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Y2K Fashion Adjusts to Gen Z’s Digital-First Shopping Behavior

Rivet’s 2021 winter issue has dropped! This in-depth issue examines the steps the global denim industry is taking to minimize its impact on the environment, from implementing zero waste production and design processes to establishing greenhouse gas emissions goals aligned with the Paris Agreement.

Though partying like it’s 1999 is not recommended by the CDC due to the rapid spread of the Delta variant, the mood in youth-oriented fashion this fall is overwhelmingly of the Y2K nature.

Along with being an aesthetic embraced by Gen Z tastemakers like Dua Lipa and Bella Hadid, this next stage in fashion’s obsession with the ’90s is, uniquely, being perpetuated by nostalgic pop culture influences that have reentered the zeitgeist, spanning boyband revival tours to headlines about Britney Spears and paparazzi photos of Bennifer 2.0.

In other words, the stars are aligned for Y2K’s comeback.

The catchy moniker has become the blanket term to describe the eclectic style (think bling, midriffs and chunky footwear) born from 1995 to 2004 and led by teen pop stars with a Disney pedigree, films like “Austin Powers: International Man of Mystery” and mall/catalog retailers like Wet Seal, Rave and Delia’s.

And it’s a theme being cosigned by the runway, according to a new report by retail analytics firm Edited.

“Y2K was an important story coming out of Spring 2021 fashion week, with tonal styling and micro tops key at designers like Givenchy and Versace,” Edited stated. “Across the Fall 2021 runway shows, Y2K seeped into the sexy dressing theme expressed via cutouts at Courrèges and chain detailing at GCDS. The decade was backed again for Pre-Spring 2022, cementing its longevity.”

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Gen Z retailers are moving quickly to capitalize on the newness that this near-nostalgic trend brings to their assortments. “Common phrases include ‘throwback Y2K-inspired denim’ from Urban Outfitters, ‘Y2K vibes for days’ from Madewell and ‘your Y2K wardrobe starts here’ from Asos,” Edited reported.

Urban Outfitters and Asos have the most products with Y2K in the description.Urban Outfitters, which didn’t reference Y2K at all in 2020, has already referenced the theme in more than a dozen emails this year.

Hair accessories, daisy-themed products and banana tops are among the Y2K items that retailers like Urban Outfitters, Weekday and Aéropostale are calling out. Bottoms, however, make up “the highest percentage of products characterized by the decade,” Edited stated. Flare silhouettes, low-rise jeans and cargo pants are distinct to the era, adding fuel to denim’s new cycle.

The Y2K renaissance is also giving brands synonymous with the era a platform to reintroduce themselves to consumers. Juicy Couture, the velour tracksuit maker that Y2K reality star Paris Hilton religiously wore, has found a new audience with Forever 21 and Urban Outfitter’s young fans. The brand partnered with fellow-throwback brand Kappa for a capsule collection last year, garnering the attention of young celebrities like Dua Lipa, Sofia Richie and Timothée Chalamet, who were photographed wearing its iconic hoodies.

Gen Z retailers like Asos and Urban Outfitters are moving quickly to capitalize on Y2K fashion trends.
Von Dutch hat Courtesy

Meanwhile, other brands that had a niche following during this time, like “The Jersey Shore”-approved Ed Hardy, Von Dutch (known for putting trucker hats on Y2K celebrities like Aston Kutcher and Justin Timberlake) and Paul Frank and its Julius the monkey character, are ripe for a comeback. The brands, Edited added, “emerge as stand-out third-party prospects, with little to no market backing at present.”

What’s next for Y2K

2021 will tee up several opportunities for brands and retailers to celebrate Y2K anniversaries and milestones, including the “Sex and the City” reboot, the 15th anniversary of the TV series “Gossip Girl” and the 10th anniversary of the “Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn, Part 2” which closed out the Team Edward and Team Jacob global sensation.

In terms of fashion, however, Edited sees opportunities for brands and retailers to introduce shorter hemlines and fitted silhouettes. “Lace trim detailing will provide a simple way to refresh basics with Y2K flair, while the cargo pant will be a key directional piece—as noted at Burberry and Stella McCartney,” Edited stated.

The theme will really blossom in accessories with chunky sole loafers and Mary Janes, sneakers and hiking boots leading youth-oriented footwear trends. Mini and baguette bags remain important buys, Edited added, while tinted and oversized sunglasses should be invested in over micro ’90s styles.