MILLENNIALCORE

The It-Girl Industrial Complex

Key Takeaways

  1. The stock market crash of 2008 ended the over-the-top aesthetics of the aughts overnight. Prada, Dries Van Noten, and Lanvin all sent subdued collections down the runway to match the sober and sparing spirit of the recession.
  2. A little grime and thread-bare fabric is much needed after all the baby pink, rhinestones, and rampant Paris Hilton cosplay that came with the intense early 2000s revival of the past couple years.
  3. You could be an online It Girl without being an influencer—stars like Tavi Gevinson were still photographing themselves in front of wobbling stacks of clothes in their poster-clad, cloistered bedrooms.

In 2009, fashion week was more waifish than usual—beyond the models, the clothes themselves were free of any extra fat. The stock market crash of 2008 “ended the over-the-top aesthetics of the aughts overnight,” writes Vogue’s Nicole Phelps. She notes that Prada, Dries Van Noten, and Lanvin all sent subdued collections down the runway to match the sober and sparing spirit of the recession. The exception to this new austerity was Marc Jacobs, whose fall 2009 collection took all measures to revive the neon excess of the ‘80s club scene. As a kid in the late 2000s, this is the fashion I remember seeping through to the masses via blogs and Polyvore boards—the wannabe Cory Kennedys on my chunky laptop screen revelled in a disheveled glamor that echoed Jacobs’s ‘down-and-out but let’s get high’ response to hard times. 

A blog commenter back in the day described this look, by way of Kennedy, as “a cross between the Little Match Girl and the quintessence of heroin chic.” It was the waifish, glitter-and-grunge antidote to the shimmering early-2000s bimbo (who was hyperfeminine and smelled like the mall and vanilla). It was also undeniably schlubby—think dirty ballet flats, ratty hair, worn-out American Apparel, and piled-on jewelry—which is probably why it fell out of style in the 2010s when millennials had to, like, get real jobs. But now, less than a decade into full retirement, it’s on track to emerge as the post-pandemic party uniform.

The economic circumstances today are similar enough to what precipitated Marc Jacobs’s lean into decadent, eyeliner-stained party clothes in the late 2000s. Partying is a natural response to precarity—a feeling that’s still thick in the air, even as the Covid vaccine rolls out and things are starting to feel a little less scary. And after over a year of intense social regulation, it makes sense that young women are imagining what it would be like to let loose Project X-style. For now, most are settling for dressing up like Effy Stonem or any other Skins-era It Girl, a species of woman Irina Aleksander described as “youthful, thrifty, indifferent to grooming, and in possession of an undeniable and confounding sex appeal” in 2010 when its aughts-era population reached a peak. A little grime and thread-bare fabric is much needed after all the baby pink, rhinestones, and rampant Paris Hilton cosplay that came with the intense early 2000s revival of the past couple years.

Culturally, the mid 2000s—very early 2010s offer a unique nostalgia value for its revivalists, who are predominantly Gen Z or on the cusp of it. If you’re a millennial, this comeback probably feels aggressively premature, but the trend cycle is getting faster and faster—the mainstreaming of vintage fashion means new sources of collective nostalgia must be scouted and mined with an increasing rapidity. And, this period was a sweet spot for fashion and online culture. The panopticon of social media had yet to fully form and the internet could still feel exciting and mysterious. Diet Prada didn’t exist, so you didn’t have to worry about getting canceled for posting an insensitive OOTD (getting canceled also did not exist). Digital fashion was years away from succumbing to the screen-friendly tidiness influencer culture bred and fashion blogging was in its golden age. You could be an online It Girl without being an influencer—stars like Tavi Gevinson were still photographing themselves in front of wobbling stacks of clothes in their poster-clad, cloistered bedrooms.

When I look at Marc Jacobs’s Heaven, launched last September, I see some of that requisite messiness recreated—the line’s campaign was shot on a set designed to look like the cluttered bedroom of a 2000s teenager. Heaven is still too ambiguously Y2K-influenced to be a precise revival of peak late aughts style, but it’s louche enough to share the same top notes. It’s also leading the revitalization of the Marc Jacobs kingdom, which fell off in the last half of the past decade. Leaning into grungy fun has made wearing Marc Jacobs cool in a way that it hasn’t been since the second season of Gossip Girl aired. And, hey, fashion’s spent the past decade cleaning up its act—it’s time for it to get messy again.