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’90s Fashion Is Back. And It Makes Me Grieve My ’90s Self

Butterflies, orange wrap-around sunglasses and lime-green satin. Y2K fashion is back in style, and this writer doesn’t know what to think about it.


Naomi Chrisoulakis

It was our babysitter who told me what it was called, this return of the trends that had been a mainstay of my life as a newly-minted adult. She, a uni student who wears crop tops and wide leg jeans with her 90s sunglasses, called it Y2K fashion.

In fact, she was looking forward to a Y2K dress-up party (she ended up going as a Bratz doll). I wanted to laugh and tell her how ridiculous it all felt. Except it didn’t. Instead, I felt a bit, well, sad.

I turned 18 in 2001, and I remember that year as a fever dream of studying for my HSC in my pink velour tracksuit, dancing in my bedroom during study breaks to my favourite CDs (Kylie Minogue, Craig David, Destiny’s Child), and going out, to parties and to bars where we knew the 17 year olds among us could get in.

 

The ’90s were a fever dream of studying for my HSC in my pink velour tracksuit and dancing in my bedroom to Destiny’s Child.

The “out” bit was fun, drinking Bacardi and Diet Cokes and dancing, but it was the “going” bit that I remember even more vividly: hours of getting ready at friends houses, swapping my boob tube for their one-shouldered top, borrowing hair straighteners and choosing which massive belt to wear, drinking to Mariah Carey and talking about which boys might be there. Summer, winter, with boyfriends in tow or heartbroken, we were out several nights a week, for a handful of heady years.

At the dawn of the Noughties, I was drunk, not just on lemon Stolis, but on my own newfound social status: having been an overweight teenager, a combination of Weight Watchers, going to Jazzercise with my mother and a splash of disordered eating had resulted in a 23 kilo weight loss. I was a size eight and finally, fashion loved me back.

My disposable income (and let’s face it, other than paying for my Motorola Razr phone plan, it was all disposable because I still lived at home) was spent entirely on nights out and clothes: mostly skimpy dresses and dressy tops to be worn with low slung jeans, outfits for eighteenth and twenty-first birthday parties, big earrings and JLo Glow perfume. When I wasn’t partying, I was shopping, or sleeping in, or watching Video Hits with a hangover or talking for hours on the phone about the night before.

I didn’t know about climate change or the fashion industry’s impact on it. I didn’t connect the dots that my $10 top from Glassons was probably not ethically made. And, honestly, I didn’t care. I was heartily enjoying my life, punctuated by fights with my mother, friendship battles, uni exams and boyfriend dramas.

So when I see Miu Miu bringing back the micro-mini, I instantly see Christina Aguilera. When Bella Hadid wears an Ed Hardy tee with cargo pants, I remember my own Supre low-cut cargos, in three colours. When Rihanna wears a trucker hat, I think of my first boyfriend. Dua Lipa’s cowl neck dress and nameplate necklace in the Levitating video clip is eerily close to one of my favourite Friday night outfits. When Valentino presents a collection of bright pink pieces at Paris Fashion Week, I get flashbacks of my pink iPod mini and matching flip phone. And when Paris Hilton puts on a Juicy Couture tracksuit in 2021, and is enjoying another moment in the sun, I don’t know what to do with myself.

I’m 38 now, and on Friday nights I legitimately look forward to my weekly ration of red wine and watching Gardening Australia with my husband, knowing I’ll be woken around 6am by one of my two small children.

I get why fashion nostalgia for the Noughties is so hot right now. When looked at through orange-tinted wraparound sunglasses, the late 90s and early 2000s probably seem, to the people who were too young to remember it properly, fun, glamorous and maybe even cool. Certainly a carefree shot in the arm after minimalism and pandemic lounge suits. But for me, while it’s amusing to watch an episode of Euphoria and reminisce (about the butterfly clips, not the intense drug use), it’s more complex.

I shudder at the thought of wearing those high-heel thongs with the square toe, and I doubt I’ll ever pair lime green with bright orange again. But seeing these trends, worn by people young enough for me to have babysat back in my early twenties, are a reminder of what I’ve lost–the ability to see friends without precision planning, spontaneous nights out, and that unequivocal embrace of a youth-driven trend.

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Nineties vs now: Paris Hilton in 2003 (L) and Gigi Hadid in Versace 2022.

I’m not the only one who finds it a double-edged sword. “Seeing Valentino present that pink-saturated show a couple of weeks took me right back to sitting at the Paris shows in my early 20s, where I watched Gianfranco Ferre pay tribute to Diana Vreeland with a pink Dior show,” says Jackie Frank, founder of the Be Frank Group and former magazine editor, who spent more than two decades at the helm of Marie Claire.

“It makes me melancholy. My children are very fashion-conscious, and I see them discovering things that they think is new and fresh, and it’s so funny. They don’t want to hear from me that I’ve seen it all before!

“I’m not bitter, because I’m grateful to have been there to witness so many major fashion moments and they were amazing times. It’s just another reminder that fashion is cyclical, and even though it feels like Y2K has come around much quicker, it’s really exciting to see a trend coming through and people embracing it after two years in our tracksuit pants. I won’t be wearing it, but I can’t wait to see it on the streets.”

I’m not so sanguine. However I can recognise good sense when I hear it. I only wish I’d appreciated my freedom – in fashion and in life – more fully at the time.

As legendary screenwriter Nora Ephron once famously said: “Oh, how I regret not having worn a bikini for the entire year I was 26. If anyone young is reading this, go, right this minute, put on a bikini, and don’t take it off until you’re 34.”

I could say the same for boob tubes. They are, for a multitude of reasons, just not for me anymore. But I realise that I wouldn’t have had the guts to wear the boilersuits, big gold hoop earrings and headscarves that are my go-tos now, in my early 20s. I was too busy following the trends and fitting in to figure out what I really liked. Now I know, and that’s a bigger gift than looking good in a halter neck top.

Even so, it’s bittersweet to look back. But then, I suppose it always will be.

As I tie an apron over my overalls, tuck my hair back into my headscarf, and get dinner started for the two little kids running amok in my living room, I realise that one day, I’ll look back on this moment–and the contents of my wardrobe–with warmth and, yes, maybe a little sadness for what’s already gone.

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BY Naomi Chrisoulakis

Naomi is a writer who lives on Sydney's South Coast. She tells herself that the Y2K clothes she's stashed in a suitcase under her bed are for her daughter.

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