Hailey Bieber wore a backless baby-pink gown to the Met Gala in May 2019. She turned around to see a pink satin g-string. The whale tail returned.
The Y2K fashion resurgence was one of the first to occur, convincing us all the fashion cycle had completed a full rotation. Yes, some early 2000s fashion lingered (Ugg boots are still a staple, for instance, albeit no longer accompanied by pleated skirts and layered polo shirts). But a peek-a-boo thong, like razor-thin brows and pastel glitter eyeshadow, felt extra.
It’s been two years since the Y2K revival. ColorPop and BH Cosmetics have released aughts-themed makeup collections, and TikTok is awash in aughts outfit inspiration. Gen Z-ers (born after 1996, according to Pew Research) and younger millennials are driving the trend. Why? With the help of a few experts, I decided to delve into the frosted, neon-hued era’s roots.
What Is Y2K?
The original Y2K aesthetic emerged around the same time as the Gen Z-ers driving its revival—from the late 1990s to the early 2010s. Fashion historians and TikTokers agree that Y2K includes everything from shiny Matrix-inspired fabrics to Tina Knowles’ high-cropped designs for Destiny’s Child. Excess was the era’s common thread.
Like its resurgent counterpart, the original Y2K was a pendulum swing. A recession in the early 1990s was all about simplicity, much like the 2008 recession spawned minimalism in the 2010s and maximalism in the 2020s. Clothing that was overtly opulent, like what we saw in the 1980s, was considered tactless, according to Colleen Hill, curator of Costume and Accessories at FIT. “While grunge and deconstruction looked different from minimalism, they were all based on the same idea: a reaction to 1980s excess. It was quite provocative when luxury returned in the mid-1990s,” says Hill, citing Tom Ford’s sexy minimalism at Gucci and Alexander McQueen’s “bumster” (aka low-rise) trousers as examples. “That paved the way for Y2K fashion.”
Hill offers a few definitions of Y2K fashion: “The era was characterized by bold accessories such as hats, bags, belts, boots, etc., bright colors, especially pastels, and embellishments such as rhinestones and feathers. Many models wore skirts or dresses over jeans, or low-slung jeans and a crop top with a long cardigan.”
The revival of Y2K fashion in the early 2020s seems to be both explicit and evocative. Y2K-inspired outfits of the day meant to conjure the era more than perfectly emulate it. For the most part, beauty eschews the techniques of the time and instead uses 2000 color palettes. Adding dimension to the face with highlighter and perfectly groomed brows is non-negotiable in today’s post-Kardashian world.
Social Media & Technology
But the Y2K revival isn’t just about nostalgia or a perfectly timed fashion cycle. We live in an age of rapid technological advancement and a general demand for faster fashion.
In 2008, I panicked! It was Disco who rang. After ten years, my phone still connected me to friends (via social media) and information. Our perceptions of fashion and beauty have changed since the iPhone was introduced in 2007.
Social media, according to Mina Le, a Gen Z fashion history YouTuber. “Internet allows us to archive more resources, and young people are more easily exposed to new trends. I can easily find Paris Hilton or Lindsey Lohan photos from 2001. Gen Zers can create mood boards and shop for similar pieces thanks to numerous blogs and Instagram accounts that document their fashion choices.
This easy access to information has shaped Gen Z’s view of Y2K. In 2018, 95% of Gen Z (13-17) had a smartphone. In politics, they are the most ethnically diverse generation. As a result, people are not only looking backwards for ‘fits, but also highlighting some of the era’s injustices. Most notable was the influence of artists of color who were ignored or dismissed at the time.
Many marginalized groups led many trends and aesthetics. Until they influenced many of these trends, black women were despised. Gwen Stefani, the Harajuku Girls, and the Japanese gyaru subculture influenced a lot.”
While Sseguya-Lwanga thinks modern Y2K is “more nuanced,” Le says more needs to be done. Her research shows that Gen Z Y2K fashion is very white. But most of the mood boards are of Paris Hilton and Regina George from Mean Girls.
According to Le, “Black artists have pioneered so many avenues in our mainstream culture but rarely get credit for it.” “Nameplate necklaces were worn by Black hip-hop artists long before Carrie Bradshaw.”
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