- Gen Z’s penchant for trends of the millennium is creating a “throwback economy,” per Axios.
- They’re reviving Y2K and prep styles, sentimental entertainment, and old-school tech.
- TikTok has become a place for Gen Z to bond over pre-social media days, enabling trends to take root.
The millennium is back, back again.
Everything that was once peak millennial has found new life in the hands of Gen Z. The youngest generation’s revival of the millennium’s biggest trends is creating what Sara Fischer of Axios has deemed a “throwback economy” characterized by bright clothes, sentimental entertainment, and old-school tech.
Gen Z may hate on what millennials are wearing now, but they love what millennials wore during their teen years. From the straight-legged and low-rise jeans of Y2K yore to an “old money” twist on 2000s-era prep with Oxford shirts and tennis skirts, everything that has been out for the past decade or two is in again.
As Gen Z hunts for these “vintage” finds, they’re fueling a thrifting boom. But not everything can be found secondhand, so teens are making legacy retailers like The Gap and Abercrombie & Fitch cool again.
It’s not just fashion. Even the entertainment world is being reshaped by Gen Z nostalgia, as they discover shows and movies on streaming services that they were too young to watch at the time. Adam Sandler is teen’s favorite celebrity, ‘Friends’ is their new favorite TV show, and Bennifer and Britney Spears headlines are just as fascinating to Gen X as they were to millennials the first time they made the rounds.
And, however digitally native the generation may be, Gen Z isn’t opposed to the tech of yesteryear. They’ve been spotted eschewing AirPods for wired headphones, turning them into a vintage accessory. In fact, technology sits at the root of all these nostalgic desires.
TikTok is fueling nostalgia
Gen Z actually thinks life was better before social media. A new poll from John Della Volpe, director of polling at the Harvard Kennedy School Institute of Politics, found that more than half (53%) of Gen Zers (53%) among the 1,638 Americans polled felt this way.
Fischer attributes the nostalgia for a social media-less world to, ironically, the rise of social media. She said that “flashback items” can quickly reappear and go viral thanks to TikTok’s algorithm.
The social media app blew up last year, as Gen Z had ample time to scroll on their phones during quarantine. By September 2020, TikTok grew by 75%, becoming a place not just for dance videos, but for their exploration of old-made-new trends, from tie-dye loungewear to baggy jeans.
It served as a place for the generation to digitally bond as they underwent similar experiences of moving back in with parents during the pandemic, Jason Dorsey, who runs the Center for Generational Kinetics, a research firm in Austin, Texas, previously told Insider. That made it easy for many of these throwback, nostalgic trends to take root.
Research has shown that, in moments of economic turmoil, we are more likely to feel nostalgia. It explains why nostalgia marketing has reached a fever pitch during the pandemic. For Gen Z, turning to trends popular before social media took over has been an escape from the instability of the pandemic.