Am I "cheugy"?
That's the question many have been asking themselves - myself included - over the past week, after a New York Times article identified it as a word Gen-Z types (those born in the mid-'90s or later) have been using to describe people who are "slightly off-trend". The target is often millennials, the oldest of whom are nearing 40 and perhaps not as cool as they think they are.
The word (pronounced chew-gee with a hard G) was originally coined by Los Angeles software developer Gaby Rasson when she was a high school student back in 2013. "It was a category that didn't exist," she said. "There was a missing word that was on the edge of my tongue and nothing to describe it and 'cheugy' came to me. How it sounded fit the meaning."
Since then, its use has gathered steam and is now widely used on TikTok, the teen-dominated social media platform that allows users to share short videos, but it's only in recent days that those of us who might actually be cheugy have learnt about our new moniker.
If cheugy sounds hard to define, that's because it is. It has been likened to "basic", the insult made famous by Kate Moss when she hurled it at a female Easyjet pilot in 2015 and which refers to people whose tastes are a little too obvious, generic or mainstream, and while it's not as insulting, it's clearly not a compliment either.
"To me, cheugy is a lazy attitude," says Isaac Hindin-Miller, an NZ-born, New York-based DJ and fashion influencer who has over 60,000 followers on TikTok. "It's living your life paint-by-numbers-style, as dictated by Instagram. It's drinking Starbucks instead of literally anything else. It's Santal 33 by Le Labo. It's whatever the newest hype sneaker is. To avoid looking cheugy, develop your own personal style."
For the record, I quite like Santal 33, but I get what he means. A cheugy person is a late adopter when it comes to trends. Only slightly late, mind, and interested in trends nonetheless. Other fashion items that have been identified as cheugy include Ugg boots (which have, ironically, enjoyed a renaissance among supermodels like Gigi Hadid and Kaia Gerber lately), Golden Goose trainers (a brand which pre-distresses its designs to make them look vintage), fedora hats, chevron stripes, initial pendant necklaces and tassel earrings. Even the seemingly inoffensive denim jacket has been identified as cheugy.
Use of the word is not just limited to TikTok. The Instagram handle @cheuglife documents examples of cheuginess and currently has over 24,000 followers. The caption for an image of a Gucci belt with a double-G logo buckle reads: "Overly branded designer stuff is cheugy. It started with those crazy tight long sleeves that read 'Abercrombie' across the chest and now you've graduated to Gucci belts and Chanel bags. Tread lightly my friends. Expensive does not equal chic."
To make matters more confusing, cheugy doesn't just refer to fashion items, either. It can apply to homeware too - those lightboxes or shabby-chic wooden signs bearing allegedly meaningful quotes like 'Live, Laugh, Love' are highly cheugy. Photos on social media can also be cheugy, such as engagement announcement shoots or a person posing in front of a pink wall. Apparently, even lasagne is cheugy, though it wouldn't stop a cheug-conscious TikTokker from eating it.
True to the warpspeed life-cycle of any viral trend, using the word cheugy has already been deemed cheugy itself. Of course, trying to keep up with what Gen-Z thinks is cool at any given moment in time is a fool's errand. The truth about the items that have been deemed cheugy is that they were once popular for a reason. I don't have a Gucci belt, but I do have a vintage handbag with the double-G logo that I use on a daily basis and I have no plans to stop. But if you're wondering what else would raise a teen or twenty-something's eyebrows, read on...
Fashion is still riding the logomania wave - pretty much every brand has a heavily logo-ed garment on offer, and they're often best-selling items. The problem is that, worn too self-consciously, it can make a person look a little like they want to be seen as cool, and the moment you look like you're trying is the moment you stop being cool. A Fendi Baguette bag that looks like it's been taken to a few too many parties is far less cheugy than a brand new one.
None of the Gen-Zers in my life can explain why the denim jacket is cheugy, it 'just is.' They're not averse to other classic fashion items though - Birkenstocks and Levi's jeans are both sanctioned products according to TikTok's tastemakers. Also on the safe list are Converse and Superga trainers, Barbour jackets, St James Breton tops and Burberry trench coats. That said, Uggs don't make the cut, according to @cheuglife, which says of a pair of shearling slippers: "the 'stay at home' order should be in place for these babies indefinitely."
Anyone who has invested the £300-plus on a pair of artfully distressed Golden Goose trainers will be dismayed to learn that they have been dismissed as cheugy. The same applies to what Hindin-Miller calls "hype sneakers", which refers to any coveted, limited-edition trainer such as Kanye West's Yeezys for Adidas or Nike's collaboration with luxury streetwear brand Off-White.
Tops bearing phrases like Live, Laugh, Love or But First, Coffee scream cheug, so resist the temptation to buy slogan tees, sweatshirts and homeware. The phrase Girl-Boss is particularly derided. Friends, Minions or Star Wars-branded merchandise is also off-limits, so keep it simple and invest in plain garments instead.
Colourful and inexpensive to make, these flooded the high street a few years ago and became so ubiquitous, we've all probably got a pair somewhere. Also in the cheugy person's jewellery box are pendant necklaces with initial charms, and the silver Please Return to Tiffany chain-link choker which @cheuglife captioned "more like 'please return to 2006'."