Why 90’s Fashion is Coming Back in 2021

Fashion. It is always moving forward, or is it stuck in yesterday? From the explosion of thrift stores to the countless oversized “Friends” themed sweaters available on Amazon, nostalgic fashion is ubiquitous in today’s world. (Segarra; Friends) Pantsuits are no longer just for 1980s businesswomen and Hillary Clinton, they are enrobed by the likes of Lady Gaga, Beyonce, and Rihanna. (Petrarca). “Mom jeans” are no longer the butt of a 2003 SNL skit joke, but the most popular style of denim on the market.  (Lowe) In fact, the high-waisted jean style is credited to potentially saving the denim industry. (Lowe)  Bell-bottoms, bra tops, and fringe suede jackets have been rocking high-fashion runways. (Laham) Butterfly clips, scrunchies, and chokers of the 1990s are back. (Sardina) Nostalgic fashion is no longer for the pretentious Portland hipster or the packrat grandma who has not thrown away an item of clothing since 1973, it is the future of fashion. 

First off, how is nostalgic fashion marketed? For brands like Retro Stage Style, nostalgia is the universality of the brand’s identity. Retro Stage Style is a completely online vintage style clothing store that sells women’s apparel inspired from three different eras, the 1920s, the 1950s, and the 1960s, the best selling of these being the 1950s. (Retro Stage) The site features every retro style imaginable from flirty bright yellow polka dot spaghetti strap dresses to elegant scarlet lace off the shoulder dresses. (Retro Stage) The brand has a significant following on Instagram of 365,000 followers, and partners with popular vintage style Instagram models, such as Bianca Blakney aka @pinuppixiegirl. (Retro Stage; Blakney) Instagram is an immensely powerful tool for brand marketers, with nearly 50% of Gen Zers and millennials pointing to the platform as the best way to find out about new products. (Mougey)

While Retro Stage serves a distinct market segment, the 1950s are nowhere near the most popular era for clothing. In fact, the most searched fashion trend on Google in 2018 was 1980s fashion, followed by Grunge style, 1990s fashion, and 2000s fashion. (Yotka) The most searched fashion brand was Fashion Nova, followed by Louis Vuitton, Versace, Givenchy, and Gucci. (Yotka) Fashion Nova is an entirely online fast fashion store for both men and women. (Fashion Nova) While the store wasn’t founded until 2006, the store relies heavily on nostalgia in its clothing styles and marketing, albeit far more subtle than a vintage brand like Retro Stage. (Fashion Nova) A recent YouTube ad released by the brand in April 2020 called “Get Into These Prints,” features a male model posing in a series of very ’90’s style printed shirts, including Harajuku, tropical, geometrical, floral, and even tiger prints. (Get Into These Prints; Jain) Similar shirts used to be donned by the likes of Leonardo DiCaprio, Luke Perry, and Jim Carrey’s Ace Ventura. (Gustashaw; Snowden; Gallagher) The model poses under fluorescent neon lights to the tune of glitchy techno music, exuding a palpable 80’s vibe. (Get Into These Prints) 

Newer brands like Fashion Nova have to depend entirely on newstalgia to sell their brands, as they do not have an enduring history to rely on. Newstalgia is constructing something to feel old even though it is new. (Wolff) One could argue that all nostalgic fashion is newstalgia. While thrift stores and online secondhand shops like Poshmark and ThredUp are booming in popularity right now, the majority of fashion brands need to sell new styles to turn a profit. (Segarra) Recently, brands like Louis Vuitton and Versace have been pulling old advertising campaigns out of their archives.  (Milner and Suen) Louis Vuitton recently posted an ad originally photographed in Tibet by Jean Larivière in 1998, featuring three children wearing astronaut helmets and printed Louis backpacks. (Milner and Suen) The ad seems eerily appropriate to today’s times, amidst a worldwide pandemic. (Milner and Suen)  In March, Versace posted a photo on Instagram from their Spring-Summer 1995 Versace Home campaign, which features Nadja Auermann and Claudia Schiffer gossiping over tea and drowning in Versace pillows and blankets. (Milner and Suen)  Image licensing agencies, which have access to unpublished shoots and shoots produced on spec by high profile photographers, have seen an uptick of business by nearly 50 to 60% in the past 4 months.  (Milner and Suen) While part of this uptick has to do with the fact that Covid-19 has canceled countless photoshoots and put a financial strain on brands, it also has to do with the increase in demand for this kind of nostalgia. (Milner and Suen)  Donnatella Versace said, “In the past few years, people have shown great interest in the history of Versace,” and that these archival images give consumers “an escape from reality.” (Milner and Suen) As we know that hard times escalate the demand for nostalgia, a global pandemic, worldwide protests, hard financial times, and the potential bubonic plague around the corner seems like the perfect time to post high-fashion 90s ad campaigns. (Laham)

Ironically, nostalgia marketing in fashion works best for the youngest generations, millennials and Gen Z. (Cavill; Velasquez) However, that’s not to say that brands cannot use nostalgic marketing for older generations, like Baby Boomers and Gen Xers. WGSN Mindset director, Jennifer Edwards put it perfectly when she said that “Both Gen X and Gen Z have ’90s fever. Gen X is nostalgic for childhood, and Gen Z is nostalgic for an era they never experienced.” (Warren) Edwards goes on to recommend that brands and retailers use the multigenerational obsession with nostalgia to their advantage. (Warren) While younger generations experience “fauxstaglia” or a yearning to be a part of an era they never experienced, older generations experience true nostalgia as they actually lived through it. (Wolff) 

 However, brand marketers cannot simply use the same marketing approach for all demographics. For one, popular styles from the 1970s such as bra tops and hot pants, might not appeal the same way to a 62-year-old woman as opposed to a 26-year-old woman. (Laham) Secondly, Gen X and Baby Boomers shop differently than millennials. (Mougey) For one, over 75 percent of Gen Xers and Baby Boomers agree that online fashion serves younger consumers better. (Mougey) Additionally, 84% of Baby Boomers prefer an in-store shopping experience, citing having to ship unflattering items back as the biggest roadblock to online shopping. (Mougey) Both Gen X and Baby Boomers are active on Facebook, and the majority still use traditional media, including radio, television, and newspapers. (Lewis; Giffin) Fashion brands should take advantage of these mediums to target nostalgic Boomers and Gen Xers. Brands could tailor the styles to be nostalgic for these specific generations, but also make them age-appropriate. Ideally, the brands would have brick and mortar stores in addition to their online stores, allowing Gen X and Boomer consumers the ability to try clothes on in person. 

 To conclude, is fashion spiraling in a neverending feedback loop? Are we perpetually stuck in the 20th century? The answer is yes and no. One pop culture expert, Patrick Metzger, found that cultural trends cycle every thirty years, analyzing data from 500 films from the 20th century. (Metzger) Why thirty years? Since children and adolescents are the primary consumers of culture, it takes about thirty years for them to grow up and become the primary creators of culture. (Metzger) While Metzger’s data focuses on films, he mentions that this theory applies to all aspects of culture. (Metzger) That means right now in 2020, we are departing from the 1980s boom of bright neon prints and entering the 1990s boom of basement grunge. This phenomenon has already become apparent in Gen X, Millennial, Gen Z obsession with the 1990s culture. However, while some trends have been warmly welcomed, such as ripped jeans and denim skirts, other trends have been rightfully left in the grave, like jelly shoes and Hammer pants. (Ati; Hampel) 

    Typically, fashion is recycled every few decades, but the styles are modernized and updated. However, could Gen Z be changing that? Unlike other generations, Gen Z has very few original fashion trends, relying heavily on recycled fashion trends, primarily from the 1990s. (Su; Wheeler) Yet what Gen Z lacks in originality, they might make up for in sustainability. (Bennett) Unlike Millenials who are addicted to fast fashion brands like Zara and Forever 21, Gen Zers avoid big brands like the plague.  (Bennett) Gen Zers are far less brand conscious and prefer brands that are sustainable and environmentally responsible. (Bennett) Right now, the oldest Gen Zers are only 23, so they do not currently have a profound enough impact on culture to determine how their views will impact the fashion industry as a whole. (Dimock) The most likely scenario is that by 2030, we will be relishing in 2000’s nostalgia, back to wearing tube tops and low rise jeans. (Liao) God willing, the Juicy Couture tracksuits and UGG boots will remain peacefully in the 2000s, where they rightfully belong. (Liao) 





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