It seems like every couple of years, fashion trends step back in time. Popular trends and accessories get a “blast from the past” and make a revival in our hearts and wardrobe. That 70s style of chunky platform boots and wide denim flare jeans made a comeback. Meanwhile, when the 80s popped back up, mom jeans and color-block windbreakers and bomber jackets became all the rage.
These fashion resurgences from a decade can be refreshing memories for people who lived through them. When these trends return, the good and quite ugly ones, the memory of taking part in those trends or just remembering how much of a staple they were, serves as its own little personal photo album.
But when a decade of fashion returns, how do people who were never born in it tackle those trends?
When the fashion moments of the 70s and 80s reoccur in fashion — which they have already quite often — Gen Z didn’t shy away from partaking in those trends. Pinterest mood boards and online vintage catalogs have been some of the ways young people have been able to model the looks of the era, even if the teens are 10 to 20 years late.
And technology plays a huge role in that. Gen Z was born into a world that was on the cusp of technological advances, where it practically grew up alongside them. Seeing the innovations that the Internet has evolved to and them now having it at their full disposal, technology has become Gen Z’s own personal time capsule. It has helped revolutionize the lens that they revisit and recreate cultural moments from the years before them.
One of those trends being the fashion of the Y2K era. It’s the current throwback that we’re seeing start off 2021, having spent some time resurrecting in 2020. Due to popular Gen Z apps like TikTok and Instagram, the apps doubled as fashion hubs to explore the Y2K era in pictures and videos.
It’s not a surprise that young people have flocked to the fashion of this time even though it was mostly a faint memory for the generation. What constituted and centered on as Y2K was mostly being dictated by other Gen Zers, many of those who consider themselves fashion influencers.
The way the group has latched onto this aesthetic is equal parts ingenuity and interpretation.
Y2K, a shorthand term for the year 2000, was a turning point in not only fashion but from a cultural standpoint. It marked the start of a new millennium. What would be of the future with the rise of technology, was met with both concern and curiosity as the last years of the 1990s closed out. The Y2K aesthetic captured the cutting edge and futuristic possibilities that would be made once they entered into 2000.
Y2K was based on what would be of the fresh start the 2000s would bring. Or for some people the end. There was a popularized theory that the start of the new millennium at midnight, would create something of the “end times.” This may or may not have inspired the 1999 action horror film starring Arnold Schwarzenegger End of Days.
But alas, we’re still here.
Where Y2K looked for elements of the future for fashion, Gen Z looked to that nostalgia for theirs. Each generation has its own way of interpreting trends and fashion moments from the people before them. Fashion belongs to an ever-changing nature. It’s always dictated by what’s in season, and social media has made those seasons change at faster rates. As the world of fashion constantly changes, seemingly faster and more often due to a rise in fashion bloggers, social media influencers, and style icons, every now and then we go back in time to look for iconic pieces of an era to help us move forward. Revivals every now and then become inevitable because we consume the trends of fashion, culture, and entertainment as fast as we get rid of them.
I guess that’s why some of the most memorable parts of Y2K fashion that people vividly remember haven’t made a reappearance. The culture that social media has created is that of a hop on hop off bus. Combining that with the cyclical atmosphere of fashion, it seems that only a couple of trends get to be the most prominent figures when the era comes back in style.
There was a TikTok video of an apartment tour that was shared on Twitter. Captioned, “Y2K inspired apartment tour,” the living space featured plush pink pillows, a pink neon sign, and Hello Kitty themed bathroom decor. Oh, and the 1996 movie Clueless was playing on TV. Many of the comments under the Twitter video stated that there are some misconceptions about what Y2K actually looks like and represents. Others pointed out that characters like Hello Kitty are not the epitome of Y2K at all, seeing that the Sanrio character wouldn’t become a global phenomenon until the 2010s.
It’s not that it’s wrong that Gen Z wants to incorporate something like Hello Kitty into their idea of the aesthetic. The character was well into 20 years of creation during the 90s. People were well familiar with the character and it did appear on quite a lot of apparel. Even on online vintage and thrifting stores like Depop, sellers list purses and shirts with the character on it under the hashtag #y2k or #y2kinspired. There have even been ongoing jokes on social media that many sellers pass off children’s shirts as Y2K crop tops.
I wasn’t aware that people were upset that this era was being watered down. For an era where there are so many fashion trends to take back, there is a feeling that the aesthetic has gotten lost in translation when it came back around, mostly because the fashion is a lot more than what is getting showcased.
Evan Collins, founder of The Institute for Y2K Aesthetics said it best.
“Many of the moments that seem to embody Y2K have been forgotten,” Collins said.
Velour Juicy Couture tracksuits, tiny baguette bags, strappy kitten heels. These were all such staples of Y2K but have yet to get that level of recognition as we see this trend come back. Gen Z has been stuck on the look of a pink, blinged-out rhinestone paradise of Y2K. Usually, whenever trends make a reappearance, it’s usually a certain style of clothing or an accessory that gets reintroduced and worn over and over until we move onto another decade of fashion. Padded headbands. Snap clips. Bandanas. Actually incorporating the key elements of the fashion of the time period into your wardrobe is everything that you want a fashion comeback to be! The fashion…has to come back.
The gravitation that Gen Z has toward the color and the characters of the era shows how impactful certain things of a time are. The 2004 cult classic teen film Mean Girls remains one of the best teens flicks ever made in the 2000s. Or better yet, of all time. The continuous movie references and the annual October 3rd day, prove how iconic the movie is that it transcends the year and even the decade it came out in. And what was as iconic as the quotes? The fashion.
The Plastics had some of the most exemplary outfits that captured that early 2000s look. And while these looks are nowhere as prevalent today, they still remain just as iconic. Gen Z understands the power of nostalgia and longs for it sometimes as well. “I was born in the wrong generation,” anyone?
If there is anything we know about young people, it is their power to make or break things. Kind of like that scene in Gladiator where Joaquin Phoenix’s character gives either a thumbs up or thumbs down to decide the fate of a gladiator, the follow-through of so many ideas rest on the judgment of Gen Z’s shoulders.
While the generation might have taken two aspects of Y2K and respectfully ran it into the ground, doing things their own way is their motto. It was mostly of a haze for them and they’re making up for it now. They have the ability to make things new and improved and if there’s anything that the fashion world values, it’s innovation. We don’t know how long the Y2K comeback is going to last, but Gen Z is making the most of it as I’m sure they will do when every decade rears back into society again. After all, no fashion era has an expiration.