Low-cut jeans, halter tops, Von Dutch hats, and velour Juicy Couture tracksuits. Ed Hardy shirts, fake Louis Vuitton handbags, and neckties as necklaces. Flare pants, chunky highlights, rhinestones, and Baby Phat phone cases.
Welcome to the year 2000.
I bet many of you readers just got flashbacks. I also bet many of you cringed and/or gasped in horror at said flashbacks. It’s not an uncommon reaction. Our own Andrea Klick summed it up when I told her my idea for this piece: “2000s style is disgusting!”
Indeed, most people would love to forget the aesthetic of this particular decade. The transition from the oft-lauded 90s to the big, fat, futuristic Y2K created a culture dominated by Myspace, MTV, and Paris Hilton, with Kim Kardashian following her like a spray-tanned, bag-toting lapdog. Call the decade too recent or call it too horrible; either way, a 2000s style revival is an idea oft-dismissed. We’ve kept the early aughts frozen in time, never to be thawed and let their Victoria’s Secret body spray-scented charms flow back into the mainstream.
The first inklings of the 2000s revival popped up in 2015, most notably an online article from Vogue titled “The Year in Fashion: Are You Ready for the Second Coming of Early-Aughts Style?”. From there came more articles, Tumblr blogs, Instagram accounts, and, of course, a million near-identical “2000s kids” Buzzfeed posts. While not everyone is walking around in barely-there sequins tops and dresses-over-jeans just yet, this surge of attention to the aughts to nothing to wave off. What do I think about it? Well, being Her Majesty the Queen of Opinion, my stance spans quite a few long, convoluted paragraphs.
So, as Avril Lavigne used to whine from iPods everywhere, “Why’d you have to go and make things so complicated?”
If you’re a student, you probably remember the early 2000s as a fever-dream whirlwind of Webkinz and Disney Channel original movies. I remember those years the same way, but rather than nostalgia, I only feel confusion. Indeed, that’s how I can sum up the first decade of my life: pure confusion. Confusion over my parents’ divorce. Confusion over going to new school after new school after new school. Confusion over what other kids whispered to each other when they looked at me, an awkward, fidgety girl who had never watched an episode of Lizzie McGuire in her life.
To say I was out-of-touch with pop culture in the 2000s is the understatement of, well, the decade. Being raised by a single Chinese mother blessed me with a unique experience and worldview. Unfortunately, during my childhood, not many people saw that as a blessing. Not even me. Was my mother’s parenting inadequate? I would never even insinuate such a thing. Was it different, for better or for worse? Absolutely. I can’t speak for my mom, but I know the typical suburban American existence, with its science fairs and birthday parties, bake sales and dance recitals, perplexed and even terrified me. I stumbled through my early years, even more clueless and bumbling than a typical elementary schooler.
It’s not like I didn’t try. While other girls my age read Tiger Beat and copied the styles of the featured starlets, I tried my best to maintain a facade even remotely similar to them. Of course, I failed quite often and quite hard. I still remember the gasps and horrified stares of my classmates when I uttered the blasphemous phrase, “Who’s Fergie?” My ventures into trend-setting never passed in the eyes of my peers. Even my father, usually extremely considerate and loving towards his little girl, once told me, “Angie, if you don’t want people to make fun of you, and you go around wearing that stuff… well…” Cue deep, lips-pressed-together dad-sigh.
Eventually, it occurred to me that no matter how many tank tops I layered, how many Taylor Swift and Hannah Montana CDs I bought, or how much Juicy Tubes lipgloss I glopped on, I would never be like the other girls. And that, my friends, would go down in the family album as baby’s first rebellion. I won’t detail every nuance of my angry rejection of popular culture, but I will admit to committing near-unspeakable atrocities to many an innocent Limited Too catalogue. I felt as if the whole world, down to every last speck of body glitter clinging to the gyrating hips of that week’s teen pop star, hated me, so I hated it right back. And you thought you started your emo phase early.
I remained in my own little counter-culture against all things aughts for a good part of my life. Even when liking things “ironically” became cool, the idea of embracing the years of my youth repulsed me. While others had laughs over the ridiculousness of the 2000s, all I remembered was that horrible sense of otherness that colored my childhood. I couldn’t enjoy the 2000s then, and I couldn’t enjoy them now. That was that, or so it seemed.
With time, even the most stubborn little punk realizes that constant, violent rejection can get a bit tiresome, especially concerning things that have long passed. I hate to sound like one of those weird, overly optimistic therapists who recommend meditation for everything, but sometimes it’s better to embrace the subject of your pain rather than shunning it time and time again. And that is why I ended up poring over all the aforementioned 2000s-revival articles. That is why I watched Mean Girls all the way through for the first time in my life. That is why I started listening to Britney Spears, reading Harry Potter, making mix CDs, and pinning puka shell necklaces, belly rings, and Fiorucci shirts to my inspiration boards. And yes, I even took a few Myspace-angle duckface pictures of myself. I missed out the first time, okay?
I’m generally skeptical towards the concept of “empowerment.” Maybe I’m justified, maybe I just haven’t experienced it enough yet. However, I do know this: as silly as it may sound, immersing myself in 2000s culture – all the celeb drama, teen trends, and fashion staples in their unabashedly tacky, tawdry glory – empowers me like nothing else. Instead of cringing at the mere mention of the decade, I can now smile and say “Oh my gosh, Justin and Britney’s all-denim red carpet look? Iconic.” Take that, Regina Georges of my elementary school.
The aughts revival makes some squeal with glee and others shake their heads. For me, it goes a whole lot deeper. I never thought I’d view the 2000s as anything more than a difficult, embarrassing time best forgotten. But I took things into my own hands. I took the culture that confused and alienated me and created my own experience. Maybe I can’t relate to that hashtag-throwback feeling others get – so what? I’ve carved out a space for myself and made the 2000s something I can enjoy right here, right now.
As Paris Hilton would say: “That’s hot.”
Drawing by Angeline Stein.