What Comes After Y2K Fashion?
Goodbye, low-rise jeans. Hello, quiet luxury.
Love it, hate it, or love to hate it, the Y2K resurgence has dominated 2020s fashion. There are other trends, of course — both micro and macro — but there’s no cultural force driving aesthetics quite like the era of Paris Hilton miniskirts and Mariah Carey butterfly tops. Just take a look at TikTok: #Y2K and #Y2Kfashion has over 18 billion views (and more videos to scroll through every day). Not to mention, the great low-rise jeans debate still rages on with “in defense of” and “please not again” think pieces rolling out in equal measure.
But as we all know, fashion is cyclical, and as one trend sunsets in the distance, another rises in its place. It’s been a few years since whale tails made their Met Gala debut, and Y2K-inspired offerings have already trickled down from runway shows to fast-fashion new arrivals pages. The tyranny of cutouts that reigned supreme for the past few summers has loosened its chokehold on the sexy wedding-guest dress market. In short, it’s clear the aughts have been back for more than a few seasons now, and inevitably people crave (or, more accurately, will crave) something new.
As the decade goes mainstream, fashion folk have begun to look ahead for what’s next. And if you pay attention, you can already see the beginnings of what will dominate the rest of the ’20s. So what comes after Y2K? According to industry experts and celebs, the next big thing is already here. See for yourself what’s in store, including indie sleaze, quiet luxury, and more.
Indie Sleaze Ascendent
The obvious place to look for Y2K’s follow-up would be the years that followed, aka 2006 and on. Boho (the more-is-more statement-necklace look pioneered by Rachel Zoe) comes to mind, as do vests and chambray. But, instead of the most popular styles from the era returning unabridged, a dark horse has emerged as the likely heir to Y2K’s fashion throne: indie sleaze.
For the uninformed, the term indie sleaze is a bit of a contemporary construct. It’s not a moniker that existed in its own time, but if you lived through the late aughts, you’ll definitely recognize some of its styles, signifiers, and silhouettes. It’s purposely rough around the edges and often associated with a certain party-centric music scene embodied by the likes of Sky Ferreira, Cory Kennedy, and The Cobrasnake’s high-contrast event photography. In general, indie sleaze is more of a vibe than a fashion trend (hence the much-cited prediction of a coming vibe shift a few years ago) that celebrates all things sweaty, slept-in, self-consciously messy, and chaotic.
Like all things in 2023, however, it’s been TikTok-ified into an aesthetic with certain Tumblr references and party shots cherry-picked for cohesion. So what does that actually look like in 2023 and beyond? So far, hoods on everything, statement tights, all-black ensembles, unwashed messy waves, and slept-in liner are the early hallmarks of the style’s return, popping up on runways from Paris to Milan.
The fashion patron saint of Indie sleaze, Celine and Saint Laurent creative director Hedi Slimane (who arguably never really stopped doing sleaze), served up the best examples of what the revival aesthetic could look like in 2023. With several widely praised (and thoroughly copied) collections featuring slick, top-heavy silhouettes, wide shoulders, skinny scarves, and indie-rocker chic, it’s a good indication the style isn’t going away anytime soon.
Celebs have gotten in on the trend too. The sheer dress trend and tights-as-pants phenomenon have their roots in the era of American Apparel see-through tops, tiny shorts, and ripped tights. Plus, the ubiquity of high-fashion hoods, whose recent fashion week appearances range from Tom Ford to Alaïa, has landed on Taylor Swift; Kate Moss; and, most recently, Penelope Cruz, has its roots in the 2010s. It’s a more sophisticated interpretation of the indie sleaze vibe, to be sure, but retro trends never come back exactly as they existed the first time around.
An early predictor of sleaze’s imminent return, trend forecaster and TikTok creator Mandy Lee, aka @oldloserinbrooklyn, summed it up best in a recent viral video: “The pendulum will swing back to indie sleaze,” adding, “as someone who lived it the first time around, I’m excited.” And with cultural markers outside of fashion like Taylor Momsen’s recent return, New York Magazine’s ode to the It girl, and the widespread use of late-stage digital cameras at fashion parties everywhere, indie sleaze is quickly becoming mainstream.
Prep's Weird Return
There’s another even more nostalgic sensibility driving what’s “in” in fashion right now: prep. And before you bemoan the return of what can be an exclusionary (and in some cases, boring) way of dressing, this time around, prep is getting weird. Instead of popped collars and Nantucket reds worn without irony, the preppy styles of 2023 can be subversive, stylish, and even sexy — it’s all in the way you wear it.
Online, the varsity trend and the “old money aesthetic” hashtag are breathing new life into styles that have been around since The Official Preppy Handbook’s ’80s heyday. Traditionally “uncool” pieces, like your dad’s varsity jacket, tube socks, or soccer jerseys are supplanting athleisure as the cool-girl way to look put-together while staying comfy. It’s impossible to scroll through Instagram without seeing some playful sock styling — worn with Mary Janes, loafers, or heels — or spiced-up sporty staples like tennis skirts or cheerleading uniforms (thanks, Ice Spice). And fashion brands are getting in on the styling fun too.
Take, for instance, the renewed success of J.Crew. Talented creative direction and leadership aside, the go-to for mass-market prep has become a jumping-off point for experimentation and innovative styling among a new generation. Instead of wearing the brand from head to toe, Gen Zers are pairing preppy staples like oxfords, varsity jackets, and cardigans with decidedly non-preppy pieces like cargo pants, crop tops, and vintage corsets purchased at other retailers.
Tory Burch, a brand more often than not associated with sensible ballet flats and kaftans, unexpectedly now has the attention of fashion insiders thanks to its cool-girl takes on East Coast Americana. Sheer sweaters, asymmetrical collars, and purposely too-long sleeves are just a few of the highly coveted styles shown in the brand’s most recent runway show. Even viral favorite Miu Miu sent models down the runway wearing an array of prim secretarial sweaters cheekily styled, of course, with tights and underwear to get in on the no-pants trend.
In short, the “weird prep” looks of today rely on unexpected styling and playful remixing to make old stuff feel current. Thankfully, this time around, it’s less about dress codes and prep school and more about pushing (and playing) with fashion boundaries — and that sense of inclusion is no doubt a huge part of its renewed appeal.
Quiet Luxury's Silent Takeover
Call it recession-core, stealth wealth, or quiet luxury, but the bottom line is that flashy embellishments, logomania, and cutouts are on their way out. And after years of the McBling maximalism of Y2K, it’s no surprise that fashion is now swinging in the opposite direction. Plus, with rampant economic instability (alongside widespread layoffs and recession chatter), conspicuous consumption is no longer appealing in 2023.
Instead, people are turning to refined minimalism, favoring quality, discretion, and references from if you know, you know brands like The Row, Khaite, and Loro Piana. “Quiet Luxury and a minimalist aesthetic will dominate the fashion landscape for the coming season,” claims Rickie De Sole, Nordstrom’s women’s fashion director. “After the post-pandemic logomania, there’s a yearning for clean lines and neutral palettes.”
And if the thrust of industry news is any indication, quiet luxury is very much already here. Phoebe Philo is back with plans to debut her own brand in September, causing a flurry of online celebration among her Old Céline disciples who love the wearable, understated elegance of the novel accessories and capsule wardrobe the designer is known for. And let’s not forget how the Max Mara–clad Shiv Roy quickly became the fictional It girl for quiet luxury inspiration after Succession’s return last month.
Celebrities are also no exception. “It’s easy to see how this is already translating into the red carpet and street style in the form of paired-back, neutral and tactile looks,” says Zadrian Smith of the stylist duo Zadrian + Sarah, who count Ariana DeBose and Winnie Harlow as clients. Think of the enduring gothic minimalism of Mary Kate and Ashley Olsen’s signature style, which is making the rounds once again on Instagram. Consider the internet buzz around Gwyneth Paltrow’s recent court appearances, where she strutted into court clad in stealth-wealth staples like a sold-out moss-green coat from The Row, a perfectly slouchy two-piece gray suit, and a belted cream cardigan from her own label.
Outfits that favor subtlety and discretion have started to supplant the attention-grabbing patterns and over-the-top accessories of the TikTok age. The appeal of doing less with more could very well be a reaction to the accelerated micro-trend cycle that’s playing out on social media.
“It’s interesting that quiet luxury is being called a ‘trend,’ because I would consider it the antithesis of such,” says fashion creator and consultant Christina Grasso. “When I think of what is currently being called ‘quiet luxury,’ I think of considered pieces, quality fabrics, and smart tailoring,” adding that while not everyone can afford Old Céline, it’s possible to prioritize these tenets when considering your next purchase.
That exhaustion with the lightning speed with which styles have evolved recently seems to be a recurring theme in 2023. “I think a lot of what people mean when they say ‘indie sleaze’ is actually 2010s revival,” explains fashion historian Ruby Redstone. “This obviously feels like a natural progression from Y2K, but I also hope that it means we’re reaching the tail end of our super-fast revival obsession.”
And whether you’re reviving your prep basics, investing in luxury, or embracing the indie chaos within, doing the most is no longer in fashion.
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