By Lara Moamar
Warning: Eating disorders
Over the past few months, the fashion world has been branded with the headline ‘Y2K fashion is back’, officially heralded by magazines like Vogue and Harper’s Bazaar. The trend has arrived with a vengeance, populating everything from social media platforms, fast fashion brands, and high-end runways. Think baby tees, low-rise jeans, plaid miniskirts, butterfly print, anything bright pink and fluffy. Championing the trend are celebrities like Bella Hadid through her street style, Ariana Grande, who recreated Jenna’s iconic look in the early 2000s film 13 Going on 30, or Olivia Rodrigo’s music videos inspired by movies like Lizzie McGuire and Clueless.
But what’s caused this revival of early 2000s fashion? For some, experimenting with the bold fashion choices and the sparkly makeup looks of the era embrace self-expression. After spending so much of 2020 sitting inside, the outgoing nature of 00s fashion is strengthened by our current post-lockdown phase. We have a desire to make a statement.
Yet the trend is also strongly tied to a sense of nostalgia. The early 2000s were a transitional era situated just before mass consumption and our reliance on social media. Yearning for a pre-digitalised era, the aesthetic thrives from the use of VHS filters, film cameras, and video styles. It’s pretty safe to assume that the Y2K trend reflects a desire to disassociate from the modern developments of our time, and embrace a supposedly ‘simpler’ period.
Are we looking back at this era too idealistically? An integral part of the Y2K aesthetic was the glamorisation of the ‘heroin chic’ look – pale skin, thin bodies, dark under eyes. There was an obsession with the appearance of looking unhealthy, which can be linked to the evident spike in anorexic teenage girl patients from 2000 to 2009 in the UK. The bright colours and unique designs of the period were accompanied by the much darker reality of the fashion industry. These toxic beauty standards aren’t buried in the past. They breathe and thrive on platforms such as Instagram and Pinterest, where the search of the ‘Y2K’ tag unleashes endless images of white, skinny women.
The return of the Y2K fashion aesthetic is most duly credited to the resurgence of the trend on TikTok. Depop hauls, glittery makeup tutorials, butterfly print, and endless accessories – people on the app have embraced the trend wholeheartedly. But there is a marked difference in the present revival of the Y2K aesthetic: it strives for inclusivity. TikTok, as a platform, seems to encourage a greater sense of authenticity and self-expression which has opened up countless conversations on body acceptance and inclusivity. There is something particularly cathartic about seeing trends previously reserved for an exclusively ‘perfect’ minority being embraced in unique and diverse ways.
Creators such as Maria Castellanos and Denise Mercedes, who rose to fame posting joint videos wearing the same outfit for different body types, aid the rising movement of body diversity and self-confidence. Together, they demonstrate how trends aren’t a ‘one size fits all’, but should be customised and flexible for all body sizes and shapes. Y2K looks have also been welcomed in modest fashion, incorporating bright colours and fun prints in outfits, challenging our understanding of what we consider to be ‘mainstream’ fashion.
With its popularity continuing to rise, the Y2K aesthetic has shown how a fashion trend on TikTok can make seismic changes within the fashion industry. Whilst we shouldn’t ignore the fact that staple Y2K brands are profiting off of this wave, the increased demand has led to the prioritisation of a wider range of size options. The mass adoption of this single aesthetic has the influence to change what we represent to be the ‘norm’ in pop culture. However, if the fashion industry is to make lasting changes, it must embrace diversity for people working behind the scenes. The impact of this is already being proven by the young designers emerging today who prioritise aims of inclusivity and acceptance.
Over the past year, the catwalk has been flooded with recycled Y2K pieces and designs – Miu Miu mini skirts, and Versace butterfly print, to name a few. Seeing high-end designers perpetuate a trend generated on a largely teenage-based platform empowers people to continue making their voices and expectations heard. Though with slow progress, the changes advocated on social media are beginning to translate into reality, as seen by Versace’s assignment of their first-ever curve model, Precious Lee, to front their Spring 2021campaign. Although the Y2K trend comes with its pitfalls, it also signals the possibility of making concrete change that goes beyond velour tracksuits and sweater vests.
Illustration: Verity Laycock