The Y2K Comeback


Written By: Jenna Smith – President, CEO of Smith Design

It’s not just Bennifer 2.0 that are giving us all the Y2K feels.  From fashion to toys, the biggest trends of the early 2000’s are making a big comeback.  Over the past year – thanks to TikTok and the industry’s knack for nostalgia – micro miniskirts, low-rise jeans, Tamagotchi, and Bratz Dolls are all trending big time on social media. We are here to wrap up some of the highlights, at least from our perspective, since let’s be honest, not all retro trends should be re-lived.  

Credit: Bennifer 2.0, The film Hot Chicks

As a teen of the mid to late 90’s growing up in suburban Jersey, many meet-ups consisted of several hours hanging out at diners and chain restaurants (most notably Houlihan’s, Applebee’s, and Chili’s).  To my welcomed surprise, chefs in New York are finding a newfound audience for the charm of the chain-restaurant aesthetic.  One such example is Bernie’s in Brooklyn where the interior design and menu are curated with a heavy influence from chain restaurant nostalgia.

Like with any trend that makes a comeback, having a newfound twist on what is familiar makes it more engaging and perfect for TikTok enthusiasts. 

Just as we saw the espresso martini rise to popularity over the past couple of years, the Dirty Shirley, a spiked take on a classic nostalgic drink, is one such item that has become the popular NYC drink of the spring and summer.  The soft bright pink hue brings up memories of the pastel pinks that made a strong entrance during the turn of the millennium thanks to the signature color of Juicy Couture track suits, made popular by Paris Hilton. 

Speaking of which, Hilton recently collaborated with Kim Kardashian for a range of velour tracksuits for her clothing brand Skims.

On the opposite end of the fashion spectrum is a re-emerged trend for eclectic hipster aesthetic renamed “indie sleaze”. It is influenced by grunge but when accented with trendy accessories, creates all its own vibe. I question my ability to stay on top of the trends when American Apparel is dubbed “vintage”. 

It is also apparently clear how many fashion houses, celebrities, and musicians are paying tribute to the gone-by era of that music culture. The nostalgia of the Y2K music has inspired recent albums released by artists like Olivia Rodrigo and Ariana Grande, who had some strong references to the aughts classics (Good 4 U by Rodrigo = Paramore, while Grande’s Break Up with Your Girlfriend = NSync). Sampling music is nothing new, but YouTubers and TikToker’s using their platforms to call out the artists by playing samples over each other in order to show the lack of originality is quite a more frequent occurrence.  

As a package designer who loves a good relaunch of our favorite junk foods, how can I not mention the comeback of Frosted Grape Pop-Tart and Dunkaroos?  Frosted Grape Pop Tarts were brought back after it being a top flavor of fans, or as the brand refers to it “Pop-Tarts G.O.A.T. – Grape-ist Of All Time.” As many CPG brands try to figure out the best way to capitalize on TikTok and viral trends to attract a new Gen-Z demographic, the product launched is being backed by a digital campaign to “frost” your hair grape (purple) and to post your look with hashtag #Y2GrapeEntry for the first 50 fans to get a year supply of the grape frosted breakfast of champions as well as a “Y2Grape Time Capsule” filled with nostalgic Y2K gifts which includes throwback butterfly hair clips, juicy grape lip gloss, a purple purse, and the list goes on.  

Y2K aesthetics in general will have an overall visual influence on everything from technology, think flip phones and Hello Kitty phone covers, to beauty and functional beverage packaging, channeling color schemes that include holographic and rad pastels.  

My angst teenage years were several years before Y2K but that does not mean I can’t love and leave trends from all decades. For me, I’ll take the “indie sleaze”, Dunkaroos, and curated onion blossom at a Brooklyn restaurant reimagined as a suburban Houlihan’s, but you can leave the velour, low-rise jeans and NSync back where they belong.  

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