Fashion Editor Alice Keegan retraces the rise of Y2K style, Black people’s influence on the trend and considers the harmful effects of discrediting and not recognising their influence.
The trend of Y2K fashion is political and racialised. Popular artists such as Olivia Rodrigo have popularised Y2K fashion, in turn influencing young people. However, a double standard exists in relation to this type of fashion: historically, Black and brown women following such trends are considered “ghetto”, whereas white women - particularly conventionally attractive white women - are seen as embracing throwbacks, seeping themselves in rose-tinted nostalgia. At its best, this is inspiration; at its worst, it is appropriation.
There’s no denying that Y2K fashion is massively influenced by women of colour, notably in the accessories and aesthetics they championed - tooth gems, lip gloss, gelled hair, acrylic nails, big hoops etc. However, figures like Kylie Jenner and a trail of slim, White women have created a narrative that they are the original creators of throwback style and Y2K chicness. This is perhaps unsurprising, since eurocentrism has notoriously informed beauty standards and canons of femininity for centuries; these canons are plastered over the pages of fashion magazines, ignoring Black culture’s influence over the fashion industry.
Black women have been a driving force in fashion for centuries, with a particular impact on streetwear and hip hop-esque style: big earrings, oversized jackets and box braids were all trends started by Black women in the 80’s and 90’s. Thus, when you see Billie Eilish embracing the tomboy chic look which includes baggy clothing, trainers, and sportswear, you can thank Black women like Aaliyah, TLC, and ordinary women from the “hood” and inner cities for those looks. Black women popularised gold name plates, tinted shades, long nails and were labelled “kitschy” long before Paris Hilton threw on a pair of Juicy Couture sweats. When thin, White girls are at the centre of the nostalgia, they become the default, and in doing so they are denying the true innovators their opportunities to shine.
Black women popularised gold name plates, tinted shades, long nails and were labelled “kitschy” long before Paris Hilton threw on a pair of Juicy Couture sweats.
Although there have been trailblazers within the fashion community - notably models Naomi Campbell and Tyra Banks, as well as actresses and musicians such as Lupita Nyongo and Beyoncé - the couture industry is undeniably still a White woman’s playground, and the co-opting by White people of beloved trends is a clear example of this. White women can engage in this sort of cosplay but escape the criticism and ridicule endured by women of colour. This insidious pattern is not a new phenomenon, but the rise of social media has made this easier to spot.
The couture industry is undeniably still a White woman’s playground.
This issue runs much deeper than simply applying hair gel and sticking on a pair of shiny gold hoops: these White women grace the covers of print magazines and appear on social media in clothing, accessories, hairstyles and even facial features and body types traditionally linked to women of colour. White women are continually praised while Black women have been historically mocked and demonised for their natural bodies.
In the past decade, physical traits traditionally and genetically associated with women of colour became sought after. In 2015, the ‘Kylie Jenner Challenge’ went viral, with young girls bruising their lips so that they would swell to a bigger size. This trend was denounced by medical experts and eventually the reality star spoke out against it. It can also be seen with the rise in recent years of the dangerous and potentially fatal surgery, the ‘Brazilian Butt Lift’. These trends are not only jarring and even unsettling, but more crucially cause division and competition between white women and women of colour.
This mainstream narrative of white women receiving praise is reductive and has been detrimental to the health and wellbeing of women of colour for decades. But how do we combat this? One solution is acknowledgement and accountability: the importance of calling out this behaviour was evident when pop singer Ariana Grande was at the focal point of this controversy when she was called out for her excessive tanning, and more people today are being accused of ‘blackfishing’. The erasure of black women’s contributions to the style industry and fashion history, as well as the co-opting of their creative genius must be rectified, and it is one of our duties today to not allow these women to go uncredited and unrecognised.
Black women have been pioneers and powerhouses, the backbones of such trends and cultural touch points whose true meanings and intent are often lost or distorted.
Black women have been pioneers and powerhouses, the backbones of such trends and cultural touch points whose true meanings and intent are often lost or distorted. It’s crucial we celebrate the Black women who shaped the Y2K fashion trend who were mocked and insulted in the process. This is an essential step towards a more diverse and inclusive fashion industry.