Aesthetics Digest: Y2K Galore

Velour tracksuits, Von Dutch, and trucker hats—as Gen Z reclaims Y2K, we revisit the brands that defined it

Key Takeaways

  1. Thanks to the proliferation of shopping platforms such as Depop and the nostalgia for seemingly simpler times, brands of the early 00s are desirable again for the Gen Z consumer. 
  2. Messages in the fashion landscape at the onset of the century were much easier to control by brands, which allowed for brandmania to dominate the closets of consumers everywhere. 
  3. As the aesthetics of that era are reclaimed, and vintage searches proliferate, some of these brands are attempting a comeback redefining their identity.

In fashion, like in life, the grass often looks greener on the other side of the fence. Blame it on Depop’s Y2K tag, fast fashion-wariness, or the 20-year-comeback vintage rule of thumb: the early ‘00s are cool again to the generation born in it, who are now old—and financially independent—enough to consume clothes of their choice. Recent enough to understand its cultural cues, yet preserving an aura of determined optimism and carefree fun, Y2K is a bastion of desire for Gen Z.

Before blogging and social media, fashion at the onset of the century was dominated by the weight of logos. Enhanced by celebrity endorsements—in a time when paparazzi captured their every move—and by ads in teen magazines that still carried weight, it was an arguably easier landscape in which a few brands catering to the middle classes split the global consumerist market. As some of those heavyweights are awakened (or attempt to) from hibernation, we reflect on who they were and what they meant.

Abercrombie & Fitch by Bruce Weber (Fall 2000)

Abercrombie & Fitch or The (Wet) American Dream
A cheerleader dating a quarterback. Drinking games in somebody’s basement. Sexual experiences as social currency. A&F distilled everything that defined the successful American high schooler and infused it into a brand that promised teenagers what they desired the most: fitting in. The clothes were rather plain, success was in the details: half-naked sales assistants, heavily-scented shops in every North American mall, and outright-pornographic ads. A&F has now ditched its former identity to come back as an inclusive brand. Time will tell if the name can succeed without the hot quarterback.

Quicksilver and Roxy or The Massification Of Surf
Surfing has always belonged to the youth, but in its early days, it was perceived as countercultural. As the sport became more professional, apparel brands that had catered exclusively to athletes gained mass appeal among teens who fancied the idea of co-opting the sexy aura of the sun-kissed surfer without the need to actually practice the sport. A mix of waves and hibiscus motifs, low-rise boardshorts, and the occasional t-shirt emblazoned with a Hawaiian-reminiscent name, Quicksilver and its female-friendly sister, Roxy, became true powerhouses. The mass appeal might have waned, but they hold a firm grip on surf apparel to this day.

Juicy Couture or The Sex Appeal Of Comfort
When thinking of the early ‘00s, shiny textures come to mind: it’s the extended use of lipgloss and the velour fabrics of Juicy Couture tracksuits. The oxymoron implicit in its name worked perfectly as an emblem of glitzy casualness, a lifestyle sponsored by Paris Hilton or the young Kardashians. Worn with Uggs and a Frappucino, it was extremely girly, extremely glam, and extremely comfortable, a dubiously desirable result that no other brand has successfully conveyed ever since. Ostracized for some years, it crept back into respectable ranks with a cameo in Vetements’ SS17 collection.

Miss Sixty or The Cult Of Denim 
While jeans are arguably an everlasting item in any decade’s closet, in the ‘00s it was not so much about denim itself but brandmania. Wide-legged, low-rise, or three-quarter length: as long as the Miss Sixty logo peeked in the back, it would be fine. With its Italian heritage and fashion week runway shows, Miss Sixty had an air of light sophistication that lured everyone into a denim craze. In an attempt to regain relevance, the brand enlisted Gen Z icon Bella Hadid as the face for its rebirth—clever.

Von Dutch or The Glamourization Of the Working Class
The early '00s were the last hurrah of capitalism as we knew it, a time when there was no offense in a reality show about wealthy girls working low-paying jobs (yes, The Simple Life). The ultimate signifier of this co-option of working-class aesthetics was the Von Dutch trucker hat. The brand, created by a mid-century mechanic cum artist, was ubiquitous among the Beverly Hills crew, and from there, the world. Rough yet glam, equal parts Lindsay Lohan and Lil Kim, its wearers overlapped with those of Ed Hardy, until they eventually faded away. Hulu is now launching a docuseries exploring the complex history of the brand. An increase in the “Von Dutch Trucker Hat” search on Depop should follow.