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The Y2K Fashion Trend Explained – What We Really Wore in the 2000s

The Y2K Fashion Trend Explained – What We Really Wore in the 2000s

Y2K Fashion Trends Explained What We Really Wore in the 2000s Title

Y2K stands for the year 2000 – when Paris Hilton and Kim Kardashion were best friends, Justin and Britney were dating, Diddy was called Puff Daddy, the Beckhams were all over the news. And I was a teenager. Y2K-trends are experiencing a revival at the moment – Gen-Zs are flocking thrift stores for Y2K clothing and accessories, celebrities like Bella Hadid, Dua Lipa or Rhianna are reviving the trend as well. As I was a teenager back then, I would like to show you what we really wore and how these trends are taken up today. 

You can also watch my video here:

Overview of the Y2K Fashion Trends

In the late 90s revival of 1970s fashion with boot-cut jeans, platform shoes, and psychedelic prints – partially thanks to the Spice Girls. (Do you remember the ugly Buffalo platform sneakers?) As 2000 approached, it was all about the new millennium, the future, technology. Naturally, this was reflected in fashion with futuristic and space-inspired designs, metallic fabrics, and neon colours which continued until the early 2000s. The “influencers” of the time were Paris Hilton, Britney Spears and Christina Aguilera – to just name three of them. This was long before the term “influencer” was inventend – we got our inspiration from magazines and MTV. Needless to say, the trends were often set by the celebrities who I will discuss but given that I was a teen, we did not have the budget like the “It-Girls” of the time and I am going to show how we interpreted the trends in the period between 1998 and 2005. (Sometimes, Y2K is defined broader (from 1995 until 2010), but I would like to keep it simple here.) Another side note: I am talking about Europe and my time as a teenager, it may have been different somewhere else. But given that we all were connected through the same media – MTV, Hollywood movies and magazines, I assume there were a lot of overlaps. 

Overall, the Y2K trend of our time was a bit edgy, it felt rebellious – we wore bright colours, low-rise denim – often distressed or mixed with other materials. Our clothes also reflected our “lifestyle” and the music we listened to. Some wore low-rise bootcut jeans which often revealed a part of our G-string (I would like to erase this trend from fashion history); others wore low-rise cargo pants and paired them boxer shorts they stole from their boyfriend. 

We wore mesh-tops, tank tops with thin straps (which we called “spaghetti tops”) and layered T-shirts with fun prints or slogans paired with colourful eyeshadow (and even mascara), thin eyebrows and body glitter – on super tanned skin (sometimes achieved by self-tanning lotions). Legally Blonde, Coyote Ugly, American Pie, 10 Things I Hate about You, She’s All That and Mean Girls were the movies which inspired us. If you could afford them, Juicy Couture tracksuits were all the rage – mostly thanks to Paris Hilton. Further fashion sins were Ed Hardy caps or T-shirts, La Martina polo-shirts and micro-skirts. 

Enough now of the broader picture, let’s dive into the details.

Tops: Layer Look, Sheer/Mesh Tops, T-Shirts, Crop Tops

Y2K Fashion Trends Explained What We Really Wore in the 2000s Jean Paul Gaultier Mesh Top
Jean Paul Gaultier mesh top worn over a “spaghetti top”. Picture source: Private Collection

Mesh tops were worn over tank tops or the “spaghetti tops” I mentioned above and we paired them with jeans of course – mostly in blue, but sometimes in black, grey or even in white. Iconic designs are like the one by Jean Paul Gaultier (picture above) who was a major fashion influence at the time. We wore these mesh tops or sheer fabrics in bright prints to school but also at parties. There was no clear distinction between school and party clothes believe it or not.

Jennifer Lopez in the iconic Versace Jungle Dress in 2000.

Another major impulse for the sheer trend was JLo (then still called Jennifer Lopez) in the Versace jungle dress in 2000. 

Y2K Fashion Trends Explained What We Really Wore in the 2000s Custo Barcelona Top
Print top by Custo Barcelona; Picture Source: Private Collection

The prints were not limited to mesh tops – we loved T-shirts (short and long-sleeved) with equally crazy prints. Again, we just wore them with jeans. (As you will see, jeans were a key item.) Often, there were also slogans or other funny things written on them, or even political statements.

Singer Sheryl Crow with a T-shirt protesting against the Iraq War.

In 2003, Sheryl Crow was spotted in a T-shirt saying “War Is Not the Answer” to protest against the Iraq War. We copied this T-shirt (a simple H&M T-shirt where we sewed on the message using glass pearls). Needless to say, Juicy Couture’s T-Shirts were popular and a major trend were Custo Barcelona’s shirts with crazy prints. 

Y2K Fashion Trends Explained What We Really Wore in the 2000s Graffiti Pants
Details of trousers with a graffiti pattern; Picture Source: Private Collection

The prints were not limited to tops – I had skirts and trousers which were equally “crazy”. Like the graffiti trousers (picture) which I loved to wear with my red Diesel sneakers, similar to some outfits of Gwen Stefani.

I also had shoes with newspaper prints on them – this trend was fuelled by John Galliano’s “newspaper dress” for the Dior Fall/Winter 2000 collection which was also worn by Sarah Jessica Parker in Sex and the City.

John Galliano’s “Newspaper Dress” for the Dior F/W 2000 collection inspired many of us.

In addition to the prints, cutouts were a major thing as well. I had different types of shirts with cutouts on the shoulders or in the front. At the time, Christina Aguilera’s cutout dress was all over the news.

In this context, we have to discuss the crop tops. In general, most tops were cropped and it depended on your preference how short they were. The most common was that it covered the belly button or stopped right above it. The shortest version was basically a bralette. The latter was often featured in the magazines, on the runway or at award ceremonies, but in “real life” I did not spot it too often. I also did not feel comfortable wearing the very short crop tops because we wore low-rise jeans and skirts. (In contrast to today’s Y2K trend of high-waist pants and skirts.) Consequently, a big part of the body was already exposed when wearing the “longer” crop tops.

Christina Aguilera’s wrap top from 2002 is currently experiencing a revival with brands like Balmain selling new interpretations of it.

Bella Hadid in a current Y2K outfit – the cardigan with fake fur on the collar and cuffs and the hair pins were a staple in the 2000s.

We wore crop tops even in winter, over them often cardigans and a big trend was fake fur around the collar or on the cuffs, similar to Bella Hadid’s contemporary interpretation.

Denim & Low-Rise

I have mentioned it a lot already – denim was probably the biggest trend of the time. There was almost no outfit without denim. We basically lived in our bootcut jeans. But we also wore jeans jackets, bags, you name it; in various blue tones, washed, destroyed. but also other colours, for example in white or black. Another trend was fabric imitating denim or with denim prints.

Y2K Fashion Trends Explained What We Really Wore in the 2000s Skirt Jeans Pattern Versace Jeans Couture Top
Wrap skirt with jeans pattern and Versace Jeans Couture top; Picture Source: Private Collection

Some celebrities even wore denim on the red carpet. Probably the most iconic: Britney Spears and then-boyfriend Justin Timberlake in a matching denim “ensemble”. In her recently published book, Britney calls the outfit “tacky”. I leave it up to you to judge this look. Back then it was in all the magazines.

Victoria Beckham not only wore these jeans, she capitalized on the trend and launched her own designs with Rock ‘n’ Republic which had the signature crown on the back pockets. These were her first steps towards her own fashion brand.

And when we talk about jeans, we also have to mention another major trend which I have touched upon earlier: everything was low-rise – the trousers and the skirts. Again, the type of trousers depended on the music and group you belonged to. I wore low-rise bootcut jeans with sneakers – my beloved Adidas Superstars which I have sadly given away. Others wore their bootcut jeans with platform sneakers. If you were part of the Hip Hop-crowd, you wore baggy cargo or skater pants by Carhartt, Dickies or Southpole, with sneakers and also male boxer shorts (which you then stole from your boyfriend).

Glitter, Glitter, Glitter

It was everywhere. Our makeup was with glitter in silver, gold or even other colours such as pink. There was body glitter – lotions with glitter particles which were particularly popular on ultra-tanned skin. (Some tanned “naturally” in the sun, others went to a tanning salon and some even resorted to self-tanning lotions which gave them the “signature” orange skin tone. Fortunately, I only used the body glitter and stayed away from the orange-tone skin.

Glitter was on dresses, skirts, tops – on our nails, in our hair. We used glitter butterfly hair clips or glitter hair pins and glitter choker necklaces. We also had various glitter belts, some broad and some really narrow. A really popular one was a rhinestone string belt.

Melissa Joan Hart with butterfly hair clips.

One trend I loved was glitter and décor on jeans. The outfits by Destiny’s Child (Beyoncé’s girl band) kickstarted this trend. I even tried making my own destroyed glitter jeans but unfortunately, I was not really successful and had to buy a pair.

Destiny’s Child in glitter denim, crop tops and pointy heels.

I would like to draw your attention to a detail in the Destiny’s Child picture: as you can see in the picture, shoes were very pointy. Pumps, mules, boots all had a signature pointed tip and when worn with bootcut trousers, they covered most of the shoe and only revealed the pointy front of it. 

Micro Skirts

Similar to the low-rise trend, skirts were short – not mini, they were micro skirts. An iconic outfit was Giselle Bundchen at Vogue Fashion Awards in 2001 in a black micro skirt paired with a white button-down shirt and bikini top and the trendy glitter belt.

Gisele Bundchen in a micro skirt at the Vogue Fashion Awards in 2001.

These skirts often had some flares which referenced the school uniform look – on the one hand a legacy of the movie Clueless and its main character Cher; on the other clearly influenced by Britney’s school uniform look for the video to “…Baby One More Time”.

Beyoncé in a micro skirt in 2004.

There was a “sub-trend” to this school uniform trend – the preppy look. Many girls wore Ralph Lauren or Tommy Hilfiger polo shirts with jeans like Tara Reid in American Pie 2. This was also closely linked to the “logomania” (see below) and the polo shirts were complemented by Gucci or Louis Vuitton logo belts (and sometimes pearl earrings…).

Y2K Fashion Trends Explained What We Really Wore in the 2000s La Martina Polo Shirt
La Martina long-sleeved polo shirt; Picture Source: Private Collection

La Martina was another popular polo shirt brand – it almost disappeared after the 2000s.

Bright Colours

As you may have seen by now, we did not shy away from bright colours. Granted, some of us were more into the Grunge look from the 1990s which was still popular, but most of us wore bright colours – red, pink, bright yellow or orange thanks to Clueless but even more Legally Blonde. Sometimes, we even dared to wear colourful sunglasses.

Colourful glasses were also very popular.

Exoticism

In my articles about Karl Lagerfeld’s Orientalism and Yves Saint Laurent’s inspiration by Asia, I have mentioned that this so-called “Orientalism” has been a major influence in many different periods – from the 16th century until today. Especially in the 2000s, this trend had a comeback and Chinese- and Indian-inspired clothing was really popular. Designers such as Jean Paul Gaultier or Roberto Cavalli included these influences in their collections and celebrities wore Chinese- or Indian-inspired designs on the red carpet.

Chinese-inspired ensemble by Jean Paul Gaultier

Needless to say, fast fashion (which kickstarted at the time with H&M, Mango and Zara) jumped onto the bandwagon. It was not unusual to find a Qipao (the traditional Chinese-dress) or a sari-inspired skirt in retail stores in Europe. I owned a red Qipao-top which I wore it with a black mini skirt. I also loved the bright mesh top with Chinese motifs (see below) and one of my favourite outfits was a purple sari-inspired miniskirt (similar to Gwen Stefan’s ensemble) which I paired with a velvet cut-out top.

Y2K Fashion Trends Explained What We Really Wore in the 2000s Mesh Top with Chinese Motifs
Mesh top with Chinese motifs; Picture Source: Private Collection

Slip Dresses & Lingerie

When you search for Y2K trends online, one trend which comes up is: slip dresses and lingerie. An iconic moment on the red carpet was Catherine Zeta-Jones in a pink lingerie dress.

Catherine Zeta-Jones in a lingerie-inspired slip dress carrying a Fendi baguette bag, one of the most popular bags of the 2000s.

Hailey Bieber was recently spotted in a new interpretation in white. I never really got into this trend, but I guess this was also due to my age – I am pretty sure my parents would not have let me leave the house in a lingerie dress back then.

Hailey Bieber reviving the lingerie trend.

Another weird trend which is quite difficult to understand was the “flag trend” – celebrities wore the Union Jack or the American flag in different variations. It all started with Geri Halliwell wearing a Union Jack dress on stage with the Spice Girls.

Geri Halliwell in her famous Union Jack dress.

But later on, even celebrities like Sarah Jessica Parker wore the Union Jack – irrespective of their nationality. I also think this trend was influenced after 9/11 where many of us had the American flag somewhere incorporated in our clothes – mind you, not all of us understood the politics behind all that, we were just kids.

Hillary Duff in an “Ode to America”-outfit.

I even had passport pictures taken with the American flag around my neck in the form of a fake silk scarf. No comment, this passport picture haunted me for years.

Logomania

Y2K Fashion Trends Explained What We Really Wore in the 2000s Louis Vuitton Takashi Murakami Colourful Canvas Pochette Bag
The Louis Vuitton Pochette bag with colourful monogram canvas designed by Japanese artist Takashi Murakami was extremely popular then and is now being one of the most sought after Y2K-vintage items.

Today, I despise overly visible logos, I really find them horrible. Unfortunately, I have to admit, that this has not always been the case. Logos were a big thing in the 2000s. Louis Vuitton came out with its limited edition by Takashi Murakami with the colourful monogram canvas or the cherry flower. Moreover, Gucci and Dior used their logos on canvases for their bags and clothes. The Dior “saddle bag” which now has a major revival was popular back then with their logo canvas. I mentioned Juicy Couture before but also other brands such as Versace or Moschino used their bold logos and played with them.

The Dior canvas was very popular during the logomania trend in the 2000s.

Probably the most recognizable brand logos of the time were Juicy Couture, Ed Hardy and Von Dutch. Ed Hardy caps and T-shirts are on trend again – I spare you my comments. Von Dutch caps were a favourite of Paris Hilton and her entourage and probably the most “iconic” of the trucker caps popular at the time.

See Also
7 Fashion Facts about Coco Chanel The Basics You Should Know about her Designs

Coming back to the bags – they had to be small. I already mentioned the Louis Vuitton special editions, their most iconic models of the time are the Pochette and also the Mini Speedy. The size of the Mini Speedy was an impulse for the trend of micro bags. Sometimes, my bags were so small, I could only fit some lip-gloss and cash in there. Needless to say, one of the most iconic bag of the time was the Fendi Baguette bag in its many variations.

Sarah Jessica Parker with a Fendi Baguette bag.

If you were a teenager like me, the Fendi was so far out of reach, we just had bags from H&M, Zara and Mango – fast fashion had just reached Europe at the time. For school, we either had a Jansport or an Eastpack backpacks and they also had to be really, really low. On days were I did not feel like carrying a backpack, I had a bowling-inspired Adidas bag – sports-inspired bags were also a big thing.

Mobile Phones & Tech

The 2000s were also the start of mobile phones and the internet. We were obsessed with tech, as it was something really new. Suddenly, we could connect with people from all around the world. We did not need to be worried that our boyfriend may call us via the landline and our parents would pick up the phone. Texting was so exciting. Needless to say, mobile phones were a major accessory as well. It started with the Nokia phones where you could change the cover, later on, the Motorola Razr was really popular (especially in pink). I had a Siemens Xelibri phone which looked like makeup powder. 

The Siemens Xelibri phone caused many confused looks as it could be mistaken for makeup powder.

And this illustrates the Y2K trend best: it was all about fun, colours and the future. 

I hope you enjoyed this insight into the Y2K trend and into my fashion choices as a teenager – some good and some bad. What about you? Do you like the current Y2K-trend or were you a teenager like me back then? Let me know, I enjoy hearing from you.

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