Y2k: the late 90s and early 00s fashions making a comeback

Hot on the heels of low-rise jeans, we take a look at other Y2k returnees, including jelly shoes and tiny, tiny shoulder bags

Just when you thought current times couldn’t get any more fraught, along comes the threat of a low-rise jeans renaissance. And not just low-rise jeans – birthed by Alexander McQueen as “bumsters” – but many staples of late-90s and early 00s fashion.

The industry is calling it a “Y2k trend”; millennials everywhere are calling it harrowing. But Gen Z is on board (there are TikToks galore) and, predating the trend slightly, Etsy is reporting a 11360% increase in searches for smiley face jewellery, as well as huge upticks for mood rings.

A whole section of Etsy is a version of the formative Claire’s. Meanwhile, Marc Jacobs has launched a collection, Heaven, based on teen fashion of the era, which includes chunky trainers, pleated skirts and baby tees. Both New York and London fashion weeks affirmed that the B*Witched look is back.

Aside from low-rise jeans, here’s a look at what else might be returning.

Jelly shoes

In the years BC (before Crocs), jelly shoes were probably the most aesthetically concerning footwear choice available. It was 1983 when Bloomingdale’s began stocking a range of styles, though it is thought the design originated after the second world war during a European leather shortage. However, it was the 90s when jelly shoes reached their tentacles into the mainstream.

Jelly shoes were on display during Neonyt’s show at Berlin fashion week in January 2020.
Jelly shoes were on display during Neonyt’s show at Berlin fashion week in January 2020. Photograph: Alexander Koerner/Getty for MBFW

Alexa Chung, a jelly shoe aficionado, has designed her own collection for Juju, telling Vogue: “I think the practical service jellies provide is what draws me to them.” Which I would agree with, having worn them throughout childhood to navigate Cumbrian pebble beaches, but Chung is known to wear hers in winter, which isn’t that practical.

Gucci has its own version, the slightly more maturely named “rubber buckle strap sandal”, and Celine, too, has gone weak at the knees. (Side note: Crocs have also had a revival during the pandemic, with sales up by as much as 64% in the first quarter of 2020. No comment.)

Cargo pants

All Saints (the band) were as famous for their uniform of cargo pants as for their wonderful pop (Pure Shores, still an absolute banger). The general mood of the cargo pant is: why have two pockets on a pair of trousers when you could have 10?

Cargo pants were beloved by men and women, with boybands and macho rappers as well as girlbands drowning in drawstrings and fabric on Top of the Pops, legs like windsocks. Often teamed with a vest top (complete with dog-tags) or a short denim jacket, nothing screamed straight in at No 9 like cargo pants, or their shorter sibling, the cargo short.

Marc Jacobs wearing cargo pants from his new collection, Heaven

I didn’t predict cargos making a comeback, but perhaps that was silly given this is an item versatile enough to have traversed from the British military to Destiny’s Child. Their return is aided by the ruling comfortable, practical aesthetic of pandemic lockdowns. Bella Hadid has modelled Marc Jacob’s current Heaven pair, and Isabel Marant served up metallic versions for spring/summer 2021.

Gap has a selection of cargo shorts in various colours, and a slim-fitting cargo pant. Depop is awash in original versions, and, as for anything functional, Carhatt has your back. It also has these lava lamp-esque purple pants.


Paris Hilton at the Alice+Olivia show, New York fashion week, September 2020.
Paris Hilton at the Alice+Olivia show, New York fashion week, September 2020. Photograph: Gregory Pace/Rex/Shutterstock

Ah, cropped halternecks – truly the sartorial Proust’s madeleine for early 00s club nights in freezing UK city centres. Paris Hilton, the doyenne of early 00s style, had two dominant looks: Juicy Couture velour tracksuit paired with Uggs, and cropped halter with mons pubis-skimming jeans. Hilton still suits a halterneck, wearing one to the Alice+Olivia show in New York last September. Other fans included Gwyneth Paltrow, Kate Moss, and Victoria Beckham.

Zara has gone ALL OUT on halters for 2021. Carve out a good chunk of time to go through everything here. It is also worth checking out charity shops – reopening laden with lockdown donations.


The new Luis Vuitton multi-pochette.
The new Luis Vuitton multi-pochette. Photograph: Streetstyleshooters/Getty Images

Finally, we come to the minuscule shoulder bags, with equally minuscule straps, that live in the armpit (perfect with your halter). Before the return of the Hermès Birkin bag waiting-list in the mid-00s, it was rip-offs of the monogrammed Louis Vuitton pochettes (beloved by SJP in Sex and the City), Dior “nano” bags, and Sloane-favourite saddles that could fit nary a lipgloss and a debit card in, that ruled the high street.

Lizzo at the American Music Awards in 2019
Lizzo at the American Music Awards in 2019 Photograph: Matt Baron/REX/Shutterstock

As my colleague Priya Elan has noted, tiny handbags have been having a big resurgence since 2020 – a trend which shows no signs of stopping. Gen Zers such as Kendall Jenner have embraced them, and Louis Vuitton has launched its Multi Pochette (see above), which is a sort of bag matryoshka doll, featuring smaller bags inside.

If you want to go microscopically small, might I suggest copying Lizzo at the American Music Awards, whose Valentino Borrower-sized purse deservedly became an instant meme. For sums of money physically impossible to fit in one of these bags, eBay lists a lot of vintage originals, as does the pre-owned section of Farfetch. Otherwise, Urban Outfitters is doing a chain-accented faux-croc version.


Hannah Jane Parkinson

The GuardianTramp

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