Millennials, Look Away: Gen Z Influencers Are Bringing Y2K Style Back

“There weren't any rules. You could wear pointless scarves in the summertime and put a dress over your jeans, and it was considered cool.”

Their jeans are low, their purses are small, their hairstyles are spiky, and they appreciate the power of body glitter. Introducing the hottest new fashion influencers on TikTok: the Y2K girls.

If you weren’t aware, Y2K, or early 2000s, style is officially back. I’m talking halter tops, baby tees, and claw clips. Think pink velour jacket with a miniskirt and Uggs, maybe even a newsboy hat. The trend, popularized by Gen Z icons like Bella Hadid, has been gaining traction since last summer, but, as Vogue declared earlier this month, it has now “become so pervasive that calling it a trend feels like an understatement.” Nylon recently discovered that “popcorn tops,” made of that scrunchy, 3D fabric, are back. Popcorn tops!

For some, though, the 2000s aesthetic isn’t just a trend — it’s a lifestyle. Influencers like Michaila Cothran and Tea’ Maisel-Chmaj have blown up on TikTok by making #Y2KStyle their personal brand, attracting hundreds of thousands of followers with videos featuring straight-out-of-2002 outfits of the day, re-creations of iconic 2000s looks like Britney Spears’ “dump him” fit, rating decades-old beauty products like Maybelline’s Cool Effects eyeshadow, and tutorials showing how to put your hair in spiky buns. In a 2021 report, Trendalytics reported that searches for Y2K fashion were up 193% compared to the previous year, attributing the trend to the simultaneous rise of TikTok and new interest in 2000s celebrities.

“I think many people would agree that pop culture peaked in the year 2000,” Abbie Porter, a 20-year-old TikToker from England who also sells Y2K vintage clothes online, told me.

“I feel like the 2000s was about just having fun,” Cothran, a 23-year-old creator living in Nashville, said. “There weren’t any rules. You could wear pointless scarves in the summertime and put a dress over your jeans, and it was considered cool.”

These influencers’ love of the era is partly an embrace of the carefree vibe it represents and partly nostalgia for their childhoods.

“I was born in 2001, so the time I was growing up was the peak of 2000s style, with iconic celebrities such as Paris Hilton and Nicole Richie taking the center stage of fashion,” said Porter, who has more than 60,000 TikTok followers. “Now as an adult, re-creating these outfits creates a really nostalgic feeling for me personally, which I think a lot of people in my age group can relate to.”

“I think quarantine had a play into the styles coming back due to [the] class of 2020 romanticizing their childhood because of how fast it was lost. I know I wasn’t the only one binge-watching Mean Girls,” Maisel-Chmaj, a college student from Southern California, told me. “I think when we were stuck in time inside our houses during the pandemic, all we could do was look back.”

Maisel-Chmaj’s love for the turn of the millennium has made her a star on TikTok, where she has branded herself as a “2000s It girl.” Nearly 600,000 people have followed her since she started posting videos about her love of Y2K fashion. The 19-year-old started out on TikTok by posting about thrifting. Maisel-Chmaj said she naturally gravitated toward ’90s and 2000s clothing at thrift stores because she found them to be cute and high quality — she especially loved the glitter decals. She now works at a thrift store and sells ’90s and 2000s fashion secondhand online on her own as well.

Her 2000s-themed “get ready with me” videos get the most views. In a recent video, she picks out a lime green low-rise skirt, a matching baby doll tank top, and a flower choker (she basically looks like Mandy Moore in the music video for “Candy”). In her comments, followers beg her for advice on how to find the perfect pair of lace-up Mudd jeans.

For Cothran, her pandemic hobby of experimenting with fashion turned into a career once she began embracing Y2K style. She used to watch her mom, whom she called a “2000s queen,” get dressed when she was a child, and when she started posting about fashion on TikTok about a year and a half ago, she began to play around with some of her mom’s old clothing. Dressing in the style made her feel “more confident than I ever had,” and she wasn’t the only one who loved it. The more she posted about Y2K fashion, the more her views and following skyrocketed.

“I felt like I was finding myself and, at the same time, inspiring others to do the same,” she said.

Y2K fashion is now not only Cothran’s main personal style but also the theme of her page, which has more than 500,000 followers.

“I think without TikTok and being inspired to play with different fashion eras and aesthetics, I would have never discovered my love for 2000s fashion,” she said.

It’s not just Y2K-focused creators who are finding success on the platform. Even more generalist fashion TikTokers say they have noticed their 2000s-themed videos are wildly popular. Mikayla Stephenson, a 23-year-old student from Houston, said that even though she hasn’t posted that many Y2K-inspired fashion videos, the response they get blows the others out of the water.

“My Y2K videos have performed extremely well and are some of my highest-viewed videos to this day,” Stephenson, who has nearly 160,000 followers on TikTok, told me.

Allante Jacquell, a 29-year-old who just started creating content about her love of fashion on TikTok in February, said she was surprised when the three videos she’s created so far about Y2K fashion took off, getting way more views and engagement than average, with one recently getting more than 80,000 views.

“I’m always so shocked because TikTok has such a younger demographic that uses the platform,” she said.

To be a Y2K fashionista is to have a deep love of low-rise jeans. But some of these Gen Z creators acknowledge that many people who wore them the first time around hate them because, as Stephenson told me, the style “was so heavily associated with the toxic body image issues brought about by 2000s fashion.”

As someone who has struggled with eating disorders, Stephenson said her least favorite part of the original 2000s style was “the toxic ‘super-skinny standard’ that ran rampant in society during this era.” However, she believes that the trends now reflect some of the progress we have made regarding inclusivity and body image.

“Low-rise bottoms these days are, for the most part, not as low or tight as before, a much more comfortable and flattering fit, and most importantly are made with size inclusivity in mind,” she said. “At the end of the day, it’s all about wearing what you love and feel comfortable in.”

The #Y2KStyle influencers spend a lot of time paying homage to their 2000s fashion inspirations. Cothran cited Britney Spears as her favorite, saying that she occasionally looks through the pop star’s old outfits when she needs new ideas; for Jacquell, it’s Aaliyah, hands down.

Porter, meanwhile, loves Xtina. “Christina Aguilera really is the queen of low rise, and she has supplied some of Y2K’s most memorable looks,” Porter said. “Her personal style has clearly influenced celebrities today, such as Kylie Jenner, who re-created her look from the ‘Dirrty’ music video.”

Beauty and hair trends from the era are also making a comeback. One of Maisel-Chmaj’s favorite Y2K trends is body glitter, and Cochran recently posted a video tutorial on how to do your hair in two spiky buns, à la Hilary Duff.

Alyssa Lorraine

Alyssa Lorraine, a 31-year-old makeup artist and hairstylist in New York City, has made a name for herself on TikTok re-creating some of the best Y2K beauty trends, like frosted eyeshadow and lots and lots of lip gloss. She recently did a campaign with Rimmel, using their products to create iconic 2000s makeup looks and showing followers how to do it themselves.

For these influencers, the overall theme of 2000s style is one they think their generation needs right now: fun. Couldn’t we all use some sparkles?

“The early 2000s indicated a bright and colorful time period with lots of glitter and decals such as hearts, stars, and butterflies,” Maisel-Chmaj said. “It brought back the nostalgia we needed in a distressing time.”

Stephenson agreed, saying she sees her generation’s embrace of Y2K style as a reaction to the adversity they have been facing.

“It’s only natural that coming out of the pandemic fashion would shift to more colorful, expressive, and youthful trends,” she said. “This is much like the development of the Roaring ’20s after WWI. We as a society are celebrating as we come out on the other side of difficult times, and our fashion reflects that. Y2K style is full of color, fun silhouettes, and youthful excess.” ●

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