When someone told me early 2000’s fashion trends were back in style, I thought I was being punk’d. This was the era of my childhood, and I was very much influenced by the fads. I remember this time quite vividly, and it seems too soon for turn-of-the-millennium trends to make a comeback. Walking down the street, I started to see some flared jeans, cargo pants, and trucker hats. To my surprise, the fashion is creeping back into style.
This is harmless enough. Even if I don’t like the fashion trends, they’re just clothing. It comes and goes, but they don’t define a person. Yet I can’t separate my past from it’s corresponding fashion. Looking at flared jeans takes me back to my formidable years and the culture I grew up with.
The late 90’s and early 00’s was certainly an era with some progress. Over the past 20 years, its seems we’ve developed a lot more. Some of the fashion is fine, but many of the cultural trends belong where we left them. If bootcut denim means we need to live like it’s Y2K let’s leave the jeans in the past.
Unless you were buying a TV, it seemed all technology was shrinking in size. The iPod became mini, flip phones were razor-thin, and the Gameboy became micro. All of these things were small for the sake of being small, presumably so they could fit in tiny handbags.
In some cases the size reduction was warranted. If we can reduce the size of a hard drive, there’s no reason to add bulk. However, companies often compromised functionality in the pursuit of tininess. It almost seemed like tiny technology was a trophy of innovation. As time progressed, technology added size again. The Nintendo DS innovated gaming and iPhones would eventually increase the size of Apple products. Extra space can add functionality, battery life, and usability. If sales of the iPhone 6 serve as an indication, adding size can sell more units.
The early 2000’s weren’t just about showing skin; they were about bronzing it. This meant people would put hours into tanning and spend their hard-earned dollars to lounge in a tanning bed. All of this was for a temporary glow that could have repercussions years down the road. So some people opted to fake-bake. Perhaps it was less harmful, but it was usually really obvious.
At the beginning of the 2010’s, Obama proposed a tax on tanning beds under the Affordable Care Act. Much to the sadness of the Jersey Shore cast, this was the beginning of the end. While tanning hasn’t entirely fallen out of style, it’s not the necessity it once was. Maybe this is because we know the dangers now, or maybe it’s because we see the longterm impacts on the people who embraced the trend in 2002.
Sexualizing Young Artists
We live in a world where young artists burst onto the music seen so old men can make a quick dollar selling to a young audience. Of course, the pre-teen crowd wants to be entertained and many of the artists are relatively harmless. In the late 90’s and early 2000’s, we saw the rise of teenage artists who were designed to feed into the fantasies of older men.
Young artists like Britney Spears and Christina Aguilera would sing songs about losing their innocence and being rubbed “the right way.” While these are obviously suggestive lyrics, the girls were underaged or barely legal. In fact, Britney Spears changed her singing voice to sound younger and more naive. She isn’t the only artists who endured this type of manipulation, but she may have been the most successful. Female artists were particularly sexualized in a way that their young, male counterparts seldom needed to worry about.
Harmful Prank Shows
In 2000, MTV debuted it’s stunt show Jackass. Viewers were able to see the cast risk their lives for the sake of 10 seconds of laughter. It was a train-wreck we couldn’t stop watching, but it also influenced a lot of copycat stunts. The show would inspire three movies, and a fourth is slated to be released in 2022. Other shows such as Scare Tactics or Punk’d would put people in compromising and frightening situations to get viewers.
Over time, these shows fell out of favor. Then, YouTubers realized the ease of producing cheap pranks and they revived the trend. If the Paul Brothers serve as any indication, the prank genre seldom ends well. The pranksters often become fame-obsessed and fall into bad habits. Despite public outcries to end these stunts, the genre hasn’t completely died. With the rise in platforms like TikTok, the trend find a new home. While it’s not as popular as it once was, the upcoming Jackass movie could inspire another wave of pranking.
Making Everything “X-treme”
By the end of the 90’s, extreme sports were cool. Tony Hawk had made skateboarding more recognizable than ever with his namesake game. Then, video games would allow anyone to become a snowboarder, BMX rider, or surfer. This was all good fun, but it sparked an advertising craze embraced by many brands. Anything that was slightly different than the regular product would be labelled as X-TREME or given a similarly badass descriptor.
This aged poorly, and it just looks like a desperate attempt to seem cool. Speeding down a hill on a snowboard might seem extreme, but adding two extra tasks to a Bop-It? Not so extreme. It’s nice that kids can get added cheddar on their Goldfish, but there’s nothing extreme about it. It’s just a more bold flavor that will leave cheese dust everywhere.
Fashion trends in the early 00’s tended to show a lot of skin. This isn’t necessarily bad, but it starts to become an issue when it creates unrealistic beauty standards. When I look back at the media of my childhood, I am shocked to see how thin everyone is. This was an unhealthy standard, and certainly one that would influence eating disorders. Yet it would take years before it was addressed, as popular retailers like Abercrombie would only stock smaller sizes to keep tininess on-trend.
Thankfully, body positivity is the standard right now. We’ve come a long way from the image displayed in the early 2000’s, and inclusivity is fashionable. While the trends from this time aren’t all bad, many of them are designed for specific body types. Wearing low-rise jeans and strapless tops don’t cater to people who store weight in different places. Embracing these looks might stall some of the progress we’ve been making.
Playing Dumb for Attention
At the turn of the millennium, your attitude could boost your social status. People weren’t praised for accolades or their independence. Rather, the illusion of stupidity was considered cool. Perhaps this began with the teens on Clueless or expanded into the mainstream with Michael Kelso on That 70’s Show. Regardless, if you acted like an air head you could be judged entirely on your appearance.
There was no better faux-bimbo than Paris Hilton. The heiress took the trend mainstream on her show The Simple Life with BFF Nicole Richie. In the show, the millionaires would need to work blue-collared jobs. They’d act as if they had no idea how the world worked, but they were cute so they could survive. Paris has admitted she was pretending to be a dumb blonde, but the public ate it up. While Paris could turn this into a successful career move, other people lost opportunities because they wanted to appear dumb.
Plastering Brands Everywhere
People have always had a taste for expensive clothing, but the turn of the millennium saw the consumer become the advertiser. Brands put their log0s prominently on any garment they could. This meant people had the word “Abercrombie” across their chests, “Von Dutch” on their hats, and “Juicy” on their asses.
By the mid-to-late 00’s, the trend became overdone. It seemed no fabric was safe from the stitching of a logo, but then a new look took over: minimalism. Suddenly, their was no need to let the world know you purchased a buy-one-get-four-free shirt at Aéropostale. Some companies have struggled to adapt to the changes, but minimalism can only last for so long. Early 00’s trends are the exact opposite of minimalist, and brands will start printing logos faster than people can buy them.
Dogs As Accessories
Thanks to people like Paris Hilton and Elle Woods in Legally Blonde, tiny dogs became a fashion accessory. While Tinkerbelle and Bruiser were pampered on all occasions, most people can’t live the dream life of a celebrity. Regular civilians can’t take puppies into stores and tuck them into bags during class.
Dogs are not accessories. They’re lifelong commitments and have some ugly moments. They’ll chew up your designer shoes and poop in their boutique carriers. They can be become a part of a happy life, but be prepared for the expenses.
The attacks on September 11th may be the defining moment of the early 2000’s. It was a tragedy that claimed the lives of thousands, and the impact lasted for a long time after that day. Many Americans were rightfully confused, but they channeled this confusion into hate speech and hate crimes against Muslim and Middle Eastern people.
Recent years have seen these attacks rise again, and 2021 isn’t looking much better. Perhaps more concerning is the cry for people to emulate the September 12th attitude. During the 2020 election, this was stated as a call for unity. Recently, I saw Graham Allen’s book encouraging people to live like it’s 9/12. For millions, this day was a day of fear. As we approach the 20th anniversary of 9/11, it’s important to remember we all experienced this event differently. Ignoring these differences will divide more than unite.
The Ugly Turn-of-the-Millennium Trends
Fashion comes and goes, and many early 00’s trends will experience a resurgence. Truthfully, I believe some of them look bad, but they’re not harming us. The true ugliness from the early aughts comes from cultural shifts and corporate greed.
It feels like many human interest news sources are reporting on the return of 2000’s fashion. Each week I see an article about lace-up jeans or exposed thongs. We gawk at this fashion now, but I was alive during a time when this was considered attractive. My concerns have nothing to do with the thongs themselves. When I see these trends, I remember them in a certain context. If people are willing to wear their panties above their waistline, what other concepts are they willing to adopt?
Of course, the 2000’s were not all bad. I generally view this time with a sense of fondness. Still, the world is never perfect, and hindsight allows me to see the faults in our behaviors. I admit I held some incorrect believes during my middle school years, but I’ve grown since that time. I am not afraid of flared denim coming back, I’m more afraid of the ugly beliefs of the early 2000's.
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