Fifteen or so years ago, something happened. Emo – which had been a burgeoning music scene throughout the American Midwest in the 90s – infiltrated the mainstream for a melodramatic second wave, reaching every weird grey school in Britain. Suddenly, all your mates who'd been into, like, Eminem beforehand now had box-dyed black hair scraped to one side, snakebite piercings and lyrics like "So cut my wrists and black my eyes / So I can fall asleep tonight, or die" scratched across the front of their exercise books with a Stanley knife nicked from the art room.
So what happened to those kids? They're not doing the same thing now, are they? That guy who had to get the school nurse to cut his legs out of some size 2 white Primark jeans isn't still buying them. Plus, second wave emo peaked in the early to mid-2000s, which means those emos are all, what, in their late twenties to early thirties now? They must have moved on, because everyone knows emo is a subculture for children (the style, not the music genre). Or, in actual fact, maybe emo is alive and well – it just grew up, removed the snakebites and got a marketing job in a "really chill actually" advertising office.
You must have seen them. On your commute. Across your desk at work. Milling around outside with their now-undyed side fringes. You might even be dating one. If you're reading VICE, or are somewhere between the ages of 25 and 35, there's a high chance you are one yourself. Sometimes, when I look in the mirror, I think I am one too.
The overgrown emo isn't the same as those weird older bald men wearing black nail varnish who hang around Camden drinking Scrumpy Jack. They're subtler, more socially acceptable than that. They don't wear skin-tight jeans or multiple studded belts anymore – they wear comfortably slim jeans or black trousers with one belt, not studded. They still buy Vans, though, just not the checked ones, never the checked ones. Plain black slip-ons or black-and-white Old Skools are perfect because they're vague enough to be anything, but they're still a bit emo. In other words, the overgrown emo is sort of incognito, but you'll clock them if you're observant. Plus, emo recognises emo, and there are a lot of us to recognise.
The overgrown emo got rid of the piercings in 2007/2008, when they briefly got into the Klaxons and mephedrone. But if you peer closely, you can still see tiny holes in their lips, nose and maybe even the bridge of their nose if they were particularly dedicated and/or MySpace famous. No one can get rid of their emo spirit entirely of course, so there are always lingering clues. A septum piercing, perhaps, or flesh tunnels and nothing else. Or, like someone in the VICE UK office who I will not name, a small tattoo on their ankle that reads "Hit or Miss", in reference to New Found Glory's breakthrough hit.
Crucially, an overgrown emo doesn't necessarily admit to still liking emo music. Once you're past the age of 23, exorcising your rage via the lyrics "Your lungs have failed and they've both stopped breathing / My heart is dead, it's way past beating" when you're perfectly alive and well in Brockley, with your cat and salt lamp, can feel a bit mortifying. But if you stick Enter Shikari on the aux at 2AM at an afters you'll be able to spot an overgrown emo immediately. They'll be the ones whose faces will redden with excitement, one arm suddenly flung around your shoulder, every single word screamed in your ear like it's still 2002. If they're really trashed, they might even start doing The Claw.
There isn't much of a gendered difference when it comes to the overgrown emo, except on a night out, when a woman might favour a red lip and a man might genuinely pair a blazer with jeans. Regardless of gender and orientation, though, overgrown emos will always gravitate towards each other and end up dating. This is because we subconsciously go for the people we would have fancied at school because it makes us feel safe. I don't have any studies or stats to back this up, but we all know it to be true.
There's nothing wrong with being an overgrown emo. There's nothing wrong with being anything (apart from an overgrown YouTuber). We're all just trying to get by, and once you reach your late twenties it's hard to know what to wear when your body and mind say still you love Taking Back Sunday and sailor style tatts, but the world around you says you should wear Cos turtlenecks and know how to throw dinner parties. I don't know what will happen to overgrown emos as they progress further through life – only that they'll evolve into middle-aged emos and then eventually elderly emos, fighting in the nursing home over who's better, Fall Out Boy or My Chem. And I look forward to it.
This article originally appeared on VICE UK.