From Tumblrcore to 2014core, the Nostalgia Loop is Getting Smaller and Faster

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Two girls wearing very short black skirts, edgy tops and sunglasses walk confidently through a school hallway.
While most high school students might never actually wear such outfits to class, the characters on 'Euphoria' reflect a fashion landscape that draws from decades of style. (Courtesy of HBO)

Some recent fashion trends make sense. Take what's currently being called the Y2K aesthetic of wide-leg jeans, aggressive pink and metallic fabrics—a throwback to style sensibilities of the late '90s and early 2000s.

Fashion moves in twenty year cycles, or so conventional wisdom has it, when tastemakers get nostalgic for their childhoods. For example, 1970s pop culture, resurrected the 1950s in the form of TV shows Happy Days and M*A*S*H and the musical Grease. And twenty years after that, the 1990s witnessed a return to 1970s-style singer-songwriters, such as Juliana Hatfield and PJ Harvey, and an era-defining cover of Cat Stevens' 1971 song "Peace Train."

Models walk the runway at the Tom Ford spring/summer 2022 fashion show at Lincoln Center during New York Fashion Week on Sunday, Sept. 12, 2021. (AP Photo/Eduardo Munoz Alvarez)

But the nostalgia loop has sped up. "So much faster than twenty years," says Rebecca Jennings, a senior correspondent for Vox who covers internet culture . Jennings points to TikTok videos nostalgic for makeup trends dating all the way back to... 2016, when makeup artist Mario Dedivanovic was busy breaking the internet by contouring Kim Kardashian's cheekbones and dramatically boxing her brows. Or look, Jennings says, to last year's much-hyped vogue for wired headsets, a vintage accessory dating all the way back to before the advent of wireless ear buds—around 2015.

"When the kids on the internet are talking about like 2014core or tumblr fashion, what they're talking about is the stuff that semi-alternative kids were lusting over at that time," Jennings explains. Stuff like Lana Del Rey, Arctic Monkeys and tiny, Lolita-esque tennis skirts, all of which can be found in abundance on HBO's hit Euphoria.

A young woman with black hair and bold green eyeshadow leans on a pink bathroom stall. She's wearing a green sweater with a black and white Cramps T-shirt underneath, paired with a skin tight black, red and grey skirt.
Barbie Ferreira as Kat Hernandez in the HBO show 'Euphoria.'. (Courtesy of HBO)

Watching the show, Alysha Cassis-Shaw wondered, "What year are we in? 2000? 2005?" The owner of the Oakland-based vintage brand called Neutral Ground describes Euphoria's style as bewitching but disorienting: it borrows from the style of early '90s Paris Hilton and Britney Spears to the ubiquitous Peter Pan collars of 2009 to the high waisted pants that were in until, well, very recently—and already may be making a comeback.

A girl wearing a skin-tight denim pinafore dress talks to a girl wearing a soft and skimpy pink and blue take on the classic Chanel suit.
Season two of HBO's hit Euphoria continued with a contemporary approach to fashion somehow both curated and a hodgepodge of trends. (Courtesy of HBO)

"These are contemporary kids using a hodgepodge of styles," Cassis-Shaw says. You don't have to have a lot of money, she notes, to shop from resale outlets like ThredUp, stuffed with two decades of fast fashion cycling in and out of style, all of which can be studied on Instagram. And when you can so easily consume "vintage" clothes from H&M or Delia's, the ingredients are in place for what writer Allison P. Davis memorably called a "vibe shift" in a recent article for New York magazine. Normal rhythms of trends and style get scrambled by the hectic churn of social media.


"TikTok has a weird way of making every single thing in style at once," notes Rebecca Jennings. "You can go to any corner of the app and something will be considered cool."

Right now, she adds, it's easy to be nostalgic for the days before COVID. Some young people are even nostalgic for the early days of the pandemic, making TikToks like this one, looking back fondly at Tiger King, Animal Crossing and making sourdough bread.

You know, way back before a new set of anxieties about the future.

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