The teenagers have discovered the worst fashion trends of the aughts, and we’re all doomed because of it.
Well, that’s not entirely true, but it is the narrative being pushed by hand-wringing millenials online, whose brief forays into the world of Instagram and TikTok thrift culture have convinced them that low-rise jeans are back to punish us for crimes committed against the midriff in 2004.
Online, but most especially on TikTok, it’s easy to find oneself filled with a creeping sense of dread that young people have almost universally been radicalized into the cult of the worst fashion offerings of the 2000s, solely through a quarantine spent revitalizing their own aesthetics and senses of identity. A scroll through the For You Page, on its worst days, is filled with Von Dutch paraphernalia, butterfly clips, ironic Ed Hardy shirts, and other peculiar Claire’s accessories from nearly 20 years ago. Once dubbed “alt fashion,” more contemporary youth trends now skew towards a return to these trends, seen most prominently on TikTokers like Addison Rae and her cabal of look-alikes, that call back to an era where Holly Madison might mix a Christian Audigier-approved pair of jeans with a bedazzled Playboy Bunny crop top and chunky wedge sandals, chunky blonde highlights sparkling in the paparazzi camera flashes.
The event horizon of this resurgence could, more recently, been seen in a TikTok video that sent internet-using adults into a tailspin this week, when one TikToker posted a video from “ThriftCon” in Atlanta. In it, youths can be seen lusting over ironic Nickolodeon merchandise, sky tops, hideously bedazzled jeans, and all other clothing items that haunt one’s Facebook photos if one scrolls back too far.
The video, and these trends’ resurgence amongst young people, have been generally misunderstood by onlookers. Many fashion critics rightfully accuse the youth of lacking a proper understanding of fashion history, but this is hypothetically true for any generation, not just the ones burgeoning up out of high school and into young adulthood. Others see the proponents of “alt fashion” as having no taste, but such a concept is subjective and permeable. Our parents thought the same of us, and theirs the same of them.
The word everyone is actually looking for is “miseducation,” and in many ways, young people now suffer from the mistakes of fashion past more than any other generation in recent American history.
Up through the ’80s, ’90s, and into the new millennium, the early roots of said miseducation can be most prominently identified in a then-recent consumer demographic: new-money suburban teenagers who wielded their parents’ credit cards and practically shoveled bags money into malls and outlets. Of course, this didn’t begin with a stampede of white teenagers flooding the malls of America in Ugg boots and branded t-shirts and sparkly denim miniskirts and glasses so big they obscured the face completely. The fashion industry had already been upended when Black designers in the 1980s and 1990s founded streetwear on principles that stood in opposition to prevailing industry trends. But when brands and corporations realized there was a veritable gold-mine in the trends, they pumped the market with their own logo-stamped apparel marketed to white suburbanites that, coincidentally, lived generally in areas where mega-malls had been newly erected.
In the 2000s, jeans became lower and tighter, clothes more bedazzled and sexified, and upstarts like Ed Hardy and Von Dutch and True Religion primed to accept those credit cards in any form they took—Amex, Visa, Mastercard, or otherwise.
If you were there to remember it, it went something like this: If a reality TV star wore something fashionable—think Snooki, Kendra Wilkinson, Holly Madison, Paris Hilton, and Nicole Richie—chances were, you could find it at the local mall, whether it be in the Ed Hardy outlet or the hat booth stocked almost exclusively with Von Dutch; the influences also extended to Guess, Diesel, Levi’s, and more. Thus, a pipeline was cemented, and an appetite trained in consumers since the 1980s was reignited: Logos, logos, logos. These teen-shopping bonanzas also encompassed Juicy Couture, the aforementioned UGGs, sister stores Abercrombie and Hollister, and in the prom season, Betsey Johnson.
But again, it wasn’t just mall brands primarily marketed to exclusively white suburbanites that profited from the logos craze. Bathing Ape, Diamond Supply Co., Pharrell’s Ice Cream sneakers, HUF, LRG, Stussy and more all found themselves embroiled in apex of the early ‘aughts logo goldrush.
As the decade waned, the trends changed again, prioritizing a post-recession return to more simple aesthetics—or, at the least, those not encrusted in rhinestones. Urban Outfitters became more ubiquitous than Abercrombie, and with the birth of Instagram boutique brands and the “influencer” aesthetic, also pioneered by Black women but lifted wholesale by the Kardashians and their ilk, branks like Von Dutch became a thing of distant memory.
But the motivations that fueled consumer desire around them most certainly didn’t.
The 2010s fashion industry is notable not just for the unique entrance of Instagram into the market, but for its slow decline back into logomania. By 2016, the Gucci and Louis Vuitton logos were once again plastered across every garment, with both brands and others across the industry “refreshing” said logos to fit more contemporary taste levels. (The infamous removal of the acute from Celine by Hedi Slimane comes immediately to mind.) Before long, the knockoffs came rolling down the turnpike, as Supreme, Fendi, Chanel, Hermés, Burberry, and others profited from the resurgence of the logo. Elsewhere, callback brands like Thrasher and Champion and newer Instagram pop-ups toyed with the market, and were soon swept away with it.
Young people have never known a time when the fashion industry wasn’t utterly consumed with logomania. Teens are graduating who weren’t even alive to remember—and I hate to even mention it—9/11, a fact older Twitter users love to pass about with reckless abandon, devoid of any real meaning except for its significance as the moment when America changed permanently.
In their search for new fashions, young people have only found more of the same. Why wouldn’t they? In this panopticon of branded aesthetics, where else can the eyes go but on the most hideously bedazzled and logo-ified clothing of yesteryear. It’s all we’ve known since the television and computer first flickered on, bathing everyone in their garish, corporate glow.