The week before my 12th birthday I begged my mum to get me a pair of flared jeans. I wanted them to be so baggy that I could crawl up inside one leg to get into them. So when my birthday arrived and I unwrapped a pair from my aunty – light-wash with contrast stitching, I remember them still – I couldn't wait to show them off. Jumping on the trampoline at my birthday party (so 2000s), I adored that they felt like mini parachutes.
The innocent excitement I felt over those trousers is a feeling I still miss, 15 years later. Or maybe what I’m longing for are simpler times, because the pandemic made us all grow up too fast. I was 24 when we first went into lockdown and almost 27 when we came out of it. I’d planned on those being my irresponsible (but formative) years before becoming a "proper" grown-up. That didn’t quite go to plan but it was only when I clocked myself leaving the house for work recently in parachute pants and a crop top that I wondered if my current fashion choices – and the still-burgeoning Y2K trend – were somehow a way to go back in time and recapture the moments I felt I’d missed out on.
For fashion lovers and historians out there, this sentiment is nothing new. Trend forecaster Agus Panzoni (aka @thealgorythm on TikTok) says that nostalgia has always informed trends. "Romanticising the past is as old as time. What’s different now is the availability of information, and the explosive nature of social media," says Panzoni. She describes social platforms as fashion encyclopaedias, while those with an eye for the archives (like Kim Russell, Mandy Lee and Panzoni herself) are increasingly becoming our tastemakers – especially since the pandemic drove us indoors and even more onto our phones. But why do we choose the trends that we do, specifically the ones that mimic younger versions of ourselves? Perhaps this idea of lost youth has more to do with it than we think.
Chances are you grew up being told – by friends, family and culture – that your 20s would be the best years of your life. Throw in a global pandemic and, even more than before, there’s this immense pressure to rekindle those missed adventures. To be honest, it leaves you feeling deflated. Now that precedented times have finally returned, we’re all overwhelmed by the amount of fun we need to have – except now we’re three years older and have to get our shit together. From memes about 2007 being the good old days to fond memories of sitting outside Costa with our friends and not a care or financial responsibility in the world, it’s not surprising we reminisce about the past.
Y2K fashion is our one-way ticket to those times. There’s something decidedly human about it as a trend – not algorithmic but childlike. Everything from Blumarine’s butterfly motifs to the powdery pastels that were ever-present in mainstream pop culture screams fifth birthday party circa 2001. And isn’t that why we love it?
That’s definitely the case for Mira Al-Momani, a content creator, stylist and Y2K fan known for delighting the internet by pairing pieces that shouldn’t work but do (think: an organza corset and knee-high socks). "I see it as a way to escape and go back to simpler times; a very privileged way to escape sometimes," says Al-Momani. Often finding herself drawn to very childlike, sparkly or bold objects like fluffy hats and motif hair clips, Al-Momani notes that "even just putting on a weird hat transforms you and takes you back to when you were running around playing fairies. And that appeal is there for everyone because we’ve all been young and had the same fantasies."
During the pandemic, Al-Momani realised she wanted her clothes to be fun and fulfilling rather than just something that would look great in a picture. She began embracing a style that reflected her personality and was filled with plenty of humour and, yes, plenty of Y2K ‘fits. One look at her graphic top featuring a growling John Cena and you can see that she’s found her niche.
Many of us will resonate with Al-Momani's reflections in a time where there’s this immense pressure to make all the life decisions. For a period of time, you see, our worlds became very small. Things that would have informed our developing identities, like first jobs, gigs, the BFFs you meet in a club bathroom, were no longer an option. It’s no wonder we’re all in our quarter-life crisis era. It's a period of collectively and urgently trying to figure things out.
The perfectionist in me really got stuck into this new era. I quit a good job, started working in an industry that genuinely interests me but isn’t necessarily stable and decided it was the right time to move in with my boyfriend. I even bleached my hair (the classic sign of an identity crisis). But throughout all the experimenting I’ve found what works for me, especially when that includes wearing too-big flared pants and flatform sandals that make me look like I've just walked out of an episode of Lizzie McGuire.
"After lockdown, I dress how I wish I could’ve when I was a kid, taking inspo from the Y2K pop punk era. Or I go for crazy fluffy hats and oversized, colourful, childlike clothing reminiscent of Jay Kay or early André 3000’s style," says London-based model, creative and podcaster Sheerah Ravindren. Fashion has always played a part in shaping their identity. "It’s a physical representation of who I am and how I want to be seen in this world," says Ravindren. Now nearing 30, they feel freaked out by the fear of still not being financially stable or solid in their career. "Being locked down for years added to that stress."
Ravindren’s reaction is to dial up the joy. Right now it’s not just fashion references that inform their style; it goes way beyond that. We’re talking about music (for them it’s Blink 182 and Avril Lavigne), magazines, icons, TV, pop culture and, ultimately, memories. The best thing about basing your style on the things you love is that the results are completely your own.
Recently during my nightly TikTok scroll I came across a video from Panzoni where she explored how '80s style, specifically metallics, is coming back – just another update in the currently frantic trend cycle, but enthralling nonetheless. I smiled at the thought of my mum experiencing the same wave of comforting nostalgia for this decade as I do for Y2K. Then it made me think: whether it’s the resurgence of cut-outs, Barbiecore or fairycore, all we can really hope for is that a trend makes us excited again. Just like those flared jeans did when I was younger.