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What Is Y2K Fashion Anyway? A Guide to Early Aughts Style and How to Wear It Now

Last week, pop star Olivia Rodrigo released the music video from her song “Brutal.” Naturally, social media went wild for it.

There was plenty to talk about: the cartoonish face filters, the ballerinas dancing on cars, Rodrigo’s penchant for comedy.

But above all else, there was the fashion. From butterfly hair clips and baby tees to a shiny crop top and matching hip hugger bell bottoms, the music video was chock full of early 2000s fashion reference points. Rodrigo even wore a vintage dress that Britney Spears donned at the American Music Awards back in 2003 (a Roberto Cavalli one-shouldered mini-dress, to be exact).

The video debuted just as the term “Y2K fashion” started its crescendo in pop culture search engines., a  But for the uninitiated (i.e. those who were maybe too young to live it the first time around), the term “Y2K” and the fashion it signifies might feel al bit nebulous. What exactly is Y2K fashion? Who wore it the first time, and who (aside from Rodrigo) is epitomizing its resurgence?

Herewith, a guide to everything you need to know about Y2K fashion.

Y2K Fashion Was Not Just 2000s Fashion

While plenty of Y2K fashion did occur within the 2000s, the style trends are not necessarily one and the same. Y2K fashion could be compared as the Champagne of 2000s fashion: all Y2K fashion is part of 2000s fashion, but not all 2000s fashion could be called Y2K fashion. More accurately, Y2K fashion could be defined as the style trends that were popular from approximately the years between 1998 and 2002.

Y2K Frenzy Was a Real Thing

To understand Y2K fashion, one must understand the term “Y2K” and what it primarily signified. The term of course refers to the year 2000, which seem straightforward, except that at the time, the turn of the century represented a whole host of prophecies, paranoias and uncertainties surrounding the countdown to the 21st. Potential computer errors related to the formatting and storage of data had computer programmers working overtime to make sure that digital calendars didn’t roll back to the year 1900. There was a rush to stock up on food, water and generators should the glitches actually cause a disruption in global markets. And plenty of people genuinely believed that the world was going to end when the clock struck midnight.

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The cover of Destiny’s Child’s 1999 album “The Writings On The Wall,” with members in futuristic tops that were ubiquitous at the time.
CREDIT: Courtesy

Fashion Revolved Around The Obsession With the Future

With all of that anxiety and anticipation, everyone was constantly looking to the future, wondering what technological advancements the new century would bring. The economy was still in the midst of the its dot-com boom, which brought forth mass Internet use for the very first time (the dot-com bubble wouldn’t burst until 2001). The mobile phone already existed, but the era brought the Nokia 3310 and T-Mobile Sidekick (and in 2004, the ubiquitous Motorola Razr) to widespread use. In Japan the first camera phone — the Kyocera Visual Phone — was introduced in May 1999. All of this technology was reflected in clothing. Metallic pieces (such as Rodrigo’s aforementioned silver two-piece set), sharp accessories such as angular sunglasses and pointy heels, plus latex looks (such as Britney Spears’s red jumpsuit in the “Oops I Did It Again” video) hinted at space travel. Elsewhere, a bright primary color palette had a mathematical feel to it all. Even before the actual year 2000, music videos from director Hype Williams used a fisheye lens and eccentric colors to convey an otherworldly feel.

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Britney Spears onstage in August 1999.
CREDIT: AP Images

Y2K Fashion Was Divided Into Two Distinct Eras

Leading up to 2000, the obsession with the future dominated nearly every facet of fashion and the trends it produced. From shiny materials (as simple as a silver metallic overcoat) to sharp accessories, futuristic platforms and ROYGBIV colors (aka the primary color wheel), the future informed most fashion trends, including chain mail tops, pleather pants and choker necklaces. But after 2000, once everyone realized that the world would still go on, fashion became a bit more carefree and bohemian. From sparkly tunics and low rise jeans to crystal belts and butterfly accessories, the after of Y2K fashion had a decidedly whimsical feel.

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Christina Aguilera at the 2000 Grammy Awards in a chain mail dress by Versace.
CREDIT: AP Images
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Dua Lipa at the 2021 Grammy Awards in a Versace chain mail dress reminiscent of Aguilera’s 2000 version.
CREDIT: AP Images

These Shoes Defined Y2K Fashion

Square toes may still reign, but if the 20-year trend cycle holds, we’re already due for our pointy-toed return. That’s because at the turn of the century, the pointy-toed slingback was as much a thing — if not more — than the square toed shoe was. And from the introduction of the Spice Girls in 1996 to Y2K, platforms and flatforms (such as the Steve Madden Slinky sandal) were a futuristic fashion choice, while 2000 to 2002 introduced strappier sandals, especially as “Sex and the City” began its massive fashion and footwear influence (the show debuted in 1998).

Related: 12 Shoe Trends That Defined the 2000s

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The Spice Girls’ notorious platforms, an early Y2K shoe trend.
CREDIT: AP Images
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Sarah Jessica Parker on the red carpet in 1999.
CREDIT: AP Images

These Are the Poster Girls For Y2K Fashion Today

Rodrigo’s videos give a cinematic quality to the nostalgia, but Bella Hadid is the undisputed Queen Bee of Y2K Fashion now. From low rise pants and baby tees to her ubiquitous angular mini-sunglasses, the model embodies the resurgence of early 2000s fashion, with Dua Lipa, Hailey Bieber and

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Bella Hadid at the Dior men’s show in Paris in June.
CREDIT: MEGA

 

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