It's funny how a trend sneaks up on you: slowly, then all at once. Or should I say, sneaks back up on you. I first noticed the return of the Y2K butterfly motif in 2018, thanks to Naeem Khan’s SS19 collection and one particular beaded cami that was far too reminiscent of Mariah Carey’s iconic '90s look and Naomi Campbell’s 1999 Versace butterfly dress to be a coincidence.
The trend has fluttered on and off catwalks ever since, from David Koma’s AW19 show where butterflies were picked out in intricate silver embroidery and architectural cut-out dresses, to Marc Jacobs’ SS20 exaggerated butterfly sunglasses. Also for AW19, Mary Katrantzou offered psychedelic space butterfly prints, while the following season saw Kim Shui's butterfly-embellished satin corset tops, pyjama trousers and ruched dresses in vivid shades of hot pink and electric blue, and MSGM's neon critters danced across boxy blazers.
Now it's almost impossible to avoid the winged creatures. TikTok teens are adorning their heads with halos of butterfly clips, makeup artists are painting wings on their eyes and everyone from Adut Akech to Bella Hadid is sporting butterfly filters left and right.
Though butterfly imagery predates our modern concept of fashion by several centuries, it remains an enduring symbol of new life, metamorphosis and positive change. Much like the cottagecore aesthetic, which revels in a romanticised pastoral life and a return to simpler living, the butterfly signifies freedom, hope and joy – a significant choice given the doom and gloom of 2020 and that many of us have been spending lockdown in urban sprawl. Throw a healthy dose of nostalgia into the mix – think bubblegum pop bright shades, school disco-ready diamanté, overly stylistic designs and exaggerated proportions – and you have the perfect symbol for summer 2020: a creature of youthful optimism and a trend that invites you to have fun dressing up.
A host of smaller, indie labels have been advocating for the return of the Y2K butterfly for some time now. Minga London’s butterfly-embroidered baby tees and mom jeans have made them a social media favourite, while Jaded London is well loved for its festival-appropriate catsuits and co-ords. Dolls Kill – a haven for all things Y2K – even stocks dELiA*s by Dolls Kill chunky platform loafers and sliders embossed with butterflies so fans can truly fulfil their early 2000s fantasy. On the high street, Urban Outfitters and Motel Rocks are eagerly playing catch-up, while Depop and eBay are heaving with secondhand options for a truly authentic look.
Ahead we’ve rounded up our favourite Y2K-inspired butterfly pieces. From kitsch winged jewellery to graphic butterfly denim, let this be your opportunity to inject some youthful fantasy into your wardrobe.