The Problem With Fashion's Y2k Fashion Revival

Bucket hats, animal prints, trucker hats and bejewelled belly rings — the ’00s have made a raucous return to fashion. And it’s not just the inspired styles that never should’ve been left behind that have resurfaced on our radars, but the more questionable trends, too.

In fact, just perusing what today’s stylish celebrities are wearing, it seems the more outlandish elements of the era are the ones making more of a splash — think pin tops, chain belts and itty bitty mini skirts.

And though for many of us, the fashion of that era isn’t exactly something we’d like drudged up, it comes with certain advantages that we wholeheartedly welcome. With minimalism and laidback Scandi-style reigning in fashion for so long, the ’00s revival saw a change in how we thrift.

Where we were once clamouring to get our hands on crisp button-down shirts and leaving everything else to collect dust, the collective shift in how we now view long lost items like low-rise pants and halterneck tops meant that the mountains of discarded fashions from that bygone era were given a stylish rewrite. Suddenly, the stock at charity shops was opened up in a major way to all, offering up pre-loved items at affordable prices and saving many a bedazzled t-shirt from an untimely throw.

But what happens when the very trends that begin gaining popularity bode well for fast fashion retailers? Naturally, the other shoe drops.

From barely-there bottoms to stringy tops, the fashions styles of the 2000s that have found their way back into the trend cycle are uniquely easy to make. And unlike the ‘90s trend that put a focus on sturdy denim and timeless classics made just right, Y2k fashion is a bit of a free-for-all where quality isn’t always a major focus.

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One place that has seen these trends take off is TikTok — a place filled with nostalgia fashion where the hashtags #Y2kAesthetic and #Y2kFashion boast a collective 500 million views. From vintage Versace and Jean Paul Gaultier to the controversial rebirth of Ed Hardy, the app’s fashion sector has had considerable influence over the luxury resale market, with niche brands like Save The Queen making a return and up-and-coming designers boasting a similar aesthetic shooting to fame at a rapid rate.

But though the secondhand marketplace has boomed, with businesses like Vestiaire Collective, Depop and ThredUp reporting record-breaking sales and unprecedented growth during a time when retail as we knew it was dying, it’s not the end of the story. The issue with circular fashion becoming a trend is that the pace provides gaps for businesses to make a pretty penny. After all, not everyone has the time, energy or funds to hunt down authentic vintage pieces or shop from ethical sources. So while we’re all competing for the same cutout dresses and platform thongs, there’s ample room for fast fashion brands to jump onto the bandwagon and try to meet the demand while it’s on a high.

Now, if you thought fast fashion was facing a reckoning, you’re not alone. With more and more reports exposing the disturbing underbelly of these manufacturers, plagued by unsafe working conditions, pitiful wages from billion-dollar companies, pollution, waste and copious water usage, fast fashion has garnered a bad rap — and it seemed like the rise in conscious consumers was really spurring a change. H&M announced closures of hundreds of retail stores and made strides towards upping their eco game, U.S chain Forever21 filed for bankruptcy and has since shut down, and yet, there is substantial growth.

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Fast fashion sales continue to soar, valued at over $2 billion USD in recent years with expected growth of 6.3% this year. And it’s hard not to link this growth to the outpouring of trends from the 2000s. Peruse the pages of these retailers and the Y2k nostalgia theme is pretty hard to miss.

Of course, it can be chalked down to the pandemic. Last year, as many found themselves stood down from employment or hesitant to spend their money during increasingly turbulent times, fast fashion giant Boohoo saw sales sky-rocket by 45% between February and August 2020, with the number of customers rising by around a third, to 17.4 million. But these clothes aren’t made to last or have any kind of timeless appeal. And beyond their sartorial longevity, they’re often poorly crafted, unravelling after one wash or coming apart after just a few wears. Unlike quality items you don’t have the need for anymore, you can’t really resell a frayed top you purchased for £5 — although many try.

And not to rain down too harshly on the Y2k parade, but let’s face it, the fashion of that era was hardly known for its long-term functional purposes. Chain belts? Satin? Rhinestones? Mesh everything? The aesthetic allows for non-sustainable materials to shine (sometimes, literally). Not to mention these items are a logistical nightmare when trying to enjoy a night out on a windy evening.

Now, it’s not to say that all fast fashion is evil and we should work to shut them down. Not at all. For many, their reasons for shopping fast fashion come down to accessibility. The mind-blowingly low prices that these fast-fashion retailers are able to offer means that lower-income consumers can engage with fashion. And, unfortunately, a lot of slow fashion brands have difficulty accommodating inclusive sizing where fast fashion brands are able to produce them en masse. But while they do cater to the masses, to say that these brands are motivated by inclusivity would be giving them far too much credit.

Ok, so what do we do about it?

It’s not always realistic to swear off fast fashion. That said, if you have other options, it’s always best to put your money towards slower and circular fashion. Or even just limiting how much fast fashion you’re consuming rather than giving it up cold turkey. It’s absolutely okay to succumb to trends and embrace the ‘It’ items of the moment — we do it all the time! But, as always, try to stay conscious of your footprint. There are ways to consume fast fashion in an ethical way, it’s just about taking a step back and looking at our sartorial choices with the bigger picture in mind.

And, just as these Y2k trends are easy for fast fashion retailers to recreate, some styles are also ridiculously easy to DIY yourself if you’re feeling game.

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