Y2K fashion has taken over. And Gen Z is loving it

by Ethan Kim
Y2K fashion

Y2K fashion has made a comeback and Gen Z is absolutely loving it. First, skinny jeans were declared dead, and now we’re witnessing the resurgence of cargo pants, halter tops, and baby tees.

Retailers unanimously agree that Gen Z is obsessed with the fashion trends of the early 2000s, which are now experiencing a surge in popularity. Young professionals and college interns are sporting wide-legged slacks at the office, while retro hair accessories like the claw clip are back in style. Mesh tops, miniskirts, and a variety of vibrant garments are making consumers look like they’ve stepped right out of a 2004 Disney Channel show.

The Y2K trend, fueled by social media platforms like TikTok, has resurfaced as people begin attending parties and going out after the lockdowns caused by the pandemic. What started with hair accessories and straight-leg jeans has now expanded to include all-denim outfits, cargo and flare pants, and anything that glimmers.

Casey Lewis, a trend analyst from New York, has observed numerous micro-trends emerging over the past few years, often labeled with the suffix “core.” She even created a newsletter to document these trends. Examples include “Barbiecore” and “mermaidcore,” which feature hot pink shades reminiscent of Mattel Inc.’s Barbie doll and sheer materials with ocean-inspired hues and sequins. Another trend is the “coastal granddaughter,” an updated version of the “coastal grandmother” trend that showcases oversized cardigans and linen sets.

According to Circana, a retail purchase tracker, women’s cargo pants sales increased by 81% from January to May. H&M, Zara, and other affordable fashion chains are reporting success with biker jackets, denim clothing, and crop tops. Shein, a Chinese fast-fashion retailer targeting young women, has experienced a tripling of sales for baby tees, making them the most popular t-shirt style in 2023. The company has also seen a significant rise in sales of flared pants, corset tops, metallic-colored clothing, and women’s track suits made of bright velour fabric reminiscent of Paris Hilton’s fashion choices during her heyday.

This fashion phenomenon is often referred to as the McBling era, overlapping with the Y2K trend but emphasizing flashier items exemplified by brands like Juicy Couture and Baby Phat, the iconic streetwear line created by TV personality and designer Kimora Lee Simmons, which relaunched in 2019.

Celebrities like model Bella Hadid play a crucial role in driving these trends, with fashion magazines and onlookers closely analyzing their outfit choices. Additionally, social media allows trends to directly bubble up from consumers, challenging retailers who are accustomed to setting the tone through runway shows.

Retailers such as Macy’s and Walmart are paying closer attention to what emerges on social media and analyzing popular search topics. However, distinguishing between trends that generate attention and those that result in actual purchases can be challenging, according to Jake Bjorseth, the founder of trndsttrs, an agency that helps companies reach young consumers.

Walmart, which is marketing Y2K-inspired cargo pants and Barbiecore, is expediting its development process to bring trends to market faster. The company is also monitoring influential figures like Alix Earle, who has collaborated with A-list celebrities including Selena Gomez.

Despite retailers catering to young consumers, many of them aren’t actually buying new items. Instead, they opt to wear items from each other’s closets, contributing to the growth of the resale market, which has tripled since 2020, according to research by Boston Consulting Group and Vestiare Collective, a French luxury resale site. While affordability is a primary factor, shoppers also embrace used items for their sustainability.

Yasmeen Bekhit, a 22-year-old graduate student in Manheim, Pennsylvania, frequently visits a local thrift shop and shops on resale platforms like Depop, which offers a wide range of Y2K-inspired options like baguette bags and baggy jeans. Bekhit gravitates toward loose, flowy pants, flare-legged jeans, and fitted shirts like mesh tops, which help her stay cool during the summer while wearing a hijab. She draws inspiration from former Disney Channel stars like Selena Gomez and Hilary Duff in terms of styling.

Popular TikTok influencer Aliyah Bah, known for her Y2K-inspired look called “Aliyahcore,” also serves as an inspiration for Bekhit. Aliyahcore is a slightly alternative style that often incorporates miniskirts or shorts paired with crop tops, fishnet stockings, and furry knee-high boots.

However, Bekhit usually looks up outfit ideas on social media and adds her own personal touch to them for her everyday style.

Retro hairstyles are also making a comeback. Tahlya Loveday, a master stylist at The Drawing Room New York Salon, has observed an increased interest in ’90s and Y2K trends, such as spiky updos, space buns, bouncy blow-dried looks, and block coloring, where different sections of hair are colored in contrasting shades. Gen Z clients are more enthusiastic about these looks compared to millennials, Loveday noted.

“For Gen Z, this is all new to them,” says Kristen Classi-Zummo from Circana. “They’re not reliving it; they’re experiencing it for the first time.”

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) about Y2K fashion

What is the Y2K fashion trend?

The Y2K fashion trend refers to the resurgence of fashion styles popularized in the early 2000s. It includes clothing items like cargo pants, halter tops, baby tees, wide-legged slacks, and accessories such as butterfly clips and claw clips.

Which generation is most interested in the Y2K fashion trend?

Gen Z, the generation born between the late 1990s and early 2010s, is particularly enthusiastic about the Y2K fashion trend. They are embracing these nostalgic styles and making them popular again.

How is social media influencing the Y2K fashion trend?

Platforms like TikTok have played a significant role in the resurgence of the Y2K fashion trend. Users share outfit inspiration, style tips, and showcase their own Y2K-inspired looks, influencing others and contributing to the trend’s popularity.

Are retailers actively promoting the Y2K fashion trend?

Yes, retailers ranging from high-end brands to discounters and fast fashion outlets are actively promoting and capitalizing on the Y2K fashion trend. They are incorporating Y2K-inspired styles in their campaigns and offering related clothing items on their shelves.

Is the resale market benefiting from the Y2K fashion trend?

Yes, the Y2K fashion trend has contributed to the growth of the resale market. Many consumers, especially young ones, are opting to buy used Y2K fashion items from thrift shops and resale platforms, both for affordability and sustainability reasons.

Who are some influencers driving the Y2K fashion trend?

Celebrities like Bella Hadid and TikTok influencers like Aliyah Bah, known for her “Aliyahcore” look, have played a role in popularizing the Y2K fashion trend. Their outfit choices and styling inspire others and generate interest in Y2K-inspired fashion.

What are some key elements of the Y2K fashion trend?

The Y2K fashion trend features a variety of elements, including wide-legged slacks, cargo pants, halter tops, baby tees, butterfly clips, claw clips, mesh tops, miniskirts, vibrant colors, and accessories with a nostalgic early 2000s vibe.

Is the Y2K fashion trend limited to clothing or does it extend to other areas?

While the Y2K fashion trend primarily focuses on clothing and accessories, it has also influenced hairstyles. Retro hairstyles from the ’90s and early 2000s, such as spiky updos, space buns, and block coloring, have become popular again among Gen Z.

How are retailers adapting to the Y2K fashion trend?

Retailers are paying closer attention to social media, analyzing popular search topics, and monitoring influential figures to keep up with the Y2K fashion trend. They are expediting their development process to bring trend-inspired items to market faster and cater to the demands of Gen Z consumers.

More about Y2K fashion

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Fashionista21 July 9, 2023 - 11:13 am

i’m lovin’ the y2k trend, it’s totally fire! cargo pants are back in action, and so are the biker jackets and crop tops. even shein is killin’ it with the baby tees. gonna get my hands on those flared pants and metallic-colored clothes. let’s embrace the McBling era!

TrendyGal July 9, 2023 - 3:27 pm

y2k fashion is making a comeback and gen z is obssesd. mesh tops, miniskirts, and colorful clothes are back in style, just like from those disney channel shows back in 2004. gonna shop for some wide-legged slacks to rock at the office!

FashionObsessed July 9, 2023 - 5:53 pm

yasss, y2k trend is everything! social media, especially tiktok, is bringing back all those iconic looks. butterfly clips, straight-leg jeans, and the cutest claw clips! gonna slay those Barbiecore and mermaidcore styles. can’t wait to see what else gen z brings back from the past!

TrendTracker July 10, 2023 - 1:43 am

y2k fashion is the latest craze, and it’s all thanks to gen z and their love for nostalgia. retailers like walmart and macy’s are tryna keep up with the trends, but it ain’t easy. they’re keeping an eye on social media influencers and jumpin’ on the bandwagon. will these trends stick around? time will tell!


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