…Baby One More Time: Looking Back: Gen Z’s obsession with nostalgia explained by Addie Rae Allen

Cami-dresses, lingerie shirts, layered hair with chunky-dyed strands. Sound familiar? The trends of today are not novel in any way, but rather reminiscent of past fashion. These trends have been documented as cyclic — however, the cycle has been shrinking.

This isn’t a coincidence, it’s a science. 

Trends usually recur in 20 year periods; the trends of the 70s influenced those of the 90s, and then these neo-70s trends influenced those of the 2010s. But today’s trends go against this system: they look very similar to fashion from only a little over a decade ago in the early and mid-2000s. The “y2k” tag that indicates something is early-2000s inspired is popular among sites such as Pinterest, TikTok, and Depop — an app where anybody can buy or sell their clothes. 

The desire for simpler times in Gen-Z can be traced back to prominent social and political events starting from the late 90s. For example, the stressful effects of the 2009 economic recession allows people to more easily romanticize their childhoods.

Like any recession, the sudden event in 2009 caused an increase in unemployment rates in the U.S. Unemployment causes tension in households; according to the U.S. Census Bureau, the South saw higher rates of divorce than any other region in 2009. Single-parent/guardian households face a unique set of challenges and often have to make difficult sacrifices to maintain their lifestyles. While children are not able to fully process this, they do notice.

Bad things happen during childhood, but as a result of a child’s underdeveloped brain, they may not realize the severity of the stress until much later. 

The process dubbed by many neuroscientists as “brain pruning” explains this. A child’s brain is extremely active; the average synaptic firing rate in children is much greater than that of a teen due to the fact that kids are faced with new experiences everyday. However, the cell connections created from synaptic firing can be overturned, or “pruned,” overtime if the brain deems them unimportant.

Similarly, when traumatic or damaging events happen during childhood, the brain may choose not to memorialize it. Repressed childhood memories are not fully forgotten, but rather neglected as means of protection. Because of this, memories can feel as though they suddenly resurface during adolescence. 

When teens have had time to process an emotionally harmful period in their lives, they may then be driven to replicate the seemingly happier time when they couldn’t understand the emotional turmoil they were faced with.

However, teens now find themselves in the midst of a unique event. One of the most defining moments for this generation is the COVID-19 pandemic. Schools were shut down, parents/guardians lost jobs, and political tension in the U.S. surged. These factors buried teens in an isolation that has had a significant impact on their mental health. 

“Honestly, it was kind of rough for me,” Reynolds Young (‘23) says. “I was in quarantine for my birthday, which was really bad, and then I went on to spend several more months with nobody but my family for company. Tensions rose, and patience grew thin. I was angry half the time, and sad the other half.”

The pandemic is much different from other impactful events for the younger generation due to the fact that teens can more readily digest the resulting effects on their mental health. Teens no longer live in involuntary ignorance like they did less than a decade ago. Now, they’re in a period of their lives where they have more understanding of the world and their own feelings. 

What happens when the importance of an interpersonal relationship isn’t stressed? It’s a common narrative, especially in the South, for feelings to be “swept under the rug” and repressed only to resurface years later when taking care of children; since the parent/guardian didn’t know how to cope with their own feelings, it’s unlikely that they’ll know how to support their children’s feelings. 

This cycle of emotional neglect can be a proponent of trend regression.

Hazy memories of trading Silly Bandz with friends and watching George Lopez late at night are all that some teens remember from their childhood. With repressed or pruned memories, these moments of bliss allow teens to glorify their early years, even if the reality of it was much darker.

The fashion and entertainment trends of today can be viewed as a coping mechanism. Early and mid-2000s icons Britney Spears, Ashley Tisdale, and Destiny’s Child, as well as childhood shows such as Spongebob, Victorious, and iCarly can remind teens of life before they were responsible for navigating their emotions. 

Music and fashion from or influenced by the 2000s is a bright, low-waisted distraction from life today in the 2020s.

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