With a nightclub banning red sneakers beloved by eshays, you’d be forgiven for thinking most Aussies were keen to avoid looking like they’re part of the controversial subculture.
But teenagers from affluent middle class areas have started to adopt the eshay look, decking themselves out in streetwear designer brands and even sporting the same questionable haircuts.
Traditionally, eshays tend to come from low income areas, with the subculture growing out of Sydney’s inner-city graffiti scene in the 1980s.
Mullets, bum bags and matching designer sports gear are all part of their easily recognisable uniform, though it’s becoming increasingly hard to spot a ‘true’ eshay from one simply posing for social media clout.
Dr Laura Glitsos, lecturer in new media and social influence at Edith Cowan University, told Daily Mail Australia that richer kids may look like eshays, but they are simply enjoying and ‘cashing in’ on the aesthetic.
Douglas ‘Cash’ Piggott, a character from Netflix smash hit Heartbreak High, is an eshay. More and more rich and middle class kids are dressing like eshays
More Australian youths are embracing life as an ‘eshay’, causing havoc at train stations and shopping centres, while proudly donning bumbags and mullets
Eshay lookalike Emiliano Dissera insisted he was just dressed that way because he was into sport and liked the fashion
She said: ‘In terms of what separates a real eshay from a poseur probably comes back to the values of the group.
‘This kind of youth subculture sticks together because they are usually from low socio-economic status areas, so when middle-class kids start cashing in just for the trend, it becomes more about aesthetics.
‘Middle-class and upper-class kids haven’t necessarily gone through the same kind of social and cultural challenges that true eshays have had to, so that’s the real difference perhaps.’
She also suggested that the influence of middle and upper class Australians could see the eshay culture transform, with richer clothing brands becoming more popular – which could mean the ‘fake’ eshays are easier to spot.
‘As more poseurs cash in on the original trend, the style itself will begin to transform via the more underground mechanisms of youth subculture,’ Dr Glitsos said.
‘These are always in flux. Just the same way as dreadlocks became less politically-charged when they became mainstream.’
Eshays can typically be identified by wearing Nike TN trainers with polo shirts, puffer jackets, tracksuit pants or baggy shorts and baseball caps.
Their favourite brands include Ralph Lauren, Tommy Hilfiger, and Lacoste, paired with Nautica, Adidas, Under Armour and Ellesse.
Perhaps the most famous example of an eshay is Douglas ‘Cash’ Piggott, a character from Netflix smash hit Heartbreak High.
In the show, Cash wears much of the clothing and jewellery that has become eshay uniform and even uses pig Latin phrases.
The success of the show saw the eshay image broadcast worldwide, with Cash becoming one of the more popular characters.
Eshay fashion has been co-opted by some of the city’s wealthiest areas for Instagram likes
Whatever the motive for urban teenagers with bad haircuts donning Nike TNs and slinging bumbags over their shoulders, they are apparently overtaking the suburbs
With eshays becoming mainstream, rich kids have rushed to copy their style, with TikTok full of videos of young Australians sporting mullets, bum bags and designer gear.
However, though they may look alike, lifestyle is a clear difference between eshays and the middle class kids that imitate them.
TikTok user TorrellTafa posted a video suggesting the five things that make someone an eshay.
They include knowing pig Latin, doing the eshay walk, fighting, doing a bunny hop and smoking cigarettes.
‘A real eshay has loyal crew that have all come up in the same socio-economic demographic. That in itself produces different mannerisms and affect,’ Dr Glitsos added.
Her words were echoed by an eshay who previously warned rich kids to ‘pull their heads in’.
‘It’s all bung. Buy clothes to look good – don’t try to be a f***ing eshay. It’s not fun,’ Burwood eshay Marshall Brown, 19, told Daily Mail Australia.
‘Everyone I know who is an eshay is in lock up. They are. They’re all in Cobham [juvenile detention service in Sydney’s west].
‘I’ve been there and it’s f***ed. They need to give it up. We’re living the life. They’re living the lie.’
Expanding on the origins of eshays, Dr Giltsos told Daily Mail Australia: ‘To be ‘an eshay’ (derived from Pig Latin, like much of the eshay vernacular) is to identify oneself as part of a youth subculture, originally emerging out of Sydney’s Western suburbs and typically defined by certain values and, like most subcultures, certain fashion markers.
Eshays are said to have spread from Sydney’s inner-city graffiti scene in the 1980s through Housing Commission estates and out into the suburbs
Notorious Sydney rapper and convicted felon Spanian has made a name for himself in the world of eshays
‘The fashion markers tend to be red shoes (in the case of the now famous Perth nightclub ‘red shoe ban’), bum bags, extreme mullets, and sportswear.
‘In terms of values though, eshay culture revolves around locality, geography, and loyalty. This kind of youth subculture groups together because, mostly, kids come from disenfranchised neighbourhoods, and so they stick together to navigate a tough world.
‘There is a massive moral panic around eshay culture at the moment, but, in my academic opinion, it’s just a new cycle of the same parent-culture fear around teenage rebellion.’
The eshay subculture has gained attention in Australia recently, with locals in a Brisbane seaside town in December revealing they were terrified over an ‘explosion of eshays’ causing havoc in their quiet community.
TikTok has helped some teens show off their eshay behaviour, posting videos of themselves brawling with members of the public and using drugs.
While they’ve managed to create their own questionable uniforms, eshays have also developed their own language.
Some scramble words and put ‘ay’ on the end in a form of pig Latin. ‘Eetswa’ means ‘sweet’ and ‘chill’ becomes ‘illchay’.
The term eshay is similar to the UK phrase ‘chav’ and can be interchangeable with ‘lad’, which in turn sometimes becomes ‘adlay’.
Sydney rapper Kerser is pictured. Kerser has influenced the eshay movement with his music
Eshays are known to hang around at train stations – wearing their classic sportswear
‘Eshay’ may have started as ‘eshay adlay’ – pig Latin for ‘he’s lad’ or be related to ‘sesh’, for a prolonged period of drug consumption.
In south-east Queensland the Northside Gang have been causing chaos for many residents.
The group of eshays are known to showcase their rebellion on social media, posting videos of wads of cash and drugs.
Their rivals are those of the Southside Gang, also known to broadcast their behaviour, posting footage of them attempting to steal cars.
In Sydney the movement has been further exacerbated by drill rap group OneFour, hailing from Mount Druitt and famous for their song ‘Shanks and Shivs’.
Three members of the group were jailed including two over a violent assault in a hotel pokies room nearby Rooty Hill in 2018 which left two men unconscious.
Fellow Sydney rapper Spanian has also done wonders for the eshay subculture and is seen as the poster boy for the trend in teens.
The controversial artist is known for speaking candidly about his life of crime, imprisonment, drug addiction and growing up in inner city Woolloomooloo.
Many see Spanian as one of the ‘original’ Sydney eshays.
The signs of symbols of eshay sub-culture
Although thought to be a recent phenomenon, the eshays started out some 40 years ago in Adelaide when they were known as earchers or searchers.
In the 90s, the culture spread to some of the poorer areas of Melbourne and Sydney, especially around inner city suburbs like Waterloo, where the use of pig latin – reversing the order of syllables and adding extra syllables to create a mock new language – earned them the name ‘adlays’, pig latin for ‘lads’.
In recent years, the craze took off in Sydney’s west, where the name evolved from adlays to eshays, pig latin for ‘yes’.
Some eshays scramble words and put ‘ay’ on the end in a form of pig Latin. ‘Eetswa’ means ‘sweet’ and ‘chill’ becomes ‘illchay’
Eshay culture has a disturbing reputation for escalating petty crime – with many now graduating from street crime to large scale drug dealing
The retro mullet of the original earchers and adlays has now evolved into a more home-made look, with shaved sides and longer, spindlier hair, compared with the bouffant mullets of old. An old school dead slug-style moustache completes the look.
But it’s the fashion which makes eshays stand out.
The vital trademark is the cross-chest manbag, paired with three-quarter length designer tracky daks and sweatshirt, with a trucker-style cap.
The essential finishing touch is a pair of Nike Air Max Plus TN sneakers which can sell for $450 or more. Marshall Brown’s pair of bright red TNs were a birthday gift, he said, and cost $160.
Dr Terry Goldsworthy, Associate Professor of Criminology at Bond University told the Telegraph eshays had become prominent in the past seven or so years.
‘Like any subculture there are influencers on social media,’ the onetime detective inspector said. ‘It’s monkey see, monkey do.
‘A few years ago I’d never heard the term eshay, but I think social media has something to do with it.’
Just like punks in the 1970s and 1980s the eshay will one day be replaced by another set of clothes and taste in music, with a new name and similar anti-authoritarian demeanour.
‘Like any subculture, today’s eshay will be tomorrow’s nerd,’ Dr Goldsworthy said.