19th March 2021

Origins of y2k fashion: the whitewashing of the early 2000s

It’s time to address the y2k aesthetic race problem and thank your favourite 90s artists for your current outfits.
Origins of y2k fashion: the whitewashing of the early 2000s
Photo: Destiny’s Child by Vinicius Júnior @ Creative Commons, licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0

There’s no denying that y2k has risen to popularity in recent years, coming to define a new generation of fashion with its low rise jeans and statement tees that we used to ridicule. But what are the roots of this genre? And why do we seem to ignore these origins, particularly when they concern black hip-hop artists of the 90s-00s? 

Recently, many online vendors, influencers and just general admirers have been citing their style inspiration as early noughties celebrities such as Paris Hilton, the Olsen twins and our favourite Mean Girls characters. However, these tight, bright crop tees and bejewelled jeans are not accurate representations of the y2k era which we have gained a sudden nostalgia for. 

It’s no secret that in all realms of fashion, from catwalks to catching sales on the highstreets, our perception of current trends are highly whitewashed. Unfortunately, we have fallen into that same trap with the y2k aesthetic, which is now defined by rhinestones, flares and miniskirts. 

In reality, the fashion of the 90s played a key role in forming the early noughties y2k aesthetic, and no I don’t mean those plaid skirt and denim-crazy mood boards based on Rachel from Friends. When referencing 90s style, there is an apparent lack of acknowledgement towards black cultures in shaping the style of this decade. Without black culture, many of the trends we have today would be non-existent!

Respect your elders…

Are you one of the Fallowfield residents who pride themselves on their Nike Air Force 1s? Well, you should give thanks to artists like Nelly and Salt-n-Pepa for popularising that sneaker. If you deck yourself out in tracksuits, bucket hats or bandanas, you may unknowingly be paying homage to 90s icons such as Missy Elliot, Notorious B.I.G. and even Destiny’s Child.

These are just a handful of black celebrities we have to thank for creating these trends that are still popular decades later. Ironically, many popular items today were once associated with the ‘ghetto’, A.K.A impoverished areas of the USA that were mainly inhabited by a majority black populace.

Although we have taken strides towards diversifying fashion in the modern age and moving away from associating big hoops, long nails and braids with a lower-class aesthetic due to their origins in black culture, the sudden aestheticization of ‘the hood’ has only further pushed people of colour out of their own culture.  

Colonising the culture

Without an appreciation for the source material, white influencers have been praised for copying these styles. One instance is Kim Kardashian’s infamous box braids, which were admired online despite black people still being highly criticised for wearing such styles. 

As for the current OTT aesthetic of glitzy accessories, bejewelled clothing and huge fur coats, we can only look to the pioneer herself, Lil Kim. She never failed to draw attention with her bright hair, skin-baring sparkly outfits and decorated acrylic nails, yet she often goes unmentioned as influencers parade these same styles.  

Of course, we should all be able to express ourselves freely through our fashion choices and adopt the y2k aesthetic if we desire, but in doing so we must address the racism that is intertwined with the fashion.

To this day, black women are labelled as ‘ghetto and trashy’ for partaking in trends they created, whilst their non-black counterparts are praised for being a ‘y2k idol’. There is clearly a severe need to re-evaluate the biases present in an industry that oppresses the communities and trailblazers who we have to thank for many trends throughout history. 

To conclude, as we all get excited for a return to the era of Juicy Couture, Baby Phat and all its pastel, rhinestone-covered glory, remember to broaden your inspirations from the mainstream white celebrity ‘fashionistas’ and take your influence from its true source. I’m sure we’d all rather be Beyoncé anyway. 

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