Exploring the history of Y2K fashion

Exploring the history of Y2K fashion

With Y2K and 2000s fashion trending again, we need to critically examine where it came from.



what's up!

I am Astrid Flenn an artist and writer talking about early 2000s fashion, what it meant to black girls, and what it means today for cult classic magazines. This all started with a discussion about what early 2000s fashion looked like, and why all over social media including Pinterest Tiktok Twitter Instagram early 2000's nostalgic content reigns supreme it informs fashion trends hair styling trends, beauty trends think about colleen Estrada doing a recent nostalgic early 2000s collection or you can take a look at glen martin's diesel, if you want some examples of the 2000s rising in popularity and resurging for the fact that the resale and vintage market is increasing year over year in popularity and profit and that the fast fashion market is largely inspired by early 2000s fashion I think it's important to take a look back at the history of fashion in the united states, especially with the target on the early 2000s.

So let's get into it, the 2000s were informed by what was happening at cold in the culture at large so sync y2k technology, boom we're moving into this computerized futuristic world so you'll see a lot of chrome and chrome-based colors and shiny things metals techwear spyware hacker style fashion, but as well when we move later into the 2000s there is a massive view in conservatism in the united states after the 9 11 attacks which informed the extreme subcultures of the 2000s, as did the increase in fashion technology and globalization which informed the fast fashion model so after 9 11 in the united states you did see some solemn collection, so this pushed a shift back into American traditional conservative minimal values in fashion on the high fashion runway for some designers but it also pushed preppy Americana fashion into the early 2000s Abercrombie and Hollister rose in popularity.


So massively popularizing conservative, traditional values of preppiness and exclusivity during a time when it felt insensitive to be super happy.

It didn't feel insensitive to be super happy to be American, so a huge aspect of prep culture in the early 2000s was relying on like whiteness exclusivity income level, and buying 30-dollar collard t-shirts as status symbols, so again because of globalization and the faster production of fashion, we saw a lot of inspiration from different cultures globally but this fashion transformation toward globalization and global inclusivity did not necessarily mean that we had more inclusive domestic or global policy while there was a rise in preppy Americanized fashion.

There was also a rise in criminalizing black fashion in the united states governments in different states in the united states, were trying to pass laws against black people sagging called sagging laws, which just referred to criminalizing black people for existing, and fashion is usually ahead of the progress that we end up making as a society, it's like a hopeful look at what could be but I think before we get into all that it's important to talk about how trends even made it to the public at the time, so even though the early 2000s brought about fast fashion the way that we know it today fast fashion in the early 2000s was still much slower than it is in the 2020s.

Now you can log on to Instagram Twitter Tiktok learn about a new trend participate in it the same day by ordering on your phone that you just watched the video on within seconds and have it delivered to you by amazon the same day back in day fashion was a lot slower so many people engaging the fashion industry in the early 2000s relied still on catalogs other people relied on mall shopping and shopping in person, especially in smaller towns.

Also in major cities, while most of America relied on television and major fashion magazines to disseminate the style enforcements and fashion rules in black communities and other subcultures fashion trends moved differently and the culture and cycle of trends in the black community are completely different than mainstream America black American media was not as popular or as valued as it is now.

Here are just some of the slower forms of media that informed and contributed to fashion culture in the early 2000s you're going to see some runway shows music videos television shows and music video countdowns like trl &106 in the park.


This would show you the new york city-based audiences and hosts as well as celebrities so that you could see on a daily and weekly basis what was going on in cutting-edge new york and see the aspirational hair styling and fashion trends to be on the cutting-edge culture music entertainment nightlife and fashion in print you would probably want to check out complex magazine or vibe at the time that is how a lot of people got put onto streetwear trends what was going on globally in fashion, and what was happening in the major cities and the underground so where most of America was getting mainstream American trends through catalogs that were sent out to the monthly from high fashion magazines that very often did not include black Latin or Asian models.

Copenhagen street style

And when they did they rarely included them participating in different cultures of color in the united states communities of color had a different emphasis on trends adopting them and where they were getting them from everybody had to access to music videos and music videos informed all kinds of fashion at the time especially more alternative fashion black American culture relied heavily in the early 2000s on intra-communal communication like word of mouth being at the barber shop being at the hair salon existing within the community around other black people music videos that would appear on b-e-t when black American culture was less popular than it is now less accessible and black American magazines that existed in response to the fact that we lacked adequate representation.

In most of the American mainstream media and fashion magazines major cities especially those with significant black populations dominated and led as far as cultural agenda setting something cool that happened in the early 2000s in black fashion was when the south took over rap for a little bit after being doubted for so long the south took over rap in a huge way and so the rest of the public was forced to consume and react to black southern fashion which is fun because southern fashion unlike new york city based black fashion is so much about like clothing customization outside of the lens of agenda setting in the most major fashion capital in the united states so watching black southern people translate what existed as popular fashion trends but through a southern lens was cool and futuristic it was also cool to see rappers from new york like 50 cent, and g unit translates fashion codes through their styles of dressing.

As well but cities like new york city especially their black population populations of color did a lot to the agenda set in fashion in the early 2000s and at the time trends moved slowly where what happened in major cities like the fashion capital of new york would slowly trickle down over the next few years into smaller towns in the united states in their fashion contexts like shopping malls and catalogs etc over the course of the 2000s our culture shifted slowly into internet culture which made trends a lot more accessible to people as well as cultural themes fashion art and music more accessible to people globally so this rise in like globalization of culture and fashion and music made it so that what was happening in major cities was a lot more readily available culturally online.

So even if you didn't live somewhere where things were being produced you might know about it a lot sooner than you would if you had to actually physically travel there to see what people were wearing as you had to in the past it's very different to live in a major city be agenda setting and know what's on the cutting edge because celebrities are coming to you to see what's going on and then putting it in their music videos versus living in a small town wishing you could see what was going on in the big cities before it comes to a music video having to wait the six months to a year to two years to see something that was cool in new york years before and then having to play catch up so the shift into internet culture really really pushed forward the fashion culture on the internet this didn't mean though that things stopped being exclusive because we still do live in a very very different culture where just because things were possible to be accessed everywhere didn't mean that everybody was interested in it because we still were not necessarily in the social media age in the early 2000s that kind of came in the 2006 789-10 era of the 2000s so because of that a lot of fashion content cultural content music content was online but it didn't mean that everybody wanted to go looking for it and you had to know what to look for which mean you still had to have some insight on what was going on you would still have to take time on the internet to look into what was born in a music video or what pharrell was doing and wasn't and who nego really was and why is he always hanging out with varela et cetera et cetera which brings me to my subject of why people in 2020 interpret early 2000s fashion based on red carpet images of celebrities, and what it actually meant to live in the early 2000s so even with this increase in maximalism fun and colorful outfits as we move further and further away from 2001 much of america.

Especially middle america was still really grounded in their conservative and traditional fashion styles so the more extreme ways of dressing that we associate with that time as like glamorous and cool and y2k early 2000s fashion we're actually heavily punished and criticized so when we talk about racialization of these fashion styles dressing in the y2k or early 2000s fashion clothing fashion styles was very demonized it was not without consequence to look black in the early 2000s at all racial distinctions at the time were much more significant and less ambiguous than they are now black american culture and media was very often limited to singular channels they were like two to three comfortable channels for black people to see themselves represented on across a 100 channel tv guide at the time so black american culture was not just something that everybody was grateful to appreciate and understand as one of many parts that made up america instead it was very heavily demonized criticized every single rap video got tons of think pieces about how it was destroying american culture raptors were demonized for degrading women as if what they were doing was unique to black american culture and not something that's also done in alternative music country music and all forms of music in the united states and globally as if misogyny is exclusive to rap not to say that there aren't criticisms of misogyny and rap but it's not exclusive to rap tight jeans loose jeans tight clothes midriff showing every single thing black people did with demon eyes the fashion styles that we look at now on pinterest and theme y2k or early 2000s fashion are really just hot girl and girl of color fashion so black girls looked like this but this was not the dominating fashion style at all this was a hot girl way of dressing just like we have hot girl ways of dressing now it would be like if somebody came from the future and looked back on what is called bbl fashion which i have problems with too but what we call bbl fashion  if they looked at that and said well that's how people looked and dressed in the 2020s most of us don't know a lot of people who look like that we may follow them on instagram we may have heard of them we may see them as celebrities that isn't necessarily a representation of most many or all of the 2020s ways of looking, or existing ,or dressing right this is just something that is limited to hot girls black girls, and girls in general.

paris hilton x quay collaboration


And that has nothing to do with most of America because most of America is not hot girls now even when we look at the Paris Hilton y2k vacation of it all they still weren't accessible to or worn by most Americans even if they were visibly recognizable because of media like television and wrap-up shows on vh1 it didn't mean that most Americans looked like that it was definitely an aspirational look for some people who were interested in popular culture and fashion and trends but it didn't mean that most Americans actually looked like that because these are like extreme examples of celebrities dressing right the emphasis in black American culture and cultures that are marginalized in the united states emphasis on clothing customization when you don't have things it makes it very easy to search for ways of fashioning identity that sets you apart in ways that you can all aspects of existing on the margins in a society involve at some point people or groups of people in different cultures trying to participate in mainstream American-ness .

as they set the agenda facing and experiencing the consequences that when you do that you'll always be told you're not good enough you're not white enough you're not rich enough you're not american enough and then deciding to cultivate and reinforce the importance of your own culture in the united states and creating new culture for yourself here that excludes that and rejects it and subverts it and that's what informed a lot of black american fashion trends in the early 2000s and that's why they're exclusive to black american culture and not early 2000s culture we were doing things because we have different ways of navigating and existing and when we tried to participate in white american and predominant american fashion trends we were told it's not for us you look a mess you look crazy this is not for you you can never be white you won't be white so instead of trying to be the white thing we create us we create something for ourselves and have different codes and standards and expectations to meet up to in our culture codes and standards that black people made and were expected to live up to as far as beauty grooming fashion styling etc are unique to black american culture because they existed in direct response to an exclusion of whiteness and white hegemonic trends so when white america is saying look like the people on friends we're not watching friends we're watching what's happening on v-e-t upn etc and reinforcing the importance of the codes intra-communally instead of trying to adopt things that we've been told are not for us which is why it's important to not identify things that was subversive and challenging and that black people were punished for socially and culturally at the time by being placed on worst dressed lists being deemed ghetto having negative articles written about them never giving credit for participating in high fashion being dressed in custom high fashion designer garments etc etc it's important to give credit to black american culture and identify black fashion trends as such rather than seeing them as y2k or early 2000s fashion because they are completely and intentionally limited to black american culture and the same is the case for cultures of color and other marginalized cultures in the united states sixth once we entered into the myspace internet blogging social media boom rise of the mid-2000s internet culture rose in popularity globalization of trends completely shifted and fashioned it with it internet culture was like the big bang of fashion for so many people so many fashionistas in the early 2000s hated living in the stone age of fashion and we're so thankful for technology like the popularization of the internet it meant immediate more immediate access to what was happening in the big cities it was so painful for people who were interested in fashion and culture to not live in major cities because it meant that they had less access to what was happening in creative scenes like art scenes music scenes and fashion scenes until the internet came the internet meant that they could know with way more immediacy what was happening socially and culturally fashion wise event-wise and music-wise so they could be more up on what was going on it rose the interest in japanese fashion and that cultural exchange between japan the united states hip-hop culture and the black community and that relationship all contributed to this like melting pot talking about streetwear is always convoluted and long-winded even the pioneers of the streetwear movement in the 2000s like bobby hundreds said that it's hard to explain exactly where it came from because it was like a combination of different interests from action sports and skateboarding to hip hop culture to japanese fashion and so many other areas of interest but the cool thing about it was they were unifying areas of interest where people would have a lot of commonalities in their art taste culture they participated in music they listened to which is how nike sb was able to do collaborations with underground musicians and alternative musicians and rappers for their sneakers but they always were relevant to their audience.

faust nike sb dunk high black gold sole mates interview

And it's partly because the in-group dynamic was so strong in streetwear culture at the time a unique aspect of the streetwear community is that it was really oriented around community and not just clothing so it wasn't just about having the same clothing interests it was about doing what you can to help people a lot of streetwear brands did a lot of work in their local communities to build them up and support people and hire people and put people in positions that they may have not otherwise ever been able to get into like working in the fashion industry and manufacturing and really really cool stuff like that that foundation is what developed some of the conventions of streetwear and the principles of streetwear design and culture like collaborations like brand times brand came about because the brands actually connected with the other brands and their local communities in streetwear not just as cash grabs subcultural identities were much more limited to the people actually contributing to and participating in them than they are now like a lot of people now know about a lot of subcultures they have no intention to contribute to no desire to participate in but at the time it was generally like you briefly and superficially know what goth emo and prep are and seen but you don't necessarily like know all of the codes and standards that are required to participate in those subcultures and upkeep and maintain the tight nature of the cultures unless you participate in them right because why would you why would you need to you know where would you get the information from unless you directly interpersonally talk to someone about it.



What are the codes back then things were secretive groups so nobody would necessarily tell you so they could reinforce the strength of their in-group.

It was very much an if you know you know if you don't you don't kind of culture more the case with streetwear than anything it was a very small subculture uh compared to what was happening in mainstream fashion even though it looks like when you look at the early 2000s and mid-2000s the references are obvious you can see them in music videos you can look at a pharrell video and see what he's wearing you can look at anybody he's producing for you could look at so much of the creative direction in photography but it's important to remember not everybody had those interests so even if every fashion magazine in the early 2000s was taking on a certain fashion style it didn't mean that everybody was interested in high fashion back then only fashion people were whereas now even if you don't care anything about fashion if you have a twitter you will automatically see fashion content if it goes viral or if someone you follow is interested in fashion so looking at the early 2000s.


With like nostalgia goggles as this utopia of streetwear fashion isn't exactly realistic if you lived in any small town if you lived outside of a major city most people didn't look like that if you went to a major city only people interested in those subcultures looked like that etc etc you could definitely find more people in new york los angeles or other major cities who participated in the street were trending in the united states you could find significantly more people but it didn't mean that everybody looked like that even in their cities they were on the cutting edge so like I said you're rebelling in the action sports section against these weird dichotomous boxes that exist where it's like are you an action sports person like white snowboarding person or are you a hip-hop person they're rebelling against that and saying we're creating something completely different.

That's neither you can't just put us in a box and the same thing with black american culture it's rebelling against automatically being excluded from mainstream and white american culture and the same thing with japanese and global fashion it already exists outside of the context of what's happening in american fashion so to say that this is a representation of american fashion is to me unrealistic because it's like they wish like they america literally wishes that they came up with that when literally these things were rebelling against it and a lot of people didn't understand streetwear fashion when it came out a lot of people didn't know about and didn't like in mainstream american culture nike sb's they couldn't identify nike sb's versus regular nikes they didn't know the names and they didn't care sneaker culture was nowhere near as popular as it is now and sneakers were racialized middle america white girls sneakers it wasn't a thing like it wasn't as popular as it is now where everybody wears sneakers and knows that it doesn't indicate anything about who you are as a person they're just a different style of shoes it was not that way back then it's really hard to convey that to people .

Sometimes because it's like if you didn't live through it you you might think that it's absurd that someone would think it's a big deal to wear sneakers because now everybody does but shoes were extremely extremely racialized especially with all the news stories about people dying from wearing sneakers or waiting in line for sneakers they were completely racialized like there is nothing neutral about sneaker culture and even intra-communally not everybody black was rocking with the streetwear culture trend because there were a lot of elements of fashion styling that were not exactly up to the exact codes of black american regional ways of dressing so it would look kind of black but it would still have some weird like skateboard shoes and you're like um or skinny jeans and you're like um until it caught on later on in the later uh 2000s and it brings me to the concept of why black fashion is so different from mainstream fashion in the first place and why it's important to not conflate the two knowing there's less we gotta keep going and hope for the best in the late 18th century in the united states we had a significant level of textile fluency meaning that people were able to spot and identify fabrics even from far away and tell which fabric is which but during this time enslaved black people and married women couldn't legally protect themselves if anything was stolen from them unless it was textiles so if they owned any property none of it was protected by law except for textiles so if you owned textiles whether that was clothing or sheets those would be protected if you own fine china not protective someone steals it from you you cannot bring it to court if you own silverware not protected you cannot bring it to court if you own bed sheets you can bring it to court and people did and that's a contributing factor to why women and black people in the united states have a significant emphasis on the sartorial in the south enslaved people could exchange for textiles and that's it that was the one thing that the business wouldn't be punished for exchanging to someone who is enslaved textiles .

so you can't engage the american economy in any normal way other than if it involves textiles clothes fabrics sheets etc that is part of why clothing is uniquely important to black people and it also makes sense that at the time people would want to dress really well because it would allow you to be perceived as possibly not enslaved so the more that you acquire trade or exchange for the better that you can represent yourself outwardly to hope to be treated better now this is something that was pretty much outdated by the 1830s but during the 1830s there were also reasons for black people to have emphasis on fashion and ways of getting dressed and fashioning identities as well and that is why the cultural legacy of a unique interest in fashion part of why it continues in the black community think about the ways that black fashion accessories and even ways of existing are somehow an indication of you existing in a singular stereotyped way so those kinds of racialized existences cannot just be watered down to American fashion or early 2000s y2k fashion .

a group of models standing in front of a white wall

Looks from Shanel's latest collection

When they're just not the ways that black fashion transforms over time to reflect the like ever-changing desires black americans have for our society like the more you want change the more you can reflect change it's like a performance of the change you want to see black fashion exists now similarly there's still an extreme emphasis in the black american community on grooming and beauty standards fashioning and identity for yourself outwardly and setting the agenda in fashion and styling even retroactively like 90s and early 2000s fashion influences current high fashion standards when you see that with the adoption of high fashion brands taking on streetwear and appointing creative directors who have backgrounds in the streetwear design community and the streetwear subcultural interest to lead the biggest european fashion houses in global history they're taking on fashion that happened over 20 years ago to sell to people all over the world based on what some kids were doing i think it's important to make the distinction something that i really appreciate about the y2k early 2000s revival,  is that it pulls a lot of inspiration from the beauty trends that were set by video vixens reality stars adult entertainment workers and nightlife workers within their communities but i think it's important to acknowledge that they faced a lot of scrutiny in large part for looking this way partially because people associated their appearance with those occupations which were not seen favorably in society and partly because people just didn't appreciate looking this flamboyant and sexy and fun because it existed on the fringe of fashion like people who worked in alternative occupations like nightlife adult entertainment music art fashion etc completely understood this um especially alternative fashion but in most of society they didn't understand it and they didn't respect it these women faced a lot of scrutiny um i think a huge reference is the flavor of love girls who were hyper criticized in tabloids every week and weekly wrap up shows on television in large part for their appearance.

paris hilton x quay collaboration


Like they were always put down for how they looked and it was considered tacky and now we look back like this is the most fun fashion ever and i would say the same thing about video vixens who did a ton to agenda set in beauty standards in the black community as well as beauty practices in the black community but they went completely ignored and intentionally or not they were degraded constantly for their natural features like having a curvy body during this time outside of the black community not valued at all having a big ass at this time not valued outside of the black community until jlo pops up on the scene and it's only attributed to jlo not everybody else in general so participating in urban aesthetics in any capacity was not valued at that time it's important to not acknowledge that when we talk about y2k and early 2000s trends.

Because these were not mainstream trends because of their association with the people who were participating in them and ironically the agenda setting that these video vixens did for body beauty and fashion are the foundation of instagram modeling and influencing that we have today so even if we didn't look back directly to the y2k and early 2000s fashion trends we already take so much inspiration from them because much of the way that we exist online wouldn't without them music statics existed completely on the fringe it wasn't common in mainstream american culture even though these things were standards in black culture and it took a long time for the rest of america to catch up and recognize them for their impact on the beauty and fashion industries and i don't know that they ever got credit so i don't want to eliminate that from the discussion .

In conclusion, when I take a look around everything looks like black culture in the early 2000s it doesn't look like early 2000s fashion a lot of people in the early 2000s were wearing old navy and Abercrombie and that is not what people are taking on now as y2k fashion because that wasn't desirable then it wasn't subversive it wasn't challenging then and it's not challenging now because most of middle america still looks like that and i think it's significant to acknowledge the impact that black people have on fashion beauty and styling and always have black stylus forever.

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