Why Gen Z is Bringing Back Y2K in a Major Way?

Why Gen Z is Bringing Back Y2K in a Major Way?

30.11.2021 Off By manager_1

woman standing near pink concrete wall during daytime

Do you remember 2019, when Hailey Bieber walked the Met Gala red carpet in a baby-pink, backless dress. The top of a pink satin ribbon g-string was visible when she turned around. The whale tail was back.

While this wasn’t the first time late-’90s, early-aughts fashion had been resurrected (two years prior, Kendall Jenner donned a slinky silver dress which paid homage to Paris Hilton in 2002), it was one of the first instances of the Y2K fashion resurgence–convincing us all the fashion cycle had completed a full rotation. Although Ugg boots have not really disappeared, there are some staples from the early 2000s. They’re still worn with pleated skirts and layered Polo shirts. A peek-a-boo Thong, which is similar to razor-thin eyebrows or glittery pastel eyeshadow, was a step above.

The Y2K revival has returned to full force two years later. Companies like ColourPop and BH Cosmetics have dropped turn-of-the-millennium-themed makeup collections, and you can’t throw a claw clip without hitting a TikTok on aughts outfit inspiration. The trend is being driven by Gen Z-ers, defined as those born after 1996 and younger by Pew Research. Why? We decided to dig deeper into the history of the neon-hued, frosted era with the assistance of some experts.

What Y2K?

It was around the same time that the Gen Z-ers driving its revival, and it spanned from the end of the 1990s to the beginning of 2010. Fashion historians and TikTokers both understand Y2K as it applies to everything, from the shiny Matrix-inspired fabrics to Tina Knowles’ high-cropped designs for Destiny’s Child. Excess was the one consistent thread in this era.

Much like its resurgent counterparts, the original Y2K emerged as a little pendulum swing. The 2008 recession resulted in minimalism in 2010s and, in counter-response to that, 2020s flourishing maximalism. A recession in the 1990s was all about simplicity. Colleen Hill is the Museum of FIT’s curator of Costume and Accessories. Although deconstruction and grunge were different in style from minimalism, the fundamental premise behind them all was the same: They were reactions to 1980’s excess. Hill cites Hill’s provocative statement that luxury began to return in the mid-1990s. He also cites Alexander McQueen’s “bumster” trousers (aka low-rise pants) and Tom Ford’s sexy minimalism at Gucci. “That was the foundation for the Y2K fashion.”

Hill gives a few clues as to what Y2K fashion looks like. The use of bright colors, particularly pastels. All types of embellishments, including feathers and rhinestones. A lot of experimentation was done with silhouettes and layering. For example, you could wear skirts or dresses with jeans or a crop top and a long cardigan with jeans.

The revival of Y2K fashion is expected to take place in the 2020s. TikTokers will reveal what they would wear if a pop star of the 2000s, as well as Y2K-inspired outfits that they would wear if that was the case. These outfits are meant to conjure up the era more so than replicate it. Beauty, perhaps fortunately, almost exclusively draws from Y2K colors palettes and eschews the traditional techniques. The average person didn’t know much about contouring or highlighting in the 2000s. They also only did a minimal amount of brow filling if their eyebrows were very thin. Today’s Y2K-inspired beauty looks are based in a post-Kardashian world where highlighting the face and grooming brows is a must.

Experts seem to agree that the reason for the revival is a combination of nostalgia, technology advancements, and social media.

Today’s Y2K-inspired beauty looks are available in a postKardashian world. Highlighter and perfect brow grooming are essential.


Merriam-Webster defines nostalgia as “a longing or intensely sentimental yearning to return to or of a past period or condition.” This is something that we can all relate too. It was a psychological disorder that affected soldiers and refugees in the 18th and 19th centuries. They felt homesickness for not only the place they had left but also the time before. In the 19th century, nostalgia was a major driving force behind Romanticism. Fiction and art harkened back at a simplified version of the past, which seemed much simpler than the present.”

In the 20th century nostalgia was again a powerful commercial force. Happy Days was the dominant television program in the 1970s. Meanwhile, movies like American Graffiti or Grease were shown on silver screens. This capitalized on a romantic yearning for a time–the 50s–that felt less turbulent than the 20 years that they had just experienced (years marked by civil rights movement, second-wave feminism, and Vietnam War). Clare Varga (head of beauty at WGSN), says that consumers look to the past for comfort in turbulent times.

Fashion historians refer to this nostalgia in terms of garments and trends. Hill says that “20 years” often allows past styles to look new and interesting again.

After a pandemic, half a century of deep-rooted racial injustices, and the looming climate crises with renewed urgency, it feels very appropriate that the 20-year cycle dictates that the late 2010s to early 2020s be influenced heavily by the maximalist excesses of the late 1990s & early 2000s. Varga says that the fast pace of modern living and the emotional and social strains from the pandemic have significantly shifted consumer preferences towards nostalgia-based escapism. “The global turmoil and pandemic of the past two years has shifted consumer’s needs towards escapism, and products that remind them of happier, more carefree times as well as their friends and loved ones.”

Youtuber Joyce Seguya Lwanga, a Gen Zer who produced videos outlining the Y2K aesthetics and McBling, says that “I would think that nostalgia is a pretty large force behind the resurgence of Y2K.” “Considering our world, I believe people desire a form of escape. Many people participating in the trend either experienced the early 2000s, or wish they had.”

The global turmoil and pandemic of the past two years has shifted consumer preferences towards escapism, as well as products that remind them of happier, more carefree times.

Social Media & Technology

It’s not nostalgia, or a fashion cycle that arrives on time that is driving the resurgence in the Y2K aesthetic. Since the Bush Administration, the world has seen a lot of change. One of those changes is the rapid advancement of technology. This technology has also influenced the general demand for quicker fashion.

Mina Le, a Gen Z YouTuber, notes that social media has allowed trends to travel faster and wider. One, young people are more likely to be exposed to new trends quickly than ever before. Two, the internet’s archiving capabilities mean that we have more resources. It is easy to go back and locate photos of Paris Hilton in 2001 or Lindsey Lohan 2005. It’s also possible to find photos of their fashion choices and runway shows on Instagram and blogs. This makes it easier for Gen Z to create mood boards and look for similar pieces in their closets.

Gen Z’s view of Y2K has been shaped by this access to information, and the ability to communicate with each other to share it. A significant proportion of Gen Z, 95 percent of 13-17-year-olds had access to a smartphone in 2018. It is the largest ethnically diverse generation in American History and most identify as left-leaning or left-leaning politically. Take all this together and you will see a group that isn’t just looking for ‘fits’ in the 2000s, but also seeking to expose some of the era’s injustices. This is especially true for artists of color, who were largely responsible for many of these trends but were dismissed or ignored at the time.

Sseguya-Lwanga says, “I believe that now we’re more conscious of how many marginalized group were at the forefront for many trends and aesthetics.” “I think about how Black women influenced many trends, and how they were viewed as ghetto until it became mainstream. Gwen Stefani, Harajuku Girls and the Japanese gyaru subculture had a significant influence.”

Sseguya-Lwanga believes the modern approach to Y2K approaches topics like appropriation more nuanced, but Le points out that there is still much to be done. She says, “What I have seen online… is that Gen Z Y2K clothing is extremely whitewashed.” There were many prominent Black celebrities back then who were very inspirational in fashion, such as Missy Elliot and Kimora Lee Simmons. However, most mood boards are of Paris Hilton or Regina George from Mean Girls.

Le says, “It mostly boils down to people not understanding the history of those trends, which is important because Black artists have pioneered many avenues within our mainstream culture but rarely get the credit for them.” It’s important to remember that nameplate necklaces were created in Black hip-hop long before they reached Carrie Bradshaw.

Our cultural relationship with time has been shaped by rapid technological advances, including social media. Simply put, we expect more and faster. This applies to our clothes and makeup. It’s not surprising that designers tend to look at the last major thing when designing the next big thing. Hill says that designers are required to work at a rapid pace. Hill estimates that many of them will produce six to eight collections per year. Hill says that designers have limited space to create new collections each year, making nostalgic designs more important.

Miranda Priestley pointed out in “The Devil Wears Prada” that what begins on the runway will end in a bargain shop. Or, in 2021 among the thousands of choices users can browse on cheap ecommerce sites. Le says that you’ll see a lot of fast fashion sites creating nearly identical pieces to those made back then, such as the Emanuel Ungaro Butterfly top made famous by Mariah Carey. This is in order to capitalize on the Y2K trend.

Is Nostalgic Fashion Going to Last?

Although our feeds are filled with vintage Olson Twins and microminis, Hill and Le stressed the importance of  understating the popularity of the trend.

Hill says that trends don’t happen in neat, based on the calendar. It’s important not to get too attached to the idea of a 20-year cycle. Many styles and references can coexist in modern fashion. We still see many 1990s fashions in addition to major revivals of 1960s or 1970s designs. One could argue that the VSCO girl is just as dependent on the 1960s counterculture movement than she is Julie James and Helen Shivers. Many of the TikToks showcasing Y2K beauty trend are just one entry in a series that will also include other decades or aesthetics such as cottagecore.

Both Le and Sseguya-Lwanga note that social media is the only thing that can perpetuate a trend. Le says that social media has created an oversaturation in trends. “People are tired of seeing the same clothes on every platform. Social media gives the illusion that these trends exist everywhere. But, in reality, this is just the fashion bloggers who are creating the content. It is definitely depressing for our environment.”

The others aren’t the only ones to notice this. Hill also notes that “some theorists have also suggested that the pace fashion has been so accelerated that it’s now on to a 10 year cycle,” which is consistent with Le’s feed. You’ll see that we are already moving into the late 2000s with Twilight-core shirts and Abercrombie shirts returning if you visit Tiktok.

However, this doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t all be wearing graphic shirts or covering up our crop tops in them. You can take fashion inspiration from different eras or mix and match, but don’t feel tied to any particular fashion cycle. Says Hill: “What I love most about this fashion pluralism is that it allows everyone the freedom to choose a style that suits them.”