Early aughts fashion — it's a phrase that might send some running for the sartorial hills, tucked safely into their ultra-high-rise pants and their roomy Phoebe Philo-for-Céline-style outerwear. Return to the era of constantly bared skin, high-flash glitz and, oh my god, so much orange spray tan? An absolutely hard pass for them, thank you.
But for others, the over-the-top fashion that defined the new millennium is releasing a siren call too sweet to resist — and it's not Gen-Z leading the way, either.
Millennials old enough to remember "TRL" but too young to have spent money on so much as a Rich and Skinny jean, let alone a Fendi Baguette, now have the disposable income to invest in the styles they once coveted in the pages of Teen People. "These trends and brands are from such a nostalgic point in time for our generation, specifically," says Shelby Hyde, a fashion writer with a secondhand shopping column at Nylon. "It's one of the first examples of an era that we lived through and can now look back, reflect on and enjoy."
"Personally, I'm especially excited about the '90s and early '00s brands making a comeback," she says, "because I feel like I didn't get a chance to enjoy them the first time around."
Of course, in fashion, it's common for trends to repeat themselves every 20 years. But for fans of early aughts fashion, it's about more than just a typical trend cycle: A combination of constant digital overload and the Covid-19 crisis has millennials dreaming of simpler times, when the most important online decision to make involved setting an AIM away message and when malls were the center of the social life.
"I think so many of us are really into buying and shopping from this era because subconsciously we want to be a part of keeping that time period alive — it feels so mystic and pure, and the looks felt authentic and raw," says Serena Morris, who runs the Instagram account @bestoftrr. "We're in a digital overload currently, where we constantly process the things we see and hear every second of everyday. But at one one point, if you wanted to see what was hot, you'd have to either pick up a magazine, turn on the TV or walk into a store. And in my opinion, that probably makes way more of a mental impression and connection versus scrolling constantly."
For Morris, the style moments that really stuck were the ones she saw in popular media: Jennifer Lopez throwing her Baguette out of the car in the "Love Don't Cost a Thing" video, Foxy Brown front row at Dior shows, Mary J. Blige's Fendi sunglasses on the "Share My World" album cover, Destiny's Child wearing head-to-toe Gucci on MTV.
"That type of representation is timeless, especially for Black and brown women. You feel a sense of pride when you find and wear something from a time period where the people you looked up to literally paved the way for the culture and were so influential on how we dress now," she says. "To me, it's like paying proper homage."
Besides, perhaps you've heard that people are looking to make a statement with their clothes when coming out of the pandemic (even though that reemergence might be delayed). What makes a bigger statement than the paparazzi-ready clothes of the early aughts?
"People have been cooped up at home for some time, and that gives a lot of time to sit on the internet and search. Archive deep-dive, baby!" says Vogue writer and host of Instagram series "Never Worns" Liana Satenstein. "But also, I think these early aughts brands were the wildest moments in fashion history, which resonates with right now: People want to go out and be seen and look hot."
"Honestly, I wear a lot of these things together like I'm going to the extreme," she says. "When I was going to the office, I used to dress in all black, like I was going to a constant shiva, so this is a nice change."
Luckily, unlike the early aughts, when your only options were eBay or local thrift shops, it's never been easier to hunt down vintage labels secondhand. A deep scroll through sites like Depop, The RealReal and Poshmark can unearth all kinds of sparkling treasures, whether that's a Vivienne Westwood necklace or a Jean Paul Gaultier tee (both currently hot ticket items). There are also curators on social media, like Morris and Olivia Haroutounian; the latter's Instagram account, @shop_reallifeasliv, has proven to be an invaluable resource not just for shopping, but for educating newbies to lesser-remembered brands of the time, like Ema Savahl, Gigi Hunter and Ilona Rich.
Much ink has already been spilled about the fact that shopping secondhand is both more ethical and sustainable, and if you're early enough to certain brands, pieces can be snapped up for a song. (Since Bella Hadid has been spotted wearing Michael Kors-era Celine, though, you might be too late on that one — and forget about Stella McCartney-era Chloé, which has long been a cult favorite.) Vintage shopping is also slow shopping, a buzzy concept for those looking to really invest in their wardrobes.
"It's an experiential and thoughtful process that I think forces us to be a lot more mindful; all the way from making sure the item is authentic, to checking for the condition and maybe even doing a little history on when it was made," says Morris. "In your research you may find that you actually love that entire collection and now you're on a mission to find more pieces — boom, new hobby!"
If you want to dive into the early aughts revival and treasure-hunt for the originals, take the time to research the brands you're thinking about trying out. It helps mitigate the chance you'll buy a dupe or a fake; plus, there's always a risk that fit could be off, which is why it's important to familiarize yourself with your own measurements and those of the brands you're shopping for. (Experts warn that clothes were cut smaller during that time period, so you may have to size up.)
It's worth noting that plus-size shoppers are going to be out of luck when it comes to this trend. If you think size inclusivity is bad now, it was downright abysmal in the early aughts, when going up to a tight US 10 would've been considered progressive.
If you're looking to get ahead of the next big thing, labels to look for include DSquared, Roberto Cavalli and Coach. (The latter's re-issued Pillow Bag has been a huge success and has fans looking back further in the brand's archives.) Item-wise, bedazzled jeans are having a moment, as are graphic tees and tops with a little bit of sex appeal, whether that's a sheer fabric or a well-placed cutout. And, yes, the pants should be low-rise: "When styled correctly, there's just something so effortlessly chic about them that I've started gravitating towards," Hyde says.
Vintage isn't the only avenue through which you can participate in the early aughts revival. The trend for secondhand styles has driven a resurgence of these original brands back onto the runway, so to speak. Whether you're ready for the return of the bandage dress or not, creative director Christian Juul Neilsen has been steering Hervé Leger into an exciting new era since 2018. Cavalli has Fausto Puglisi on board for a revamp. And just recently, Pucci announced that it was tapping Camille Miceli as its first-ever female artistic head.
The gold standard for early-aughts brand comebacks, though, has to be Blumarine. Fans of the brand's 2000s era are still looking to snag pieces from then-creative director James Veloria, but Nicola Brognano — brought on to serve as creative director in late 2019 — has been mining the Paris Hilton-past to great success since his first collection for the Italian label, which debuted in September 2020.
Like so much in fashion, timing is everything when it comes to this comeback story, as is the experience of feeling emotionally connected to clothing.
"I don't think [early-aughts fashion] feels necessarily 'fresh' — it's just that it's being resumed at the right time," says Satenstein. "I think in the case of Blumarine, which was 'slept-on' for quite some time, it's an amazing experience for people to re-learn about the brand. People love learning about things. They want to feel connected."
"I'm in a place where I only want to shop for pieces that I feel connected to and emotional about, all which happen to come from a time of my formative/developing years of discovering myself, in the late '90s and early 2000s," says Morris. "Now, you can find similar pieces easily and relive those moments where you wanted so badly to be them and put your own spin on it! It honestly doesn't get more fun than that: being the person you've always wanted to be by recreating the moments that made you you!"