What would Paris Hilton do? That’s the question Marianne Mychaskiw asked herself at the very beginning of the pandemic, when the world was thrown into a state of utter confusion and turmoil and fear. The answer: Juicy Couture tracksuits — and lots of them. The 33-year-old beauty copywriter unearthed the ones from her youth, and once she wore her decades-old set, she couldn’t stop; she needed more Y2K fashion. It cushioned her from the world outside her apartment door, enveloping her in rainbow-bright velour and the comforting embrace of nostalgia.
“Being an adult doesn’t mean you stop wearing Juicy tracksuits — it just means you pay for your own,” she says. “It made me happy to lean into that [early 2000s] expression because it’s nostalgic and comforting for me.”
When it comes to defining exactly what the early 2000s aesthetic entails, the consensus is this: Juicy Couture tracksuits, a lot of skin, body-hugging silhouettes, low-rise everything. “It’s a hybrid of this over-the-top, Paris Hilton glam mixed with athleisure tracksuits, UGGS, and trucker hats,” says Allison Aberizk, cofounder of new New York City-based multi-brand concept store Aberizk that stocks vintage (ones that heavily skew ‘90s and ‘00s) and pieces from emerging independent designers. “It’s kind of a mix of very glamorous and athleisure — definitely a juxtaposition of different energies.”
But it’s impossible to talk about Y2K fashion without pulling back and looking at the zeitgeist of the time, namely the celebrities who spearheaded the look (Paris Hilton — obviously — Britney Spears, Christina Aguilera), an epoch marked by the male gaze, and an invasive, tabloid culture that was perpetuated by the paparazzi.
“I think of that time as the last really misogynistic era. It was a sexuality that was dictated down, and maybe it didn’t feel good for everybody to be so sexualized,” says Olivia La Roche, founder of her vintage boutique O. La Roche. “There were a lot of problems then; it was the era of the really thin, tall white girl, and it was extremely inaccessible to most people. It was the height of anorexia, the spray tan, the bleached hair, the blue contacts. The confluence of tech, media editing, the paparazzi, and the type of celebrities, it was probably the cruelest era for women and young women who were at their most vulnerable moment.”
The difference now — between the hot aughts of 2002 and its return 20 years later — is the political climate, the aftermath of a nationwide reckoning brought on by #MeToo and #TimesUp. Applied to Y2K 2.0, and there’s an unmistakable degree of reclamation, of asserting control and power over one’s own sexuality. And when you have 30-something-year-old editors and tastemakers who are pushing the trend forward — the ones who experienced Y2K as a pre-teen or a teen — the return feels something akin to sartorial redemption through the lens of women’s empowerment.
“It feels a little bit like Revenge of the Nerds. Say your teenhood or your early 20s wasn’t the sexiest, you can revisit it with the confidence you have as an adult,” says La Roche, noting that she finds herself drawn to the pieces she was attracted to in 2002, but now has the confidence to wear them as a grown-up. “It’s almost like trauma therapy. I was so traumatized by people like Paris Hilton because I didn’t look like that at all. And now, I get to let go of whatever body issues came up then, because they don’t matter, and I can wear this trend in my own way now. For all the people who felt they were marginalized by that point of time in fashion can reclaim that sexuality. There’s a lot of payback happening now.”
And for Mychaskiw, that’s the ultimate goal: “to be the hot, bitchy cheerleader with a heart of gold, and now that I have disposable income, I can.” When she was a beauty editor, she felt the pressure to present herself in a certain way (all black, all Alexander Wang — aka the big-city editor uniform), but once she left the world of editorial, her truest form emerged. Her muse? Jodi Lyn O’Keefe’s character Taylor Vaughan in She’s All That.
“Back when I was growing up in that era, I was wildly insecure, but as I got older, I’ve become more comfortable with my body,” she continues. “There’s something to be said about channeling the early aughts sex kitten we always wanted to be, and now we’re in a place where body positivity is much more of a thing now. We used to only see one kind of body type; now, everyone is celebrated, so there are ways for anybody to lean into that bitchy popular girl aesthetic. I feel freer and more empowered to experiment with those kinds of looks.”
Both the cyclical nature of trends and the chronological order in which they hit the collective fashion consciousness is why exactly no one was surprised by the emergence of Y2K — and especially given how strong ‘90s minimalism gripped the industry for the last few years, it makes sense that the pendulum would swing the other way, to an era of excess. “A lot of millennials either lost their jobs or were doing career changes, and they wanted to think back on a simpler time of their formative years,” muses Aberizk, “by referencing a time they felt super comfortable or thinking back to a time before the social media boom.”
And the fact that the rise of the hot aughts — and thus, this newfound desire for fashion experimentation and all-out self-expression — neatly coincides with people becoming vaccinated and emerging from lockdown (despite it being year three of the pandemic).
“It’s really perfect timing, with people being locked down for years at this point and not being able to party, which is another thing that defines that time: the going-out looks,” La Roche says. (According to Thrilling’s 2021 Year In Review, “sheer fabrics, lace, lace-up clothing, slips, and other sexy silhouettes” are to be the big trends this year.) “People are really craving connection, and what is more connected than eroticism? Even if it’s not necessarily to another person, it’s a feeling to connect to that part of yourself that’s healing, for people who have been isolated during the pandemic.”
Another big contributor to this sexual upheaval, sartorially speaking, is that the majority of people continue to work from home. So, purchasing garments that are office-appropriate is no longer a factor. In other words, it has led to “the death of the day-to-night outfit,” quipped Eliza Dumais, lifestyle writer and editor.
“I couldn’t roll up to the office with a rhinestone shirt that said ‘baby girl’ because no one would take me seriously,” adds Mychaskiw, who recently bought a pair of Hustler-logo sweatpants and often looks to Depop and Poshmark to satiate her early ‘00s fashion appetite. “But now, I'm just living my life, so I might as well dress however I want and buy the things that make me happy.”
Even though elements of the hot aughts have pervaded virtually every new designer collection (see: the micro pleated miniskirts for Miu Miu Spring/Summer 2022 or the butterfly motifs on the Blumarine Spring/Summer 2022 runway), there’s something to be said about going straight to the source — actual relics from the decade. The 2000s marked the outset of social media, which allowed for more documentation, more content that’s now readily available to consume, and it’s for this reason that La Roche believes the two eras (2022 and early 2000s) fit seamlessly together, making 2000s vintage less niche and more open to people who would normally not shop secondhand. She points to Galliano for Dior, Tom Ford for Gucci, Roberto Cavalli, and Blumarine as the most in-demand designers who are emblematic of that era. “And Italian designers — that’s why Italian vintage is so good right now,” she adds. “There’s this Italian sex appeal that fits really well with that era.”
Sex appeal, yes, and also a level of irreverence that can’t be ignored.
“When I see somebody our age wearing something from the 2000s, like a Bebe logo tee, I’m like, ‘I bet they have a great personality,’” Mychaskiw says. “It’s funny, witty, and a little tongue-in-cheek. That person rules, because you’re kind of in on the joke.”