up into one person.

The actual outfit can be very different depending on each e-girl’s closest style inspirations, but, just like with e-boys, black and white striped long sleeves under black T-shirts are a staple. You can also spot her wearing tight denim, mom jeans and (surprise, surprise) lots of chains.

The style has become so common with frequent TikTok users that in early 2019, a meme spread on TikTok known as “the E-girl factory,” which is exactly what it sounds like. A similar trend happened with the e-boy community, but it was not as popular.

Honestly, I have seen way more of these “e-girl factory memes” than I have of any girl just showing off their lip-syncing moves the way e-boys do.

This could possibly make it seem like e-girls are almost more ironic and e-boys are possibly more genuine, but the most likely option is that they’re both incredibly steeped in irony.

Because modern e-boys and e-girls are characterized by their emo fashion sense as well as their presence on social media, we can look to the evolving emo culture for some possible answers to our burning questions.

Many of the alternative and typically darker subcultures that have emerged throughout the years were a reaction to the mainstream culture. The emo look countered the preppy, Juicy Couture look sported by Paris Hilton. The punk movement in the late ‘70s and early ‘80s countered the free-loving hippie movement that caught fire a decade prior.

The e-boy and e-girl movements are the same in a very strange way. They are the countermovement to the Instagram influencer, showing off their perfect lifestyle: flawlessly Facetuned skin, vacations to exotic places with very blue water and brand deals with wildly popular fitness and fashion brands.

Many argue that these new TikTok-driven aesthetics emerged in direct response to the overly curated mainstream aesthetic on Instagram. They believe that the newer video sharing app could be killing Instagram and influencers along with it by providing a more supportive community. And as the e-girl takes the influencers place on the Internet, they expect our beauty standards to change.

Influencers probably won’t be going away anytime soon. But e-boys and e-girls probably won’t either. The two subcultures will coexist on separate platforms.

Although I was not able to directly identify the first e-boy like I set out to initially, their style and social media presence show how what’s trendy is constantly changing, even if they reclaim aspects of another trend left behind and forgotten.

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