Y2K fashion is everywhere: on Instagram, TikTok, even the runways. Just look at Dolce & Gabbana’s SS22 ‘DG Light’ show that debuted on 25 September. Belts with massive buckles, underwear above waistbands, bejewelled everything, it’s clear we’ve taken a time machine returning to the iconic era: the noughties.
What is Y2K fashion?
Spanning from the mid-1990s to the late 2000s, think Britney Spears, Bratz Dolls, or Mean Girls. Some key pieces to note are crop tops, camisoles, tennis skirts, bulky low-rise jeans paired with butterfly clips, mini bags, scrunchies, and bedazzled logos, sequins, or butterfly prints on everything. The terminology “Y2K” originates from the computer glitch that happened when dealing with dates beyond 31 December 1999 (to get technical here, the computer would confuse the 00 of 2000 with the 00 of 1900). Awaiting an entire century leap filled with rapid technological advancement and the internet blowing up as computers became more accessible, everyone was optimistic, yet wary about the future at the same time.
Why is it back!?
Well perhaps with the pandemic, we relate to that period filled with both hope and worry. During the lockdown, we worried that things wouldn’t get better, but we were also hopeful that we would see the light at the end of the tunnel. Vanity Fair fashion director Nicole Chapoteau says, “From ’99 to 2000 everyone was like, ‘The world’s going to end! We’re all going to die! And I feel that ’99 was a time when everyone was like ‘Eff it! Do what you want, wear what you want… because as soon as it hits midnight somewhere, we’re all going to implode. Let’s just have fun with it.’” Perhaps that’s the allure and affinity that we feel towards Y2K fashion where everything is all bright colours, funky prints, and just OTT everything. All we want to do is to have fun, especially when it just felt like the world was going to end as the pandemic swooped down and darkened everyone’s days.
Studies also show that millennials are fonder of returning to the vintage eras for inspiration rather than creating trends of their own. From the perspective of fashion retailers, it is easy to market to tweens and teens nostalgic items such as biker shorts or Juicy Couture tracksuits because the Gen Z were too young to wear those trends when they happened, so all these fashion revivals seem new to them. Generational expert Alexis Abramson, PhD, says, “There is a sense of comfort in reconnecting with feelings or experiences that millennial consumers remember fondly. When we reach back and pull up memories of our favourite teen idol, TV show or article of clothing we normally associate it with a positive experience, and we want more of the same.” She adds that the internet and social media only make it easier for us to access these nostalgic memories more easily.
But perhaps, it’s that we miss the ignorant times of the Blackberrys and flip phones where it was impossible to be connected to each other 24/7 through social media. We see films such as Clueless and think it would be pretty neat to have a social life face to face and hang out at the mall rather than dramas starting when someone doesn’t like and comment on your Insta photo or you see through Snapmaps that your friends are having a party without you. It’s hard not to miss the seemingly carefree times when we’re faced with things like the pandemic, climate change issues, and racism.
For Better …??
Another reason why Y2K fashion is in vogue is that the buzzword these days in fashion is “sustainability”. There is a large stock of Y2K clothes available on platforms like Depop, Etsy, or Vinted at very reasonable prices, which allows access to a wider audience. Also, many of the trends are very DIY-able! For instance, crochet is back, and especially during lockdown, many have taken up crochet as a hobby and are making their own crochet tops, bucket hats, and bags. These factors make Y2K fashion sustainable and fun!
… Or For Worse ??
On the other hand, fatphobic media is something to be wary about. In 1999, only 38% of UK households has a computer, but that figure jumps to 65% by 2005. With the rise of PCs, also came the rise of social media platforms such as Myspace and Tumblr. The Tumblr girl aesthetic, which was popular from the 2000s and the 2010s, has often been criticised for being pro-ana (anorexia nervosa). The fashion industry amplified this concern by showcasing low-rise jeans and crop tops, promoting the unhealthy message to adhere to a certain body type that is unrepresentative of the diversity within society. Perhaps this is another thing to consider when thinking about Y2K fashion in the context of today.