If there’s any room for doubt that life is a sometimes faulty simulation, look no further than the fashion choices of the early 2000s. Denim-on-denim dominated, pint-sized dogs peeked out of luxury bags, and anything that could be bedazzled, was bedazzled. Logos grew larger, sunglasses shrunk smaller, and waistlines stooped to near-NSFW territory, while tracksuit-clad socialites orchestrated it all with a Starbucks cup in one hand and flip phone in the other. But sooner rather than later, fashion moved on—or so it thought.
Fashion, of course, is inherently cyclical. Every decade reintroduces itself every 20 years or so, slowly phasing out the fads of decades past. Although ‘90s inspired trends have dominated the fashion conscious for years—from scrunchies to square-toed shoes—Y2K-era fashion has crept back from the grave of repressed sartorial memories with haste. Gen-Z and young Millennials have returned to the familiar aesthetic of the early 2000s just over a decade after they originated, proving that nostalgia is ever-present on the fashion conscience. While this comeback is due to fashion’s cyclical nature, its staying power is largely thanks to the generation that started them in the first place.
Hand in hand with its sartorial resurgence, pop culture pillars of the early 2000s have jumped back into the mainstream. A now-32-year-old Hilary Duff nearly broke the internet this past August when she confirmed the rumors that her cult favorite Disney show Lizzie McGuire would be getting a reboot. This came not long after That’s So Raven, another Disney Channel favorite of butterfly clipped ‘00s kids, was rebooted as Raven’s Home. The Spice Girls embarked on a (Beckham-less) reunion tour this year, filling Twitter feeds and stadiums across the UK with nostalgia-buzzed 20-somethings. Just this week, the Pussycat Dolls announced their own comeback with an appearance on The X Factor UK, performing early-aughts bops like “Don’t Cha” and “When I Grow Up” for the first time in nearly a decade. Ariana Grande’s record-breaking “thank u, next” music video paid homage to four iconic early-2000s rom-coms: Mean Girls, Bring It On, 13 Going on 30, and Legally Blonde. While some trend-setters of Y2K style may be relics of pop culture past, from The Simple Life to Destiny’s Child, others like Lizzie McGuire and That’s So Raven have grown up right alongside their Gen-Z fanbase.
The Y2K revival likely started where most things that mattered in the 2000s started: Juicy Couture. A pioneer of athleisure and status symbol of the early aughts, the velour Juicy tracksuit immortalized the era across high school campuses, paparazzi photos, and silver screens alike. However, years after shuttering its retail stores, Juicy Couture came back in some very unexpected places. The tracksuit titan made its Paris Haute Couture fashion week debut in 2017, partnering with Vetements for a handful of black, blush, and cherry red velour sets emblazoned with the all-too-familiar crystallized “Juicy.” Less than three years after tracksuits stomped the couture runway, Y2K-era trends of every caliber have followed suit.
Low-rise pants, once grazing the hip bones of early-aughts stars from Duff to Lindsay Lohan, are slowly inching their way back into runway status. From Tom Ford’s low-slung trousers for Spring/Summer 2020 to Dion Lee’s corset-topped hip huggers from Fall/Winter 2019, the once-cringeworthy trend is slowly being upgraded through chic silhouettes and textiles by the fashion elite.
Butterfly clips, barrettes, and padded headbands have jumped from the screens of Lizzie Mcguire and Gossip Girl into their own modern iterations. Whether it’s a rhinestone-encrusted Gucci logo, Bella Hadid-approved butterfly, or rainbow-colored classic, hair accessories are all grown up and splashed across the curated feed of nearly every It girl. With pearlescent finishes, megawatt colors, or multiple-karat shine, the barrettes of pop culture’s past blend into the current fashion landscape with ease.
Even the notorious whale tail, an inevitable consequence of the marriage between ultra low-rise jeans and micro crop tops, was given a family-friendlier upgrade. Rather than the lacy thongs once sported by pop culture megastars like Britney Spears and Mariah Carey, Hailey Bieber walked the 2019 Met Gala in a bubblegum pink Alexander Wang gown—complete with a built-in thong embellished with the designer’s moniker.
But not every 2000s fad must evolve before being thrown back into fashion’s radar. Logomania, which first manifested as the all-covetable Louis Vuitton totes and Alexander McQueen scarves of the 2000s, practically mirrors the Fendi-dripped Instagram posts by Kylie Jenner or Supreme-branded streetwear fans today. Dior’s Saddle bag, toted across the 2000s by Paris Hilton and Carrie Bradshaw alike, bounced back this summer with a nostalgia-themed Instagram blitz involving nearly one hundred influencers. Paris Hilton’s iconic 21st birthday chain-mail dress was replicated 14 years later, nearly stitch-for-stitch, by Kendall Jenner on her own 21st birthday.
The growing Gen-Z market happens to be the Y2K trend’s biggest lifeline, within an industry that seems eager to leave 2000s fashion in the dust. Y2K style was blacklisted as dated and campy almost before the turn of the decade, compared to the relative timelessness of most recurring ‘90s or ‘80s trends. As headlines like “Here’s Why I Think We’re Better Than the Return of Early-2000s Fashion” block the trend from SEO success, 20-something style stars from Bella Hadid to Instagram microinfluencers bask in the nostalgia of their own wardrobes—and inspire others to follow suit. While Gen-Z and Millennials’ early fashion conscious was molded through pop culture, they are now dictated by models and influencers through social media. And as the most digital-savvy generation, they’re adept at spreading trends quickly and effectively, whether it’s water bottle flipping or Von Dutch trucker hats.
The era-defining trends of the early aughts are just the newest chapter of anti-fashion fashion. The current Y2K movement is not too unlike the return of grunge and normcore that defined the ‘90s aesthetic, once-discarded styles that have all but defined fashion for the last several years. Dad sneakers, mom jeans, and utilitarian garments rose to runway and Insta-fame season after season, continuously blurring the line between irony and genuine clout within the industry. With the nostalgia-infused styles of the early 2000s making a steady comeback, donning a bedazzled T-shirt or velour zip-up may be more about nostalgia-fueled novelty than actual aesthetic appeal, particularly for those who lived through the trends’ origins.
As a new decade begins, the Gen-Z market is coming of age—and coming of spending power—just in time for their childhood to return through fashion. Together, Gen-Z and Millennial consumers represent around 0 billion of spending power in the United States alone. As of 2017, Gen-Z is the largest generation in the U.S. And brands are listening—aside from the eternally youthful fast fashion market, the first major brands to hop onto 2000s style were those catering to a cooler, younger market, such as Tom Ford and Versace.
For the first time ever, Gen-Z and young Millennials are witnessing the sartorial resurgence of trends that they started in the first place. Today’s new wave of influencers, models, and shoppers were the mall-crawling, Disney-watching, Pussycat Dolls-bumping kids of the early aughts. Although Bella Hadid’s first fashion memory probably isn’t prowling the local Limited Too, an entire generation of ‘00s kids now have the agency to relive the garments of their childhood. While ‘90s styles earned their staying power in young shoppers through their visual appeal, ‘00s trends carry deep personal memories for those who came of age around them. No longer confined to parental consent, family trips to the mall, or relatives’ credit cards, the now-financially independent 2000s kids are keeping these trends afloat.
With the turn of one decade, the newest and most powerful generation of shoppers are experiencing a recurrence of their own. And, also for the first time, they have the financial power to keep them around. Some industry elders are frantically trying to repress the hip huggers and whale tails of fashion’s past, begging for an answer: is Y2K fashion even cute? But to the Gen-Z 20-somethings, clipping their candy-colored barrettes and saving up for their second Juicy Couture tracksuit, the real question seems to be: who cares?
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