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I tried to turn my hiking wardrobe into 90s cyber-fashion realness

Can a crop top and salopettes be sexy?

Rose Mason in her isolation/holiday outfits

I’m in isolation in a hotel room in Scotland. The most interesting part of this room is either the row of 6 positive lateral flow tests on a table (one for every day I am gambling and failing for early release) or the use of the mini kettle. There are still many sources of entertainment: reading Humans by Matt Haig; watching The Outlaws, doing the Yoga with Adriene January challenge. But despite these, what I have really been drawn to is browsing, scrolling and lusting after things online. Something I’ve been particularly enamoured with while being trapped in this small room, is other people’s fashion. Friends, peers, Depop sellers and influencers are all out here looking cool. There’s a particular style I’m drawn to: y2k, cyber-fashion, 90s ‘fits.

In an essay-esq discussion of the resurrection of the nostalgic social media network Bebo, Rochelle suggested why we, as 20 or 30 somethings in the 2020s, are attracted to this era of low rise, dressed down, wind-machine-in-a-music-video vibe of the millenium.

“The resurgence in Y2K and late 1990s/early 2000s cyber-fashion is being embraced by Gen-Z perhaps because it reminds them of their childhoods, but most of them were probably too young to even remember the early 2000s. Priya Elan for The Guardian called it ‘now-stalgia’; fashion has returned to the future. Everything from Matrix-style sunglasses and leather jackets to socialite-esque Juicy Couture tracksuits and low-rise jeans 

It’s no wonder we are obsessed with trying to recreate both the fashion and sonic aesthetics of the era that glimmered with the possibility of a utopian society, facilitated by the advances in technology, filled with ease of connection; no one would have wanted to acknowledge the possibility of the darkness which lay within both our cultural reliance on, and the prominence of, technology. Maybe capitalism’s clutch didn’t seem so scary.”

It’s a well known theory that fashion comes in waves, with trends resurfacing every couple of decades. The resurgence of 90s cyber-fashion style is one I’m personally happy to welcome back. Not least because I have spent many years trying to emanate the style of Billie Piper circa 2005/6 with her denim, effortless messy hairstyles and fingerless gloves. But also I suppose it does also share the casual and undemanding nature of childhood. Y2k and 90s fashion is largely unpretentious and dressed down. It comes with an ‘anything goes’ approach and welcomes creativity and that in itself is hopeful. However, it does come with its own hitches; the idolisation of a very slim body type to name one.

Aesthetics wise though, I love the y2k 90s look. Slicked back hair, chains, crop tops, mesh tops, long leather jackets, bold prints, tops with writing down the arms, corsets, platform trainers, huge hoodies, things with holes in, things where the holes are laced back together, lots of jewellery, tiny shoulder bags, old things reused in new ways, rectangular glasses that sit at the bottom of your nose… All of it I am HERE for.

Whatever social media or internet platform I’m on, I see people looking sexy and cool. I’m wearing the same joggers and teddy bear fleece I’ve worn for the last 7 days and I’m thinking – but this is what I should be doing – right? Being young and sexy and cool, being creative, wearing random styles taking inspiration from my youth and favourite parts of early 2000s culture? 

But then I hit this wall. I’m currently in the Scottish Highlands, with a very small wardrobe aimed to be practical, warm and good for outdoor activities. It’s not the best place to start for a swish y2k look. I also like my clothes to be minimal, comfortable and practical. I don’t like buying excess stuff or anything from unethical fast fashion brands. So I came to the conclusion that this style couldn’t be for me, especially not here with my hiking wardrobe. If I wanted to revamp my fashion I’d have to buy more, own more and take more photos… right? Wrong.

What I can do – I realised – is just be creative. Thinking I can’t be involved with something because I’m not buying plasticy tat from Pretty Little Thing is totally the wrong way to interpret sustainable fashion or a minimal wardrobe. Style is all about creativity – taking inspiration, then using what you have in new ways. If I can’t be fashionable and care about the environment at the same time then sustainable fashion isn’t fashion – but it is. And if there is ever a time to be creative with limited resources, it’s when you’re stuck in a small hotel room with a positive lateral flow line that just won’t leave. 

I was up for the challenge. I wanted to show that even outdoors clothes can look cool, and anyone could be that Depop noughties girl if they wanted to. Luckily, given the experimental, casual nature of this trend in particular – it wasn’t as impossible as I first thought. 90s fashion can incorporate baggy, urban, sportswear – so it’s not actually the most difficult trend to attempt.

Outfit number 1: urban ski realness

I really wanted to use the salopettes. Alongside my raincoat – they’re probably the most made-for-the-outdoors thing in the dry bags. They rustle when your legs brush together, they’re padded and unusually warm, they really put practicality over fashion. So they seemed like the perfect place to start.

This outfit was the first one I thought of. Like all great ideas, it came to me as I was going to sleep at night. What I really liked about the salopettes was the straps – they opened a whole other world of opportunity than the average trouser. I could put any top under them and they would give a workwear/dungaree vibe. But this is 90s cyber fashion and dungarees aren’t enough. So I pulled out a fishnet crop top that I packed just in case of a night out (where?) and my sports bra. The vibrant colour of the bra added something to the outfit. I did my hair in a messy rachel green bundle with a big clip OF COURSE with the front bits pulled out. I think this outfit looks the best – but in real life the salopettes would be too warm and too scrunchy sounding. But if it’s all in the picture, I think this one hit the brief.

Outfit number 2: Lynda with a Y

I had the idea to use the inner, fleece layer of my Columbia ski jacket. I initially thought of tying it in a knot around my waist – classic 2000s energy. I’m wearing a swimsuit as a replacement for a boob-tube or tank top with baggy puma sports shorts borrowed from my boyfriend. It’s sportswear that would work for a festival or night out

I did the baby spice space buns with two mismatched scrunchies to complete the look. I can’t help thinking that in that middle picture I look a little like Lynda with a Y from Big Brother in 200,100 (that’s a specific Doctor Who series 1 reference).

Outfit number 3: it was an attempt

This outfit, I think we can all admit, is the most basic and normal. My best friend even said to me ‘you can’t just put a hat on and call it 90s’. But this one has some intricacies… so hear me out. I normally wear these jeans with a belt, but here I’ve let them fall below my belly button, giving them a baggy, low-rise vibe. The top is a Trespass running thermal, but I folded it on the inside to make it cropped, which is a technique I’ve noticed people do with tops and jumpers for Depop pictures. The hat is part of my uniform for working at a cafe on a ski resort in Scotland, and an element of outdoors gear that I wanted to include. I had planned to wear my eastpak bum bag cross-body but when it came to it I forgot, which is probably good because throwing an eastpak bumbag on an outfit and calling it 90s is even more of a cheap get out than a woolly hat. 

The most creative idea I had here was with the ski snood. Gen-Z kids appear to be more health conscious. There is research suggesting younger people are drinking and smoking less and they are more aware of sustainability and their own wellbeing. They are adaptable to change, be it covid restrictions in their schools or new internet platforms like TikTok or Instagram reels – things that really make me feel like a tech illiterate millennial. To me it seems that younger people are less fazed about wearing masks and just getting on with things. I’ve also seen ski masks on social media – which is a trend that makes no sense to me, but a trend nonetheless. I thought a hat and a ski snood would be a half decent attempt at representing the willingness of Gen-Z to face change head on. Perhaps that explanation makes the outfit make a little more sense – or perhaps we can all agree this one was a bit basic.

Thinking about the nostalgia for old social media, I do miss the days when Instagram was fun. My original Instagram account has a picture of a pineapple with glasses on and my best friend badly photoshopped onto a pile of money. It was more for entertainment than likes and while I can try to recreate that haphazard vibe of posting erratically, it’s not the norm anymore. For me, platforms like Instagram are now too appearance-focussed, addictive and using them for long periods of time often lowers my mood. I’m concerned how younger people, especially women, will be affected by the fast pace and high standards of the online world that has surrounded them their whole lives. 

The simplicity of background music on your blog, bluetoothing music from your motorola flip phone or dialling up to the internet are relic memories from a bygone era. But at least we have this time to remember. To inspire us back to simplicity, creativity and maximising the minimal things at our disposal. Which is something always best exercised in the art of dressing up.

Rose is a freelance writer. You can follow her on Twitter here, or view more of her work here.

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