Gen Z is redefining what we classify as Y2K fashion. We’re all familiar with the sassy graphic T-shirts, double denim, sparkles galore, and lowrise jeans that define the early 2000s. But now, young people are expanding the definition of Y2K style to encompass relics from other eras.

What the early ‘90s were to Millennials a decade ago, Y2K is to Gen Z now. While fantasizing about the good ol’ days, we often turn to dressing the part. For under-25-year-olds, Y2K style fulfills their need for nostalgia. But as young people reach for the recent past, some of their Y2K-inspired outfits are, well, losing the plot: Personal interpretations of the early 2000s are beginning to pull from adjacent fashion periods such as the 90s’ streetwear-heavy hip hop aesthetic the 2010s hipster look.

Additionally, it seems that younger fashion enthusiasts are taking the maximalist elements of Y2K fashion and running with them. While gaudiness was a core component to the aesthetic that dominated the late ‘90s and early 2000s, extra-ness isn’t the only defining feature of fashion from that period.

Y2K’s resurgence hit its peak last year, with labels like Versace and Blumarine sprinkling some of the trend’s nostalgic influences into their Spring/Summer 2023 collections. Blumarine leaned into butterfly tops and low-rise jeans, while Versace enlisted Paris Hilton to model a sequined mini dress, essentially a pink version of her iconic 21st birthday party look circa 2002.

On-the-nose portrayals of the flashy fashion era such as Versace and Blumarine’s SS23 collections and Normani’s ode to Y2K divas in her “Motivation” music video have always been accompanied by slightly confused interpretations of Y2K. Just look at Drake’s Y2K-themed birthday party from 2018, for instance. While some guests attended in bedazzled Ed Hardy and Von Dutch, others interpreted the era more broadly. For example, one party-goer arrived in Tommy Hilfiger, paying homage to an instantly recognizable Aaliyah look that was born out of a 1996 Tommy campaign. Though iconic, the look is more reflective of street style associated with R&B and hip hop artists of the early to mid ‘90s.

More recently, Ice Spice was spotted in the Bronx filming a music video for her new song, “In Ha Mood.” She sported long ginger hair, a white tank top with a bright red bra poking out, and a cropped white fur coat, a ‘fit that Twitter circles characterized as Y2K-inspired. While eye-catching and extra, just like everything from the early 2000s, the look is also reminiscent of an outfit from Nicki Minaj’s early Barbie era in 2009 – the late, rather than early, aughts.

Some of the confusion between the early and late 2000s stems from the overlap that exists between Y2K and 2010s style. Take A Bathing Ape’s camouflage-printed shark hoodie as an example: While the hoodie was extremely popular in the street and skate culture scenes of the mid 2010s, the brand’s signature pattern actually originated in the late 90s, and, thanks to celebs like Pharrell, saw huge success in early 2000s American culture.

All of this overlap and confusion leads me to ask: Is it possible to land on one universally agreed-upon definition of Y2K fashion, or the fashion of any era?

I don’t think it is. As we continue dressing to satiate our appetite for nostalgia, we pull sometimes out-of-context references to craft today’s concept of the past. The definition of Y2K style varies person-to-person. Like any period in history, the early 2000s bore witness to a slew of style moments, from the stacked jelly bracelets and pattern clashing of Disney stars to the bedazzled bandanas and baby tees of R&B girl groups. Different subcultures brought the aesthetic to life in their own ways, making any era’s “signature style” subjective – it all comes down to one’s personal experience of the time period. To me, Ice Spice’s aforementioned look is channeling Nicki’s 2009 Beam Me Up Scotty photoshoot. But to someone who wasn’t a Barb back in the day, her outfit may register differently.

In Highsnobiety’s Spring 2022 print issue, Joanna Pope explained that as TikTok, Depop, and fast fashion retailers throw around the term “Y2K” for clicks and sales, our concept of early 2000s fashion is evolving. Technically, Y2K spans the years 1997 to 2005. But today, young people using these sites to source their inspired ‘fits blend styles from the earlier ‘90s, early aughts, and the early 2010s.

At this point, it might not matter whether we agree on when Y2K fashion begins and ends.
Today’s version of Y2K fashion incorporates a mix of style subgenres, remixing the look to encompass much more than low-rise jeans and bedazzled butterflies.TikTok creators are adding elements of grunge and rave fashion to the mix, as well as “McBling,” the extravagant aesthetic popularized during the second half of the early 2000s to the early 2010s.

In a recent report, trend forecaster Samantha Hine explained that the craze for Y2K-inspired fashion is a response to today’s ever-growing pressure to appear picture-perfect. The over-the-top, glitzy, and sleazy aesthetic of the early 2000s acts as a subversive counterpoint to the demand for flawless skin, a designer wardrobe, and a carefully curated online presence.

Love it or hate it, the Y2K trend is predicted to stick around for a while longer, according to Hince. The expert went on to proclaim that our response to perfection fatigue will only continue to grow – as will the definition of what falls under the trend’s umbrella.

Like all things, fashion is subjective, but everything showy and bedazzled is not canonically Y2K. Not that it matters anymore — to each their own. As far as I’m concerned, flashy and trashy trend-bends are timeless fun.