I’m not sure if you’ve heard, but millenials are aging. It’s something that those of us born between 1981-1996 are reminded of around every corner of the internet. “If you remember this [insert photo of an early 2000s Disney show], it’s time to buy retinol,” says every other meme. On Twitter, the nostalgia that 30-somethings have for their youth runs so deep that you can post a picture of a flip phone with the caption “retweet if you remember this” and go viral.
There’s also a daily reminder coming from the fashion industry. The Y2K trends are being picked up and regurgitated by the generation just below us, prompting dozens of social media posts to remind younger people of who they are emulating. A slew of TikTok videos where a millennial creator begs Gen Z not to take their skinny jeans and middle parts away have gone viral both for being accurate and for being kind of corny. Then, of course, there are some people begging for certain styles to remain in the past (I can’t count the number of times I’ve seen people complain about low-rise jeans). At some point, though, it’s all become ridiculous.
Yes, we are getting older. Yes, people younger than us are cosplaying the pop stars whose photos once hung above our childhood twin-size mattresses. And sure, there are a few loud voices longing to be recognized for their contributions to the going-out top trend, but I think most of us find the homage to the styles of our past sort of... redeeming. It’s fun to know that the outfit I begged my mom to let me wear in 6th grade is now being worn by models like Bella Hadid. It looks good on her!
The problem we should be talking about is not how it’s aging us, but how the industry has driven it all to come back so fast, forceful, and most upsettingly, new.
Right now, we are in the depths of fashion week, with every brand catching up from a year of uncertainty and inserting an enormous amount of garments into the market. Of course, it's easy to see the through-line in the collections: bubble skirts at Prabal Gurung, drawstrings at Stella McCartney, boot-cut pants and camisoles at Jacquemus, graphic t-shirts at R13, and reissues of iconic bags at Coach and Louis Vuitton. On the red carpets like VMAs, celebrities wore spaghetti strap dresses, flared pants, and every Y2K look in between.
This isn't simply something that impacts luxury, though, it's rippling throughout the market. When you go to Fashion Nova’s or Forever21’s homepages, you’ll find stringy tops and mini skirts reminiscent of the outfits Paris Hilton and Britney Spears used to wear, selling for as low as $5. It’s a glaring illustration of how quickly the industry is willing to bring something old back as new to sell more clothing. According to shopping search engine Lyst’s most recent data, “going out” clothing, crop tops and logos are some of the top searched items — all things repopularized by the Y2K surge. Some people are certainly buying these trends from resale apps like Depop or Poshmark, but a huge portion are looking to fast fashion brands that are making the styles new and cheap just to be in on it.
The problem is that those butterfly sleeve tops and flares were still being circulated less than 20 years ago, some closer to 10. In that time, the volume of textile waste that ended up in landfills doubled at twice the volume of the 20 years prior, according to the EPA. How many of those styles currently being produced again are sitting in a landfill, or unsold in a second-hand market warehouse somewhere around the world? It’s emblematic of how our reliance on trends and the quickening of that cycle has led to a fashion waste crisis and contributed to our attitudes about clothing being disposable. Any perceived war about what can and can’t come back is truly just a distraction from the fact that in the grand scheme of things, we just allowed ourselves to get rid of our cargo pants and halter tops.
The tendency to get protective of a style you help popularize is normal, but my point is that the villain of our trend wars is not one another. There is a lesson here about the way we look at our closets. Don’t let a runway or an ad tell you that what you like is out of style. Wear what makes you feel good, love your clothing, and when the next cycle comes around, your wardrobe will be ready for it.