Mainstream teen pop culture of the 2000s was ruled by blonde, skinny white girls taking center stage in hot pink like Regina George, Elle Woods, Cher Horowitz, Sharpay Evans and Hannah Montana, to name a few. It has been 15 years since the latter show premiered, and Miley Cyrus posted a letter to Hannah that made me reflect on my Disney Channel-obsessed childhood. Like many elementary-age girls of the time, I was fixated: I watched every episode, belted every song and saw Miley in concert in 2009. As a kid, teenagers are the epitome of coolness: they ditch school and go out with their friends, they wear and say what they want and in many movies and shows, they spontaneously break into song. So, as a girl growing up in the 2000s, I idolized the sassy teen queens on every screen.
I also resented them.
Other than the fact that I was too young to wear crop tops and tight dresses, I was scared of being deemed, well, girly. At the time, being cool and being proudly feminine were mutually exclusive. Most of the aforementioned characters were villainized through their brazen styles and attitudes, and the opposite of who I thought I wanted to be.
I was a little girl with a big heart, gapped teeth, plaid khaki shorts and if I was lucky, the occasional graphic tee from Justice. I was taught that the most important action was to be nice to others. But, thanks to the pink-demonizing patriarchal media industry, I thought being “girly” meant being mean.
It’s been 15 years, and inevitably, I’ve changed: I have now exchanged Capri-Suns for coffee, library cards for debit cards and the Youtube-to-MP3 converter for a PDF-to-Word one.
But the clothes are back in style.
Yes, TikTok and Instagram influencers are embracing tube tops and low-rise jeans, but designer brands are incorporating Y2K trends into their designs too. Both the sequins decorating Chanel’s Spring-Summer 2021 show and the bell sleeves in Dior’s Spring-Summer 2021 collection are evocative of the ‘70s revival in the early aughts. The stylistic return to the time is not surprising: since the second half of the 20th century, there has generally been a 20-year cycle in fashion, in which trends from twenty years prior are borrowed and incorporated into modern styles. For the current Y2K revival, this means being fun and flirty and unapologetically feminine. It means being hot.
The idea of “hotness,” of course, has obvious connotations associated with appealing to the male gaze. While the short skirts and slogan tanks of “Mean Girls” are revealing, they are also bold. Clothes, like words, carry the power we give them. The trends of the early 2000s, with their bright pinks, shining sequins and daring prints, contain the power to express and encourage confidence. Though they may not speak for you, when paired with courage and poise, they can highlight who you are. They allow you to make a statement without saying a word.
It is important to note, though, that we are not simply repeating the trends from twenty years ago, but adapting them to modern standards. Since the release of the aforementioned movies and shows, there has been a surge in media diversity and inclusion, plus-size models and anti-consumerist self-love movements. Being hot is not correlated with a size or measurement or price tag — it is about self-assurance.
Granted, the 20-year fashion cycle may be a marketing gimmick and a product of the ever-growing fast-paced fashion industry — the faster trends change, the more they will offer at your local Forever 21 or fast-fashion establishment of your choice. But it may also be a chance for personal reinvention: 15 years ago, I would have never dared to wear bright pink or sequins to school to avoid the dreaded label of girly-girl. And five years ago, my body insecurity shuddered at the mini-skirts, crop-tops and bralettes trending at the time. (I did appreciate the high-waisted jeans, but I can’t say I will be tucking oversized band tees into them again.) Although these trends move through cycles, my mentality and confidence continually grow. Each time an old trend returns, it is more than a chance to reuse accessories. It is a chance to reclaim childhood dreams.
It’s been 15 years, and inevitably, I’ve changed. Now, I’m a woman with an even bigger heart, a more refined wardrobe and the confidence to replace the once plaid khaki shorts with low-rise jeans. I’ve learned that love is not a choice between self and others, but a cycle. Loving yourself — yes, knowing that you are hot — will help you spread love to others.
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