You only have to scroll through Instagram these days and you’ll be inundated with outfit posts reminiscent of 2000s fashion: platform heels, graphic prints, baby tees, crochet, tiny handbags, flared trousers, denim.
This trend once excluded plus-size women, holding thinness in the highest esteem. The delightfully named 'heroin chic' look which rose to prominence in the early 1990s maintained its grip on women throughout the 2000s, from runways to red carpets, gossip mags to high fashion. Characterized by pale skin, a skinny body and angular bone structure, it's a look which still trickles over into today’s society.
Plus-size model Holly Marston, who loves experimenting with Y2K fashion in 2021, says that the '90s and 2000s were terrible for glamorizing the size zero look. "[It] created a complete lack of diversity in popular media for any other body type but this," she says. "This 'as thin as possible' trend still has extremely detrimental ripple effects on society today." Marston believes that the majority of women who face body image issues today do so because of media culture in the 2000s, which dissected and analyzed the bodies of celebrities.
Gen Zers and millennials who grew up in the 2000s know all too well the beauty ideals that were shoved in our faces. "Being skinny and blonde at the time was celebrated, seen as aspirational, and the media really scrutinized curvier women," celebrity stylist and fashion consultant Ryan Kay tells Refinery29. "Celebrities were often criticized and splashed on the cover of tabloids for possible weight gain, often labelled 'yo-yo' dieters." He cites Tyra Banks and Jessica Simpson as examples. "Because people were celebrated for being skinnier, this reflected in the trends – clothes were skimpier to show off our bodies, such as low-rise jeans and short plaid skirts."
Twenty-nine-year-old Sian Westley creates high-energy, Y2K-themed content for Instagram and TikTok and says that it must have been "really, really hard" for plus-size women in the 2000s. "I was affected by this and I was only 10 years old. Being a woman during this time must have felt soul-crushing." Even today she says it's hard to find clothes for plus-size women that fit and look good; back then it would have been hard to find anything that would fit at all. "Popular trends were solely focused on one particular body type. It wasn't inclusive at all." 2021 Sian lives a very different story: she wears Y2K fashion that accentuates her curves and recently created an Instagram Reel entitled "What I Wear If I Was A 2000s Pop Star" which racked up over 17,000 views.
Plus-size women are now reclaiming a trend that once excluded them by taking it in their own hands and adapting it to suit their figures. Long gone are thong-skimming, low-rise jeans and the rule that said crop tops could only be worn if you had washboard abs and a ballerina’s chest. In 2021, big-busted girls with curvaceous figures are owning the trend for themselves.
Isobel Greenfield, 22, from Warrington, is a full-time, plus-size fashion blogger who runs two Instagram accounts: her own, and one with her friend where they show similar styles on a size 10 and a size 22. Isobel was born in 1998 so doesn't have firsthand experience but she spoke to us about embracing 2000s trends in 2021. She recalls seeing the trends on shows like Lizzie McGuire as she grew up. "Not only was it trendy to wear low-rise EVERYTHING and crop tops, it was also trendy to be very, very slim and if you weren’t slim you probably would have never attempted to wear a crop top as these styles could emphasize your size. This probably resulted in lots of women feeling self-conscious and wanting to cover up more as there were never any fat women wearing these styles in films/magazines or the media."
Like Isobel, Manchester-based content creator Francesca Perks was raised in the golden age of Disney and lived for magazines like Girl Talk and Shout. "I would devour any magazine my parents would let me buy on the Sunday food shop and turn them into collages and put them on my bedroom wall. I would fantasize about slogan T-shirts and sequinned anything." The 23-year-old has amassed a following of 50,000 on Instagram where she states in her bio that fat and trendy aren’t mutually exclusive, proving that style has no size.
With Francesca following the Y2K fashion trend in a bid to show fellow curvy girls that they can wear it too, she can often be seen wearing flared trousers in graphic prints paired with crop tops and platform mules. Francesca has even proven that curvy figures can rock a short tennis skirt, too. Remembering her formative childhood years, she tells R29: "[The 2000s] certainly had a long-lasting effect on me confidence-wise, conscious or not. I didn’t see girls shaped like me on my screen. There was such bad representation that characters on TV shows [who] we deemed as the ‘chubby’ character simply were slim girls and women."
The same rings true for 29-year-old Maggie from Arizona. "As a chubby, awkward, elementary [primary] school kid in the early 2000s, I never felt like I could wear what was trendy. My older sister is very slim and was in high school and ROCKED the '90s/'00s looks. I was always envious but being so young and being bullied for my weight, I never thought I was allowed to partake in trends. Now, I am still the chubby, awkward human but I don't give a sh*t! I am wearing all the clothes I never thought I was allowed to and it feels empowering to take back the power and wear what little 10-year-old Maggie wanted to wear."
Wearing an abundance of Y2K-inspired looks, Maggie often sports graphic prints and bright colours on her Instagram page. "I think my favourite [outfit] was the pink and purple crop mesh top, baggy ripped jeans, hair in half twists and butterfly clips of course, and pink sunglasses. It was comfortable and I felt cool AF." But there is one 2000s trend Maggie will never succumb to. "I will never accept low-rise jeans. I will forever want my jeans touching my chin. No matter what the trends are, that will be a necessity for me."
Marston is probably the most popular plus-size Instagram influencer who wears Y2K-inspired fashion. The 22-year-old plus-size model, who has racked up 181,000 Instagram followers, loves that 2000s fashion has made it to 2021 as it is all about experimenting with bright colours, patterns and textures. "I like to style and create looks with these things in mind," she says. "So basically anything pink, fluffy or leopard print is my dream. I also love how it floats on the edge of being over the top and tacky as I always want to stand out with my sense of style as an act of defiance against a society that thinks I should hide my body away."
"Fashion is always on a loop and previous styles do make a comeback. The fashion might be the same but what has shifted is our mindset," Kay explains.
"Brands are taking 2000s trends such as platform heels, jeans, patterned denim, graphic prints and reworking them into patchwork-style dresses, crochet tops and bootleg jeans – all while catering to a more diverse size range, something we did not see in the 2000s. Brands know [that] to become more accessible they have to adapt, and that includes improving their size range."
Fingers crossed that the more Y2K styles that are available to plus-size people, the more fashion bloggers, Instagrammers and content creators like these are able to rewrite the gatekeeping rules of fashion's past.