Get In Loser, We’re Going Shopping: How Y2K fashion found its way back

by Khong Yawen, 22 April 2021

Crop tops, low-rise jeans and velvet tracksuits — the wardrobe essentials of any teen in the early 2000’s. No one could avoid not seeing those paparazzi pictures of celebrities wearing them to the grocery store or to the nightclub in the wee hours of the morning, or even their peers in school. But how did this portion of the 21st century that many have tried to leave behind, with great effort, suddenly pop back into our lives? What contributed to its revival?

To start with, let’s just rewind and dive into what Y2K is.

Fashion experts define the style of the 2000’s as the rise of fast fashion, a convergence of the late 90’s to early 2000’s, and when celebrities had a colossal impact on what’s trendy and what isn’t. Television shows and musicians were like a style guide — Sex and the City, Britney Spears (of course), Christina Aguilera. And how could we forget the princess of the 2000’s, reality star and heiress to the Hilton empire: Paris Hilton.

From Britney’s unforgettable head-to-toe denim ensemble with then-beau, Justin Timberlake, at the 2001 American Music Awards, to Carrie Bradshaw’s tube tops in Sex and the City and Paris’ dangerously low jeans with ultra-cropped tops, these women made themselves everlasting fashion influencers, even till now. Juicy Couture velvet tracksuits accompanied with shiny metallic blue eyeshadow and copious amounts of pink lip gloss was practically every girl’s uniform at the time.

Britney Spears and Justin Timberlake at the 2001 AMA’s
Paris Hilton wearing low-rise jeans on a night out

I’m a child of the early 2000’s and grew up in the age of fast technology. As I hit my teenage years, Tumblr and Pinterest were huge and I started to be intrigued. Skinny jeans, flannel shirts and neon necklaces would always appear on my Pinterest feed. Now, if you show a teenager pictures of what many would call “Tumblr fashion”, they’d just cringe. I mean, I would too. Everybody was trying to cancel out their past fashion mistakes, and so was I.

But I still wondered how this style suddenly re-emerged more than two decades later. How is Generation Z, the ones too young to understand then, becoming the fashion decision- makers now?

It is a fact that fashion is influenced by so many aspects — what’s trending on social media, cosmetics, pop culture and even politics. I’d say that the tail-end of 2019 was when Y2K started its descent into trendiness, thanks to social media. We know social media is powerful. Afterall, the internet is forever. Because of this, and how prominent Gen Z’s presence is on them, it’s honestly not that surprising. Plus, all they had to do was dig through their closets (or their parents’) and voila, they have a “brand new” clothing piece.

Tik Tok, a video-sharing app allowing users to upload 15 seconds to 1-minute videos, has been a driving force in this whole takeover. I suppose it was when many were at home, finding ways to cope with quarantine, when the idea of playing dress-up was most appealing. There was no one to judge you, right? People began to be nostalgic and obviously, fashion was something many would turn back to. Fashion-based content would range from style guides on how to dress like the icons from the 2000’s, or how to design your own bell-bottom jeans with a sewing machine. Style-conscious users help to feed into this trend, making fashion the fourth most popular category in the app. According to an article by Vogue, the hashtag #Y2KFashion has over 58 million hits, and it’s still growing.

The term, “fashion Tik Toker” has literally become a job title. Take Wisdom Kaye for example, a Houston-based Tik Tok creator focusing on fashion with his style challenges and look books. He posted his very first video in January of 2020 and now has more than 4 million followers, not to mention endorsements with major fashion houses like Dior. Crazy, right? Oh, and he just signed with IMG Models.

Tik Tok’s on Y2K fashion; styling and lookbooks

We know that this trend is more than just a phase. Major fashion brands have begun to incorporate the style of the 2000’s into their pieces too. Take Dior for starters, more specifically John Galliano’s pieces that have resurfaced. Being one of the pioneering British designers to take on the role as head designer in a French brand, his time in Dior from 1997 to 2011, and his designs has truly become his legacy. Many have equated his vision to that of Christian Dior himself, with his artful incorporation of pop culture and history. One of his most iconic is the Dior Saddle Bag, premiered at their Spring/Summer 2000 show. Inspired by a horse saddle, the bag was on the arm of just about every icon of the new millennium.

Sadly, the bag lost its “it” factor just around the corner of the mid-2000’s, due to Galliano’s poor choice of words and his swift removal from the House of Dior. With Raf Simons taking over in 2011, the bag seemingly fell into obsolescence, though they did make appearances on Beyoncé and K-pop star, CL, in the mid-2010’s. 2018 was a turning point for the Dior Saddle Bag, thanks to the great minds of Maria Grazia Chiuri reintroducing the bag in the Fall/Winter collection, and Kim Jones reinterpretation of the bag for men. Being the first female creative director, she brought the bag right back into style with the now-iconic Oblique logo and myriad of styles like denim patchwork and canvas, throwing in a crossbody strap that also came in various designs. Mr Jones, on the other hand, masterminded the Saddle Bag into other forms like belt bags and backpacks.

Popularity of this piece shows how powerful the Y2K movement is, helping the value of a bag that was once as low as $150, to reach as high as $35,000.

Paris Hilton carrying the original white Dior Saddle Bag in the 2000's
Mr Kim Jones took a spin on the bag, adding elements of industrial hardware
Fringe detailing on the revamped Dior Saddle Bag by Maria Grazia Chiuri

I know I gave in to the trend; cutting the bottom half of most of my shirts to the point I began to question whether it was even a shirt anymore. Oh, let’s not forget bustier tops and fortnightly check-ins with my mother to see if she had any clothes to give me from her wardrobe, in hopes of snagging a great throwback piece. I’m here for it, that’s for sure.

My personal favourite style symbol that has beautifully captured the Y2K movement with a modern twist is Bella Hadid; major supermodel, serving us equally major looks on the daily. Her Instagram is like every teens style guide with her slicked back hair, baby tees and baguette bags. And that perfectly zig-zag hair parting is giving me so much life, I’m looking into creating a petition to bring it back.

At the core of it, I think it is Generation Z’s boldness, their desire to not play by the rules and create distortion that is a great counterpart to this blast from the past and what makes it so lasting. Their take on fashion is truly refreshing and it’s no wonder why, even after a year, Y2K fashion is still ever prominent. It’s funny how it just keeps popping back just when you think it’s a thing of the past. Literally.

Crossing fingers and toes that skinny brows don’t come back though…

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Khong Yawen

Khong Yawen

Testing the waters of writing

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