An anthropological guide to London’s most-meme’d neighbourhoods
Exploring England's hottest meme accounts on Instagram and what they tell us about ourselves.
Let’s paint a few portraits
You’re sitting in London Fields, a park in east London, on a humid but warm summer’s evening. You see someone sitting on a blanket. A pair of Birkenstock mules next to them. They’re wearing a North Face Nuptse jacket, just in case of a potential cold spell, the kind that British summers bring. Oh, and some mom jeans.
On the blanket, there’s a bottle of Chin Chin, a beloved white wine, which was likely bought from Shop Cuvee. Next to it, some Torres crisps and Perello olives.
Their partner is wearing Salomons XT6s, an Arc'teryx soft shell, a pair of Dickies carpenter pants, and a fisherman's beanie whilst smoking a Lost Mary vape. They have a whippet in a raincoat looking really anxious, trembling while sniffing at its fur that’s been washed in Aesop's Animal Body Wash.
You see someone standing on Kingsland Road smoking a ciggie on a cold, wintry night (probably Vogue or Camel Blue, take your pick). They’re wearing slim plastic wrap-around sunglasses, a flurry of miscellaneous layers of black clothing like a sort of cosplay Rick Owens (to keep warm just as much as pretending to be someone who fucks), and some Wales Bonner Sambas.
Their mate is wearing Nike T90s below the bootleg jeans with a chain wallet, black shirt and spiked hair, just like you did in 2005. Among others who live in bed freelancing next to their three cats and Aimé Leon Dore sweats, these are the young professional gentrifiers of east London.
They are London’s Nolita Dirtbags.
But you don’t need to live in east London to know this group of people exists.
And you don’t need to even be in the UK.
Will the real housewives of Clapton please stand up?
Studies of these humans are routinely captured online for all to see via the beloved meme accounts of Instagram, one of which is the Real Housewives of Clapton, founded in January 2023.
Poundland Bandit is another that generally roasts all things London, and it’s got double the following, getting media attention as far back as 2018.
But RHOC is the account that managed to shitpost its way into forming a sort of IRL social community, and therefore, having a significance beyond metrics.
“The page is really a reflection of my life and experience here in Clapton.” The account owner, who wants to keep anonymous, adds that they “own an anxious sighthound, enjoy natural wine, and wear waterproof trainers.”
They tell me while we chat that they’re currently wearing a pair of Suicoke x thisisneverthat Pepper Lows, some Uniqlo pants/joggers, a black T-shirt (blank sample from testing for some forthcoming merch, of course), and a Xenia Telunts fisherman sweater.”
And if you’re wondering, they do, indeed, live in Clapton.
That this creator mirrors the very people they take this piss out of is obvious, especially when you consider the focus of the account is Clapton.
Archetypes of East London
As far as areas of London go, until recently, Clapton hasn’t even been a bit of a footnote outside of its “Murder Mile.” Even within the Borough of Hackney, a population of roughly 280,000.
It’s neither the club-centric, messier, raucous, rich, Shoreditch, nor is it (the secretly rich) Dalston. It’s also not the quaint, affluent London Fields or the equally quaint and affluent (but more domestic than glamorous) Stoke Newington (let’s be real, London Fields does reformer pilates and facials, whilst Stoke Newington is yoga and walks in the park).
Clapton is further out east than these, the other side of Hackney Downs, on the way to Leyton, the part of east London where creatives in their thirties go to pay a mortgage on their two-bedroom flat and die.
It doesn’t even have the warehouses and clubs that Hackney Wick (which is further east still) has. By way of a scene, there is basically nothing in Clapton, it’s a concrete jungle nestled between large greenspaces.
It’s got a few alright pubs, a chill coffee shop, and a high street, which has two places whose signs mention natural wine within five doors of each other (a pizza spot called Sodo, plus a grill, mezze, and natural wine bar known as Mosaic), they’re loosely opposite a chicken shop and not much else.
The personal rooting doesn’t really matter though, because shining larger than the road signs for Clapton are the fits, consumer tastes, and lifestyles of people who follow the account. The vast majority of these people live in east, specifically Hackney.
Certainly, there are some people in south-east London who are adjacent to the vibes (these people live in and around Peckham and Camberwell).
Go to west London and it’s full of Vejas and that frustrating combination of plenty of money, yet zero taste.
No one lives in central.
North is a trap for the people who are out of the loop (or out of touch and eating appropriation beans at Norman’s cafe).
And the rest of south? Irrelevant. Even if there are a couple of NB 530s sticking out among the crowd.
Regardless of where the people live in east London and how they dress, common lifestyle markers run through all “housewives.”
Too broke to buy a house; too bougie for cheap wine
RHOC says, generally speaking, these people are “28 - 45, work in the ‘creative industries’, are too broke to buy a house yet too money’d to buy cheap wine. They probably own a cat, dog, or expensive pair of boots, and spend too much time on Instagram.”
Being one of “the wives” is a lifestyle choice as much as anything else. Within this, there are sub-categories that allow people to veer off into their respective cliques, marked more obviously (on Instagram) by style.
This guides us to another beloved meme account, equally on the pulse of what’s going on: Socks House Meeting. SHM (aka Little Lengy) who also wants to be anonymous but is a lad hovering near 30-years old, tells me he’s wearing “Gucci loafers I got in 2013 off Depop as a present to myself using my student loan money."
Up top, he’s wearing a long grey coat from a nondescript brand, black suit trousers, and a Loro Piana scarf “which I was given by a really close friend of mine,” he says.
SHM properly took off in October 2022 when Lengy posted a meme of “CSM students in their massive rave boots smoking a vape outside Venue MOT at 6am while all the white van men are about to start their working day.”
Engagement and followers immediately grew tenfold and have continued to soar from there. His account explores anecdotes on clothing and fashion of people around east London.
Recent bangers include quips at the “vest neck chain toothy beer bottle boi”, the girlies committing crimes for their “lengy new ballet flats”, everyone wearing Aesop’s Hwyl fragrance, and Sambas, naturally.
SHM feels that his rise to fast success comes from a demand for “slightly clickbait, highly relatable things.” He adds, “Like, ‘oh, look, this guy ghosted me’ and that's actually happened to most people who follow the account, but then you just add in the outfits and looks you see people wearing in these areas to up the relatability.”
The key factor, across style, fashion, vibes, and lifestyle is that these accounts are rapid.
Within a week of a new food spot opening, there’s a meme about it. They are getting invited to press events and practically live blogging a gag. It is rapid, it has the access of journalists with far less of the agonising and necessary sign-off.
It’s okay to wear, as long as you admit what you’ve become
Despite the idea that people dress to stand out from the crowd, the majority of people are fairly sheep-like; they follow and pander to a crowd that forms around them.
That is simply how culture works — the average person is not an innovative genius light-years ahead of the curve, they are not Andre 3000.
They are the 31-year-old named George who drinks Guinness and eats Scampi Fries all of a sudden.
Or that one guy who replaced his battered stan smiths with HOKA Clifton 9’s.
Or your mate who decides what brands he likes purely through episodes of Throwing Fits and Dansplaining: The Danny Lomas Podcast.
For those in the know enough to know they are conforming to a general community of fits, there is irony to hide behind.
Tabis are fine to wear out with a generally mid-concept outfit, provided you take a photo of a wine glass between the toes and call yourself “annoying.”
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It’s okay to choose the Perello olives as long as you make reference to what you have become.
RHOC feels that “Everyone loves a bit of self-deprecating humour. It’s great to laugh at our shared idiosyncrasies collectively.” Plus making a 10-slide carousel about Old Street Roundabout is kind of insane, in an absurd, comedy way.”
SHM feels that “people from 25 - 32 grew up with slapstick, relatable and absurd humour, even in adverts, and I think we still enjoy it a lot”. Lengy concedes that he may not even want an Instagram when he’s “like 38 or something,” but he doesn’t see this momentum slowing anytime soon.
Hell, he’s been able to leave his “menial office job” because of it.
But there’s an argument that meme accounts have an expiry date.
Opinions differ on how long.
Some say it’s in a few years; others, six months. But both of these accounts, which average out at a year old right now have no fear of fading into irrelevance anytime soon.
And perhaps they shouldn’t. Because while jokes can become dated, as long as people keep deciding to wear eerily similar things and form subcultural cliques, there will always be material to summon.
During dry spells like the holidays, you can guarantee the jokes will just become fairly bait gags about an advent calendar full of olives, or wrapping paper in the shape of a tabi boot.
But there is more to it than gags, though.
The Lodestar Coffee effect
RHOC and SHM both reference the sense of community they’ve formed and expanded on surrounding their pages. One says that he’s often seen and been shown references to his page on Hinge, while another has hosted IRL events where they paired with Oatly to serve olive oil soft serve at Lodestar, a specialty coffee store on an unassuming street in Clapton.
The relationship with Lodestar began organically. “We opened in July 2021. This used to be my dad’s upholstery place, but when he retired, I turned it into a coffee shop,” says Bugra Marasali, owner of the store, who grew up between Clapton and Cyprus.
Business started slow for Lodestar, as it’s tucked away off the main road going through Clapton. Considering the minimal signage outside the storefront, this is a place you must know exists to go to.
If coffee shops had speakeasies, this would be one of those. “Oh yeah, even our regulars walk past because they forget where exactly it is” Gizem Kumbaraci, creative and marketing at Lodestar, offers.
But on March 12 2023, RHOC posted a tier ranking of coffee shops in and around Clapton (Hackney, basically), and it listed one in the “god tier” status: Lodestar. Lodestar is a very serious and ambitious specialty store using beans roasted across the UK and Scandinavia, as well as being low-key and “aiming to offer a place for people to enjoy really good coffee without being intimidated nor feeling like they have to leave in a hurry.
“I love getting to know the customers,” says Bugra.
The important part of their story is that “within hours we went from a few hundred followers to thousands, we went from dozens to hundreds of customers overnight. We have gained loads of regulars as a result, it has completely transformed our business.” Gizem says.
The pop-up with Oatly where they served free olive-flavoured soft serve was “amazing, we had so many customers we nearly ran out of milk, but I was also really glad we happened to be closing the store for a holiday the week after” Bugra says.
SHM has since mentioned the store, too. All of this is a shining example of innocent memes about tiny, independent spots around London genuinely changing lives. Huge coffee roasteries from Copenhagen have started working with Lodestar since seeing the meme-account post about their “god tier”status as a coffee shop.
We’re all just a
shell meme of ourselves
We all like to look at our clothes and laugh a bit.
We like to realise we perform in ways (and are influenced by things) that make us a parody of the people we laugh at for performing–yup–exactly like us.
We even like brands doing this (SHM and RHOC do collab posts with the likes of Browns and Flannels).
RHOC sells its own merch and does popups with Oatly. It’s fine, it’s attractive, we like it.
SSENSE’S’ social grid is littered with self-deprecating content. And why not?
If everyone is going to wear the same things and eat from the same tins, then at least we must realise we’re all awful and uninspired, too glam not to label shop our antipasti, and too poor for anything our parents prioritised at our age (houses, marriage, kids).
And we must laugh at ourselves in the process too, because what else do we have?
The economy is fucked, and we’re all going to die, but at least we have our memes and our little coffee spots to sip a flat white whilst we scroll through Instagram.
We might even find our soulmate in the process, apparently.