The Impact of “the end of the world” on Fashion

We all knew the early 2000s would have a revival when it came to fashion. Thanks to the twenty-year trend cycle we were able to evaluate the best and the worst from the decade. It emerged first in 2020 and has remained in the spotlight since, something unusual with the current rate of trends. With social media, especially TikTok, trends are cycling through faster than ever. In the most extreme cases, a trend will barely last a couple of weeks. How did the y2k style stick?

The idea of the trend cycle was described by James Laver in his book Taste and Fashion published in 1937. What is now called Laver’s Law covers the public’s attitude towards a certain style over time. It follows a period of 150 years for the transformation of an article of clothing from “indecent” to “beautiful”. The phases can be generalized as the introduction, the rise, the peak, the decline, and then finally the outdated. 

Indecent10 years before its time
Shameless5 years before its time
Outré (daring)1 year before its time
Smart‘Current Fashion”
Dowdy1 year after its time
Hilarious10 years after its time
Ridiculous20 years after its time
Amusing30 years after its time
Quaint50 years after its time
Charming70 years after its time
Romantic100 years after its time
Beautiful150 years after its time
Data source:

How did 150 years turn to the twenty-year cycle we are familiar with today? Simply put, fast fashion and the glorification of consumerism. Even high fashion has not only spring/summer and fall/winter but the resort and pre-fall collections which in turn forces faster recycling of past trends. 

Fashion doesn’t necessarily go through all stages before coming back and taking inspiration from twenty years ago doesn’t seem so crazy considering the current speed of trends. 20/30 years after its time is described by Laver as “ridiculous” and “amusing”. These two descriptions given by Laver perfectly represent our relationship to early 2000’s fashion. It was ridiculous, but that’s what we now love about the decade. 

Let’s start with some definitions. What is now referred to as the y2k aesthetic is actually McBling. However, for consistency with the rest of the internet, I will continue to use y2k as an umbrella term for all styles that emerged during that time and Cyber y2k when speaking specifically of the 90s/’00s. Cyber y2k was the style leading up to the new millennium and was very much technology-inspired. Think metallic, spiky hair, and big headphones. “Y2k” was the shorthand name for the y2k bug (also known as the y2k panic). The panic was caused by the fear that as the clocks struck twelve of the new millennia, there would be a computer malfunction (bug) that would damage the world’s computer systems. Looking back, it seems completely unreasonable – we know nothing happened. 

Mcbling was popular from 2003 to 2008 although it wasn’t called that until 2016. The ‘90s/’00 cyber aesthetic fell out of style when the public craved an escape from the paranoia it was born out of. McBling was messy and bright. It was defined by juicy couture tracksuits and Louis Vuitton’s collaboration with contemporary artist Takashi Murakami. 

What was the y2k bug? 

The method of programming written between the 60s to 80s focused on saving space and money. For example, instead of 1999, the dates would be written in the two-digit format of 99. The y2k panic was a result of the belief that the double zero of 2000 would be misinterpreted and set dates to 1900. The idea caused panic, with many thinking anything computer-fueled would fail and basically cause the apocalypse. Banks were worried about the possibility of negative 100 years of interest in one day. It wasn’t just doomsday preppers who were afraid, the US alone spent $100 billion to prevent any errors. The solution? Extend the dates to four digits. 

That is one reason the y2k bug is now seen as a hoax or an end of the world cult, as it was used as proof of the end times and the second coming of Christ. The world didn’t end, Jesus didn’t rise, what followed instead was a decade of Nicole Richie and Paris Hilton on the simple life, maximalism, jeans with dresses, and as we look back with nostalgia: it was a simpler time. It reassures us that things will get better. 

Why are the 2000s specifically coming back?

The way we dress is a response to our experiences and self-expression. The most obvious example of a world event’s impact on fashion would be after the 9/11 tragedy when American patriotism was reflected through clothes. There is nothing more American than cowboys and country music. Cowboy boots, hats, big silver buckles, and American flag print made their way into fashion and while some aspects of the western cowboy style are back, we can credit the resurgence to Laver’s law rather than an intentional comeback. 

There is no way to deny how life changed forever after the attacks. In contrast to the y2k bug, it happened, and life continued as normal which reflects the way we would like to come out of the pandemic (obviously that is just a fantasy and I think it is safe to say if we hear “new normal” one more time we might just lose our minds). 

The reason why we’re talking about something so “irrelevant” in the scheme of world events is because we crave the simplicity of the situation. 

Cyber y2k became McBling, but we are seeing the opposite sequence now. McBling was over the top and served as a distraction while the Y2k style was born out of both fear and excitement for the future, which is a more self-expressionist mindset as we move forward post lockdown. 

We look back to the 2000s for inspiration as life begins to start again. It was the height of the celebrity party girl. Between the iconic awards shows and paparazzi photos of socialites and actresses found on the covers of magazines in the grocery store checkouts, there was an endless inspiration. Post lockdown people are looking to go out and make up for the lost time which set the stage for nostalgia and the subsequent adoption of the y2k aesthetic as an escape from a less-than-ideal reality.

The early 2000s came back as an aesthetic rather than a single trendy article of clothing. It is customizable to a range of people and with the rise of thrifting, it’s easily accessible. Unblended highlights and low-rise jeans came back into style and along with them came the energy of the early 2000s. It’s nostalgia for something many young people have not experienced. Gen Z grew up with the style surrounding us, but we didn’t fully experience it because we were children. Now we are living out the childhood fantasy post-pandemic. 

Pandemics impact on fashion:

Over the pandemic, fashion became much more casual; as seen through the rise of leisurewear (another y2k staple) which was perfectly acceptable because life took place on Zoom. Post pandemic is the rejection of the comfort that defined the clothes we wore during the lockdown in favor of over the top. We see transformation through the colors shown on the runways, bright fuchsias, greens, and deep blue preside over the more minimalistic color stories previously favored. Emphasis has shifted towards having a personal style as we confront the future and sustainability of our planet takes the lead. 

Where are we seeing the early 2000’s comeback?

The revival has been seen in recent fashion weeks such as Bottega Veneta’s spring 2022 show. It featured lots of sparkles, denim, and silver metallic fabric. All references to the early 2000s (see Britney Spears and Justin Timberlake in the jean dress).

Mugler showed more cutouts and asymmetric silhouettes, bright colors, chains, sheer paneling, and futuristic reflective fabrics that bring back the y2k technology-obsessed feel. Most obvious was the Miu Miu spring 2022 show which brought back the micro mini skirt: a staple throughout the decade. As Paris Hilton said, “skirts should be the size of a belt; life is short take risks.” There is nothing like a global pandemic to remind you of that.

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