Travel IndustryBooksSmarter ShoppingSports

Burned out Gen Zers are turning to the Y2K era for comfort and driving the ‘throwback’ economy

March 7, 2022, 6:56 PM UTC

Gen Zers are tired, and they’re taking comfort in the early 2000s. 

The generation born after 1997 has weathered a pandemic that disrupted their schooling and social lives. Climate change predictions, such as a Bank of America report that the world could run out of freshwater by 2040, impact them more than any other generation. 

As inflation and home prices soar, goals like buying a home or going on vacation feel more and more impossible. And on top of it all, they’re increasingly jaded in their views of capitalism driving The American Dream.

In these tough times, Gen Z is turning to the Y2K era for comfort, fueling fashion and social media trends that are driving the “throwback economy.” 

Early-2000s-inspired content tagged “Y2K” on TikTok has amassed over 4.8 billion views. Videos range from recreating iconic looks of popular movies like Legally Blonde and Lizzie McGuire to sharing favorite childhood toys and treats. 

Demanding vintage Juicy Couture 

Young shoppers are searching on Depop and eBay for “vintage” finds like platform heels, flashy pink leather pants, funky hairstyles, and rhinestone-studded Juicy Couture sweatsuits.

Many of the styles were originally made popular by Y2K icons like Beyonce, Britney Spears, Eminem, and Kim Kardashian, who all retain their celebrity status today.

“Once you start finding heat at the thrift shop, it quickly turns into an ever-growing addiction. It’s like wearing archived collectibles; each piece has a history behind it,” says Tommy Groenendijk, founder of @vintagestockreserve, a fashion page on TikTok with almost 2 million followers.

His page promotes Mickey Mouse bucket hats, vintage Ralph Lauren crewnecks, and boldly striped rugby polos. 

TikTok is also driving the butterfly clip trend of the late 1990s, with many tutorials of how to perfect the hairstyle. 

Rejecting technology and social media

Despite being digital natives, TikToks show that Gen Z is even going back to relics such as flip phones, wired headphones, and vinyl records in their quest to connect with simpler times.

Many young people believe life was much better without inventions like social media, which can lead to feelings of social anxiety and competition, according to a poll conducted at the Harvard Kennedy School Institute of Politics. 

Even the oldest members of Gen Z were young children when Facebook was founded in 2004. Since then, platforms like Instagram and Snapchat have added to the ubiquity of people sharing every moment online.

It’s difficult to say who or what exactly ignited this yearning for the past, but researchers say that nostalgia is commonly seen during times of crisis, as people try to cope with feelings of uncertainty with comforting, reassuring memories.

I can relate

As a member of Gen Z, I understand why so many of my generation are turning to Y2K right now.

While watching Y2K TikTok videos to research this story, I was taken back to fond childhood memories of playing tag outside with my friends, crushing on Disney stars like Zac Efron, and listening to Linkin Park on my lime green mp3. 

The TikTok videos made me smile, but only for a fleeting moment as I realized those times no longer exist. 

Amid countless tragedies like the pandemic, climate crisis, wars on Palestine and Ukraine, and a volatile economy, life is not so simple anymore…and it may never be again. 

Never miss a story: Follow your favorite topics and authors to get a personalized email with the journalism that matters most to you.