The Nostalgia Craze: 90s and Y2K Fashion for a New Generation

Brittany Blackman
Aug 24, 2022

As we've learned over the past decades, time is a flat circle. Things popular in one decade are almost guaranteed to make their way back into the trend cycle in a decade or two. Now more than ever, macro and micro trends reflect a generation's yearning for a time that is perceived as peaceful and carefree in hindsight. 

However, due to social media, especially TikTok, trend cycles last for a fraction of the time that they used to. This means overconsumption is also on the rise since society is clamoring to keep up with trends that change weekly. But there's one overarching aesthetic that has younger generations in a tight grip: late 90's early Y2K fashion. 

The Psychology Behind Nostalgia

There is always cultural, and socioeconomic context behind whatever is trendy. A piece from L'Officiel highlights the structures that support Gen Z's taste for nostalgia. 

Born between 1997 and the early 2010s (depending on who you ask), Gen Z grew up with technology and therefore were more susceptible to picking up on trends they see online from a young age. At this point, there is an infinite amount of influencers on various platforms promoting different styles daily. With this sense of urgency to hop on a new fad, young people discard trends at the speed of light. Now, Y2K trends are again in style thanks to Gen Z. Similarly to the early 2010s 90's grunge style that millennials resurrected during the Tumblr days. 

The piece points out that for Millennials, who grew up in the wake of 9/11 and came of age during 2008's Great Recession, looking back to their adolescence in the '90s and the aesthetics of those times offers a sense of familiarity since they were faced with such unprecedented disasters. A study by Rivet notes that Millennials are particularly risk averse, and for fashion, they would return to a tried and true trend rather than create their own.

This yearning for the past doesn't just stop with fashion. Rebooted versions of '90s sitcoms Will & Grace, Murphy Brown, and Sabrina, the Teenage Witch, among others, have been introduced. Not to mention society still ogling over Jennifer Lopez when she wore an updated take on her famous 2000 Versace dress.

But right now, at the core of current fashion, Gen Z's obsession with Y2K fashion and culture is at the forefront of the media. 

TikTok's Nostalgia Obsession

TikTok is the current breeding ground for all things trendy. Since nostalgia will always be "in," you can bet there's a considerable niche for it on the video platform. The hashtag #nostalgia has 18.9 billion views. Accounts like @nostalgia__hub, @thr0wback5, and @daily.dose.0f.nostalgia are dedicated to making videos that remind viewers of all the things they enjoyed during simpler times. 

According to Comscore, 60 percent of TikTok users are Zoomers as of September. 32.5 percent of users are between the ages of 10 to 19, and 29.5 percent are between the ages of 20-29. Comscore does not track users under the age of 18.

Gen Z. Butterfly clips have officially adopted the aesthetic of the Y2K era, velour sweatsuits, duck nails, platform Bratz doll flip flops, and more have been taking TikTok by storm. The "Mcbling" aesthetic popularized by Paris Hilton and adopted and revamped by the Jersey Shore cast is also a Y2K look that Gen Z kids are obsessed with. Even the early 2000s scene kid look is resurgent thanks to "e-boys" and "e-girl" sporting black chipped nail polish, waffle-knit tees, plaid skirts, and jet black hairstyles. 

Monetizing the Trend

One cannot mention the Y2K resurgence without mentioning that it gave a new light to fashion resale app Depop

Gen Z is also widely known for valuing sustainability, mainly choosing to shop in a way that's eco-friendly. But that could get expensive. The cross-section between needing to consume both ethically and quickly has led to the burgeoning online vintage and resale market. 

According to TechCrunch, 90 percent of Depop's users are under 26, and about one-third of people aged 16 to 24 in the UK use the app. "Y2K" has skyrocketed to the most popular hashtag on Depop, underscoring the increasing market for early 2000s trends. Despite intense competition from other secondhand selling platforms like Vinted and Poshmark and social platforms focusing on commerce, like Instagram and Pinterest, the app is expected to triple its user base in the next three years. 

As society deals with the aftermath of numerous worldwide disasters, there might be a deeper meaning to why nostalgia hits close to home for many young consumers. Emotion-based memories with a sensory aspect like music or clothing have been reported to be more deeply ingrained than non-emotion-based memories. Yearning for a time in the past that is perceived as more carefree and safe is only the natural course of coping mechanisms for young people– even those from generations before. Not to mention, for many Gen-Z kids, videos of high schools in the aughts and Y2K fashion are comforting because they grew up watching high school movies and television shows that took place in that period. Streaming has enhanced Gen-Z's ability to become obsessed with high school shows that aired in that era, like Gilmore Girls, Gossip Girl, and even Sex and the City. These movies, shows, and babysitters they projected onto formed their adolescent expectations. 

Nostalgia-based fashion will always be in. Perhaps in a decade, the late 2010's athleisure will start to make a comeback.

Photo by Alexander Kovacson Unsplash

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