Life Is Terrible Right Now, So It's No Wonder We Want Summer Style to Stress Comfort

Nostalgia can act as a safety blanket — something to burrow into when reality becomes especially cruel.
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The Marine Serre Spring 2019 finale. Photo: Imaxtree

The Marine Serre Spring 2019 finale. Photo: Imaxtree

Near the start of the 1993 cult classic "Dazed and Confused," Darla (played by the perfect Parker Posey) leads her fellow class of 1976 seniors in initiation against a crop of freshmen. She screams at the baby teens to air raid, verbally berates them and, before driving them through a car wash, launches an assault in the form of eggs, condiments and flour.

"Suffer!" she bellows while squeezing a ketchup bottle.

And that, friends, is the general vibe of 2019.

As you're surely aware, most days are a hell fire. But where real life is taking us further and further into the collective worst case scenario, fashion is seeking refuge in the past. This makes sense: To combat the feelings of doom, dread, anxiety and anger, it's logical to use art and clothing as a form of escape. While the nineties were by no means politically or socially ideal, many of us millennials were too young to process events in the way we would now, meaning that cosplaying as our younger selves or decade-appropriate style icons allows for mental and emotional reprieve. Even for a few precious seconds, we can focus our concentration on the romance of nostalgia and how to wear it on our literal sleeves. And nostalgia, as we all know, is where facts and history don't quite belong.

Every spring and summer, I rewatch the same handful of movies: "Reality Bites," "Dazed and Confused," "Now & Then," "Clueless" and "10 Things I Hate About You." I play them on repeat, usually in the background of a work-day or cleaning binge, and remember what it felt like to watch them for the first time; to sit transfixed by various Hollywood manifestations of young adulthood and how exciting and full of promise the future seemed. But, since I was too young to drive or work (or date Heath Ledger) back then, I began concentrating on the lead characters' clothes. Through a sleeveless Gap button-up, pair of platform flip-flops or 70s-inspired sneakers, I did my best to channel the best traits of the fictional women I wanted to be. As far as I was concerned, if I could be like them, I would be less like me.

And then I'd remember I was still the same person after blushing too much while talking to some guy I liked, only I was wearing a different type of T-shirt.

The thing is, instead of growing out of this, it's become more of a coping mechanism than an embarrassing relic from my past. Of course, as a woman in her early 30s, I understand that wearing a shirt or plaid skirt like Cher Horowitz won't morph me into Alicia Silverstone — but I also understand that wearing that same shirt will remind me of what it was like to watch "Clueless" for the first time. Or to be less jaded than I am now. Or how easy life was when my biggest problem was who was going to come to the mall with me on Friday night. (Even though at the time, that was hardly my biggest problem. But that's nostalgia: It lets you glaze over everything that isn't a direct line to what you think happiness was.)

This method of dealing with day-to-day anxieties has gotten even easier thanks to the re-introduction of pieces and trends that have blossomed from looking backwards. Bike shorts were resurrected by labels like Fendi, Dior and Chanel this spring, but where they were embraced and showcased by the likes of Kim Kardashian West and worn with blazers and fanny packs, they also evoke Princess Diana's mid-nineties fitness vibes. (Which is why I don't know how anyone could wear them with anything other than an oversize sweatshirt and trainers, thanks.) 

Around the same time, Levis introduced a pair of high-rise Mom Jeans with embroidered flowers on them (as if plucked from the pages of our fourth grade class photos). The same DIY tie-dye that's beloved by Deadheads and former summer camp attendees alike is everywhere, thanks to a co-sign from luxury brands including Prada and Proenza Schouler. Retro sportswear by the likes of Nike, Adidas, Fila and Reebok has been riding the late-nineties wave for a while now, with the return of sneakers formerly reserved for parents, P.E. and whatever else we were wearing in 1999.

A cozy look from the Chanel Spring 2019 collection. Photo: Imaxtree

A cozy look from the Chanel Spring 2019 collection. Photo: Imaxtree

This is interesting for another reason, too: On top of us now being old enough to know how to wear outfits better (I paired Modrobes with hiking boots once and thought I looked "sporty"), all of the above trends are also comfortable to wear. You may not love the look of bike shorts or fanny packs or jeans with an abundance of space in the leg, but should you choose to wear them, you'll be hard-pressed to ignore another reason why our lust for the past is so potent — in our youth, we could move and breathe and exist in our clothes. We wore overalls, the greatest of all style staples. Floral dresses were (and are) one of the only pieces that can keep you sufficiently cool in hot summer weather. And let's get serious: Bucket hats really do help block out the sun.

Plus, our return to styles of yore allow for personal interpretations of what once-upon-a-time looked for us. Sorting through which trends to resurrect and the ones to leave behind is an exercise in sifting through what means most about the past — your past — and the very private relationships to our younger selves and who we were as well as who we wanted to be. Arguably, on top of being a coping mechanism and a reminder that comfort is a priority, nostalgia makes us feel closer to the parts of our lives we were too young to capitalize on, which means we'll always dictate our own terms — and that, try as it might, nostalgia-as-a-trend can never fully be marketed to us.

Of course, this is coming from someone who rewatches movies that tend to romanticize youth and the past as much just as much as by brands and major fashion houses. And this is also coming from someone who combs through thrift stores and vintage racks to try and find pieces that take me far away from 2019 and into eras I was too young to fully understand (or never even lived through). But I figure as long as you can articulate why your penchant for the past is so profound, you will avoid failing to pinpoint its flaws. Instead of nostalgia being a type of holy grail, it is a safety blanket. Something to burrow into when reality becomes especially cruel — but nothing so big that it blocks your view of it.

Now excuse me while I fry like bacon.

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