As the saying goes, “everything old is new again.” In this case, I don’t mean anything highly antiquated, but rather the swift and sweeping return of Y2K fashion in the recent year. Beaded chokers, bright colors and ironically bedazzled denim has made its way back to our closets and our hearts… well, potentially. Though it’s normal for fashion trends to change as a reflection of celebrity culture and social media influencers, this return to Y2K can be even further linked to something more psychological. As a result of the turbulence and uncertainty of the past year, perhaps this return is instead a yearning for comfort, color and self-expression.
Y2K fashion usually gets a bad reputation. Granted, the gaudy jewelry and patterned clothes can be judged justifiably. However, it seems as though this return to beads and low-rise jeans has been done in a way that incorporates the more socially acceptable aspects of this otherwise outdated fashion trend. With boutique brands populating the new Instagram shop feature, it certainly did not take long for the next wave of millennial, “zillenial” and Generation-Z fashion to feel like a wardrobe manifestation of Paris Hilton’s chaotic energy. For example, a primarily Instagram-central boutique, Colorful Natalie, utilizes Instagram influencers to broadcast their colorful tops, mini skirts and funky-patterned jeans. Phone chains, Martha Calvo chokers and “That’s Hot” crop tops aside, there is something really interesting about the return to Y2K that is worth exploring.
It has been shown that what we wear is often linked to more significant psychological notions about what we think or feel and the ways in which we want to present ourselves to the world. Beyond the stereotypes of an all-black wearing emo angsty teen, even something as simple as wearing jeans instead of sweatpants one day can represent something about someone’s mood, mental state or even their hopes for the day.
Scientists and psychologists have referred to this phenomenon as “enclothed cognition,” or the way in which clothing affects how and what we think. This theory has been applied to wearing more comfortable clothing in times of duress or wearing something slightly uncomfortable when you are set to take a big exam. Further, the choices we make almost always point to something psychologically representative about who we are, with exemptions including mandatory uniforms. Our appearance is the first thing we show to those we encounter. More often than not, what we choose to wear means more than we may even realize.
Digging deeper, we can look back to the time in history that we now call Y2K. Y2K, or Year 2000, refers to a controversial computer bug that was anticipated upon the year changing from 1999 to 2000. There was significant fear that this change in the two-digit code would lead to major glitches in systems from home computers to government systems. Computer programmers and conspiracy theorists alike took this potential for disaster and ran with it. Some people thought the world was ending, while others were worried about losing data on their computers.
There is still debate today about whether this was all merely an overhyped hoax or whether the world did end in 1999 and we are now merely bots of some sort of simulation (I tend to side with the former, although 2020 was a bit reminiscent of an apocalyptic movie). It is quite funny that when I hear Y2K today, I picture bright pink sweater vests instead of a national Armageddon. Nonetheless, this panic makes a case in parallel with why Y2K fashion is making its grand return is not only timely but psychologically driven.
Here in 2021, it is undeniable that we have collectively, for lack of a better phrase, been through it. Through the pandemic and the additional drove of political and societal mayhem, it seems peculiar to see people sporting such bright, eclectic clothing styles. Maybe this is indicative of an innate desire to incorporate more positive energy into a time that craves optimism; maybe it is a way for people to more boldly show who they are to those they meet, even if it is within the confines of a Zoom screen or with a mask covering half of their face.
To me, it feels reminiscent of the phenomenon where when one sense fails or weakens, another grows stronger in its absence. Because of our inability to present ourselves as effectively as we once did through facial expressions and in-person communication, we wear more diverse clothing; we wear our personalities like a bedazzled “here’s who I am!” on our sleeves.
Ultimately, there is no real way to know why this return to baby tees and bucket hats happened, but I encourage you to ask yourself why you choose the clothing you do. Wear things that make you feel like you; wear what you find not just comfortable in a conventional, non-itchy sense, but in an emanate-confidence sense.
Also, if we’re back in Y2K, does that mean Juicy Couture tracksuits are acceptable for gameday? Asking for a friend.
Jess D’Agostino is an Opinion Columnist and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.