Is there more to fashion’s 00s obsession than meets the eye?

Written by Naomi May

Fashion has gone crazy for the 00s, but there’s more to the prevailing nostalgia than meets the surface. 

There was a moment during this year’s London Fashion Week where I convinced myself I may as well have been in 2003, so surrounded was I by low-waisted jeans and butterfly clips.

The show was Conner Ives, an American designer now making waves in the British fashion scene, and models walked as if they’d arrived directly through a 00s-timewarp with teeny-tiny skirts, and bandanas tied around their heads, or around their chests as handkerchief tops.

By now, fashion’s embrace of the 00s is as well-established as was the 90s resurgence. According to Depop, which has a largely Gen-Z customer base and is largely responsible for the renaissance of the era’s styles, searches for 00s paraphernalia are up by 27% compared to this time last year, with two of the era’s style staples – the corset top and cargo trousers – among the resale app’s most sought-after pieces.  

Connor Ives’ London Fashion Week debut in February was pure 00s nostalgia.

In an age of rising political uncertainty, soaring inflation and increased global crises, is fashion’s re-established love of the trends of yesteryear another way of subconsciously escaping today’s adversities? The 00s was largely a time pre-social media – Facebook was founded in 2004; a time of frivolity and fun – exemplified by one of the pioneering reality TV shows, The Simple Life, which debuted in 2003; and a time during which we, as a society, didn’t worship at the altar of technology. While fashion’s maxim that trends work in 20-year cycles certainly holds true, it seems that the nostalgia of the 00s has been lingering for longer than usual, particularly during a period of upheaval in society.

“In the same way that the seventies nods to a pre-digital age, the 00s are pre-social media and that brings with it a supposed innocence, which makes sense,” says Dr. Kate Strasdin, a fashion lecturer at Falmouth University. “The interest in fashion from years gone by erases the more recent, difficult years.”

Dr. Strasdin points to the robe-style dresses which gained popularity after the end of World War I, which were initially bought to the fashion fore in the 18th Century. “In the 1970s too, while the economy was bad, there was a spike in popularity of Victorian-inspired wares, which included whimsical pieces from Laura Ashley,” she adds. 

The 00s was a period during which The Simple Life’s Paris and Nicole became household names.

The power of nostalgia is another reason fashion psychologist and author of Big Dress Energy, Shakaila Forbes-Bell, believes that the 00s trend has sustained itself for so long. “Studies have shown that people are likely to take a trip down memory lane when feeling low or times are hard, as nostalgia has been proven to improve mood, and self-esteem and even make you feel physically warmer,” she explains. “Nostalgia can be evoked when we wear clothes from former and fonder eras, allowing us to physically embody this warm and fuzzy feeling.” 

Juicy Couture’s spring/summer 2022 campaign was practically lifted straight out of the 00s.

In 2019 Juicy Couture, the label revered by Britney, Lindsay, Paris et al, underwent a rebrand and has since established a further roster of famous fans. Other fashion fixtures of the early 00s, such as Ed Hardy, Miss Sixty and Von Dutch, are among Depop’s most searched labels in the last couple of months, with other brands scrambling to craft pieces, collections and campaigns inspired by the imagery and irony that defined the era.

Olivia Rodrigo has become Gen Z’s 00s pin-up girl.

It’s not just fashion either that’s channelling the arguably simpler years of the 00s either. Ariana Grande’s single Break Up With Your Girlfriend, I’m Bored sampled ’NSync’s It Makes Me Ill; Olivia Rodrigo released a Paramore-inspired single; and Travis Barker of Blink-182 has become one of the hot producers of the moment. The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air has been reimagined for 2022 in the form of Bel-Air, and viewing figures on old episodes of Top Of The Pops have spiked. It’s the era that popular culture just cannot get enough of.      

Emerging tentatively from a pandemic into a series of political catastrophes is enough of a reason for us to collectively seek solace in the breezier years of the 00s. The reason the period’s trends have prevailed is, according to Dr Strasdin, down to our “channelling your own happier identity” into our fashion, a logic that can be similarly applied across the board. 

Unsure how to dress this summer? Take your cues from the queens of the 00s, Destiny’s Child.

“During the pandemic, the fascination with the 70s and the cottagecore aesthetic was suggestive of an analogue, pre-globalisation period, during which we were learning to crochet and bake banana bread in order to escape from the reality of the situation,” Dr. Strasdin adds.

The pandemic, Forbes-Bell agrees, has played a big part in the staying power of the 00s. “The pandemic caused a shift in the way people viewed their clothes from “how does this make me look?” to “how does this make me feel?” As a result, we demanded more from our clothes to make us look and feel good, both physically and emotionally. Our style has become an easy tool to embody positive feelings like comfort and joy so it’s understandable that people would be drawn to clothes that remind them of a time when ‘life was good’,” she explains.

Perhaps once the pandemic is truly in the rearview mirror and laws that threaten women’s reproductive rights, politicians that abuse their positions of power and the climate crisis have all been remedied, we will see fashion begin to turn away from the 00s and towards the future instead. But for now, there’s an episode of The Simple Life waiting for you and there’s nothing like the escapism of a Juicy Couture tracksuit to lounge in while watching it.

Images: courtesy of Getty.

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