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Rumours abound that Y2K trends, including low-rise jeans and corsets, are back on runways and social media. These trends may have scared millennials who were there (and still are), but they’re generating excitement among Gen Z, who look back at fashion from decades ago for inspiration.

We are living in the early aughts again. #Bennifer was trending earlier this season when Ben Affleck wore the bracelet Jennifer Lopez gave him during their high-profile romance in 2000s. Zendaya channeled Beyonce’s baby-face with a Versace vintage dress she wore to the 2003 BET Awards. Avril lavigne, meanwhile, joined TikTok in a tie and suspender combo that took us back to her “Sk8er Boi”.

The 2020s are a vantage point from which to view the turning of the millennium. Once viewed as an era of pop cultural disruption and the Internet boom, it is now a chapter that can be considered vintage. Dawnn Karen is a fashion psychologist and author of “Dress Your Best Life: How to use fashion psychology to take your look – and your life – to the next level”, says these fashion moments are indicative of a desire for change. The once-in-a lifetime pandemic, climate change and economic crisis, as well as extraordinary political and social disruptions, are all conspiring towards nostalgia for the better times.

woman with sunglasses standing outdoor during daytime

Karen says, “Right now we are trying to return to any decade.” “Considering all that we have experienced globally, and simultaneously, we are seeking a healthy form escapism.”

Social media gained momentum last year as Gen Z, who was quarantined, turned to TikTok to find vintage fashion and pop culture. Marian Park, a youth strategist with WGSN, the global trend-forecasting agency, says that Gen-Z discovered Y2K trends on TikTok, and that they have a nostalgia for youth fashion from the early2000s. She also said that forecasters were able detect the return to the early 2000s aesthetic around five years ago.

The early 2000s Hollywood party scene provided a glamorous backdrop for many fashion moments that have been associated with a recent chapter in history. The collective memory of this period is ingrained by Paris Hilton’s Juicy Couture velour tracksuits and Kim Kardashian’s Louis Vuitton Miroir bags. Kim Kardashian’s SKIMS capitalized last year on this memory by releasing its velour line in October. These numbers show that Hilton and Kardashian are not the only ones nostalgic about their past: According to Lyst (a global fashion search platform), Juicy Couture searches have increased 179% this year, compared to last year.

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SKIMS may be using the past of its founder Kardashian to sell new products. However, fashion lovers are still looking for originals. Gen Z’s talent for thrifting and upcycling has been a key factor in the return to early 2000s fashions. Tradesy, an online resale platform, reports that searches for Y2K related queries have increased in the last year. These include low rise (50%), baby tee (22,000%) and cargo pants (28%). Site has also seen the benefits of vintage resale, including an increase in revenues from the Prada nylon bag and Fendi Baguette over the past four years with a 30% and 16% respectively year-over-year growth.

Park says that Gen Z’s desire for thrifty fashion and savvy thrifting is driving the rise in the 2000s look. Park also states that a lot of the items available on resell sites and sought-after in secondhand shops are from this era.

It is also a time when archive fashion is in fashion, especially for items that date back to the beginning of the millenium. Bella Hadid wore a vintage Jean Paul Gaultier couture dress from 2002 to the 2021 Cannes Film Festival. Rihanna wore a vintage Dior slipdress from the 2002 collection of the house on the streets. TikTok’s archival fashion trend is taking off with users analysing styles from the 2000s using the hashtag #ArchivalFashion. Fans can see the designs of John Galliano’s early Dior and look at looks from shows like Sex and the City and Gossip Girl.

woman in green rompers squatting in middle of bridge

Lyst’s Content Director Bridget Mills Powell says that the 2000 aesthetic is no longer a niche but a big trend. She also mentioned that searches for Y2K on Lyst have increased by 450% over last year. This phenomenon she attributes to the slew of celebrities who wore archival clothing on the red carpet.

The Internet was in its early stages in 2000s. Instagram, Twitter, and Facebook had not yet disrupted the culture (or our attention spans). Online dominance was held by blogs, chat forums, and failed experiments like Friendster. The internet, in its early days, was second only to IRL. It was a refuge for all things niche and experimental. It would take years for anyone to become accustomed to the harassment, body shame, and general nastiness of online discourse. Trolling has become a part of modern life. Extremism and disinformation are rampant. It is possible to find comfort in using search terms such as “Kate Moss slipdress” or “Paris Hilton Bungalow 8”.

Today’s internet is giving second life to stories that were popular in the 2000s. Our collective consciousness has been influenced by the battle for Britney Spears’ conservatorship and the return Ben Affleck and Jennifer Lopez’s relationships. Park says that this has led to a new wave in fandom. This includes #Benniferstans and the #FreeBritney movement. Gen Z-ers are becoming more familiar with past news, and dressing up as it.

Fashion is not always cyclical. Lady Gaga’s shoulder pads and ’80s glamour were back in style not too long ago. But the rise of the 2000s is a clear example of how social and cultural forces infiltrate our minds and force Gen Z and millennials to dig into the Y2K vault during a global crisis. It is important to remember that nostalgia offers a temporary escape from reality.