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Fashion Flashback: How “Friends” Became Gen Z’s Blueprint for ’90s Style

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Joey, Ross, Chandler, Phoebe, Monica and Rachel have been resurrected from the 1990s—literally and figuratively. The fictional “Friends” sextuplet that catapulted into pop culture fandom in 1994 are back in the spotlight with a reunion show on HBO Max that aims to satiate the public’s thirst for nostalgia, including the show’s era-defining fashion.

Fans’ continued interest in the sitcom revealed itself in 2019 when Netflix announced that all 236 “Friends” episodes were exiting the streaming platform, resulting in an outcry from millennial and Gen Z viewers who had either revisited the series, or in the case of Gen Z, begun watching it for the first time.

HBO Max picked up the show five months later, just in time to entertain and comfort viewers under extended periods of shelter-in-place orders. A survey conducted by CableTV.com in May 2020 found that “Friends” was the top show in the U.S. during the bleakest days of the pandemic. The sitcom was named the most popular series in 11 states, including seven of the 10 most populated ones.

Warner Bros. Consumer Products, the owner of the “Friends” brand, has cashed in on the show’s renewed popularity. The 2020 holiday season was flush with “Friends” merchandise, spanning oversized coffee mugs and advent calendars, to logo ringer baby tees and pajamas. The Friends Experience, an immersive exhibit that allows fans to step into re-created sets and tour original props and costumes, is now open in Chicago and New York City. Fans recently got a chance to book an overnight stay in the NYC exhibit for just $19.94—a nod to the show’s launch year.

Even Matthew Perry, who played Chandler Bing, is dabbling in “Friends” merch, for which he recently received backlash. Perry’s collection includes coronavirus-themed Ts that riffed on his catchphrase from the show, including one style with the question, “Could I BE any more vaccinated?” Perry was taken to task for profiting off a virus that has thus far killed 3.5 million people worldwide.

Beyond themed tees, the show’s influence on fashion is peaking. Social media accounts dedicated to the show and popular “Friends”-themed memes, including the now viral comparison between Balenciaga’s oversized parka and Joey Tribbiani’s layered look when he donned all of Chandler’s clothes, have only perpetuated awareness of the show’s style.

A recent report from Money.co.uk analyzed Google search data from the last 12 months to discover the TV shows that inspire fashion choices the most. Though “Friends” ended in 2004, Rachel Green nabbed the top spot as the character that inspires women’s wardrobes the most, with just under half a million people last year searching for tips on how to dress like Jennifer Aniston’s character.

In the same survey, “Friends” ranked the second most influential TV show for fashion, with 694,000 annual searches, bested only by the Gen Z-centric HBO drama, “Euphoria.”

Its plotline about troubled high schoolers may be lightyears away from the quirky storylines that made their way onto the “Friends” set, but the styling in “Euphoria” exemplifies how Gen Z is reinterpreting fashion trends born during the “Friends” era.

Though her character’s legacy is the “the Rachel,” a choppy layered hair cut that is seeing a revival, Aniston’s alter ego was also known for her girl-next-door wardrobe. Rachel-signatures like pleated miniskirts, trumpet sleeve tops, bellybutton-baring tees and nods to tomboy style like printed camp shirts, blazers, 501 jeans and denim overalls, are currently being worn by the young and influential cast of “Euphoria.”

“Friends,” in general, is a lesson in how to wear ’90s denim fits. While Joey, Chandler and Ross didn’t stray too far from the decade’s archetype of men’s jeans—relaxed and roomy, bleached or stonewashed—their female castmates sported both classic and novelty styles.

Shrunken jean jackets and slashed denim were go-to staples for Type A Monica, while Phoebe, the show’s resident eclectic bohemian, gravitated toward embroidered jeans and denim vests. Both items have gained traction in the last year as consumers shop for denim with handcrafted qualities and utilitarian designs.

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