Noonsong recently watched the movie <Clueless> which is set around the 2000s. After watching that movie, Noonsong was fascinated by the 2000s vibe, so she imitated the fashion in <Clueless> by looking for a similar mini skirt and sleeveless shirt. In addition, she uploaded a video which has the style from the 2000s to her YouTube channel. This video, which shows the 2000s style, became popular with her subscribers of Generation MZ.
Familiarity in new waves
In Y2K, Y means year, and K means a kilo, i.e., a thousand. Therefore, Y2K means the year 2000 and the Y2K era was a year from 1999 to 2000. In 2000, the media called Y2K a millennium bug, which created a sense of fear that various problems could arise due to computer errors that had occurred over the years. Until then, only the last two digits of the year had been marked, but as time moved on to 2000, the four digits may not be recognized by computers. However, nothing much happened after the year 2000 compared to what people had feared before. After that, the expectations for the new world spread throughout the culture, and songs, videos, and fashion with a futuristic feel. The bold clothes and unique videos of this time appeared in various media, although that vibe has gone over time. Later, as OTT (over-the-top) services became popular, the personality of Y2K's vibe began to rise to the surface again. As it became easier to access past content, that which was popular in the past also began attracting attention just like the latest cultural content. In addition, there seems to be the influence of a certain generation that has made this popular. Kim Gongsook, a professor at Andong University, said, "The values of the 2000s generation, who actively conveyed and shared their thoughts, have connected with the current Generation Z."1) The Y2K culture was able to attract attention again because it was similar to the value of the Generation Z that re-populated it. As such, that culture is currently accepted as a personality and is now gaining popularity, especially among them.
For this reason, Y2K affects a lot of fields. Among them, it can be seen that the fashion field is greatly influenced by this trend. Italian fashion brand 'Miu Miu' attracted attention by introducing it. In October 2021, at Paris Fashion Week, Miu Miu introduced 2000s-style clothes to attract public attention. Models wore miniskirts and cropped T-shirts which represent the 2000s. It means a new fashion culture based on Y2K is now in vogue. Concerning this style re-introduction, an official in the fashion industry said, "What was famous in 2000s fashion like the blue jeans with large wide legs or the short shirts have been mainstream again these days for the last two years. The appearance seems like it will continue for a long time."2) What this means is that the vibe of 2000s fashion has remained the trend that can be a steady fashion item. As Y2K has endless possibilities, the culture is being used not only in fashion design but also in the fashion marketing method to promote its brand. Online fashion platform MUSINSA has produced the concept photo 'Back to the MUSINSA' to recall the early 2000s when it was first opened. They have expressed the style by introducing products such as vintage graphic shirts and denim pants with cargo pocket details. As the photo can show that brand in the 2000s style, it is not only using the Y2K culture but showing the brand's story. Thus, what occurs in the fashion world is rapidly spreading out to various fields.
The reason why it is coming back
The resurgence of Y2K culture is a new trend due to the characteristics of Generation MZ. That is a collective term for Millennials and Generation Z from the early 1980s to the early 2000s. Their retro trend is different from that of the previous generation. They not only enjoy the past style as their memory but embrace the culture as one of their characteristics. Kim Kyungeun, who runs a vintage store in Hongdae, said, "While looking for the sensibility of their own personalities, Generation MZ started to see the style that was popular in the past."3) The young people began to copy the Y2K fashion because they could recall memories and express their unique personality while following this fashion. In addition, the consumption characteristic of the generation is "self-centered". The trend of consumption, expressing oneself directly, also affected the Y2K fashion wave. It is similar to the characteristics of 2000s fashion where one's own personality was expressed through bold exposure and visual splendor. The KPR Digital Communication Research Institute explained, "The colorful styling and bold colors, which are characteristics of Y2K fashion, are in line with the values of Generation Z that pursue freedom and individuality."4) It was able to become popular again because, as he said, the tendency of this generation is to accept Y2K fashion as an aesthetic element. This fashion has caused a resurgence with its characteristics.
There is also an opinion that there is an unstable social reality behind this Y2K trend. Although there is currently hope that it can return to the pre-COVID-19 era, the economic downturn continues to trigger anxiety among people. This situation is similar to the atmosphere of the times that created the Y2K culture. The late 20th century, when this culture was born, was a time full of expectations and anxiety about the beginning of a new era. Therefore, the unique style of Y2K was formed as a result. Generation MZ has not experienced the era, but they sympathize with the similarity to the current situation and welcome it as a new trend. As such, it seems that the cultural phenomenon created from the social situation of the 2000s is affected based on the current similar situation. In addition, some think that the trend of Y2K culture is used as a means to overcome the current gloomy situation. By copying its lively and colorful atmosphere, we can reduce social anxiety by recalling our childhood in the past. Regarding this, Lim Myungho, a professor in the Department of Psychology at Dankook University, said, "People naturally look for the past when the future is uncertain, but the retro craze is gaining greater sympathy due to the poor social environment due to COVID-19."5) In the current unstable situation, the Generation MZ imitates the vibrant Y2K culture of the past. In these circumstances where Y2K culture is popular, it can be seen that various social phenomena are intertwined.
The old trend to be a new trend
Some people welcome the Y2K culture due to their memories. For people who experienced Y2K culture in the past, products through which they can reminisce about their childhood are being re-released. There has been a trend to use the Y2K culture and the corresponding memories through producing Y2K products. SPC Samlip, a baking company, re-released Pokémon Bread, which was popular among children in the early 2000s. The character stickers in the product evoked the nostalgia of the people who bought Pokémon bread at the time and exchanged stickers with their childhood friends. Lee Eunhee, a professor in the Department of Consumer Science at Inha University, said about the Pokémon Bread craze, "The memories that they have of what they ate and collected when they were young have contributed a lot to the consumption craze."6) Y2K items began to become popular again as they stimulated the nostalgia of the generations who experienced those days firsthand. In addition, they are accepting the culture of the past in a new and fun way. This trend has also spread to the IT industry. Not long ago, Cyworld, Korea's leading SNS platform, announced the re-introduction of its service following this trend. With past photos and videos restored, the generations that used Cyworld are recovering their memories through the restored files. Generation Z, which has not experienced that time, is also taking the time anew by chasing the Y2K culture. The Y2K culture, which has returned like this, makes the people who enjoy Y2K culture reminisce or spend money on novelty items and have fun using old things.
The spread has also made use of its atmosphere in various marketing fields. Some companies are attracting the attention of the generation MZ by using Y2K sensitivity in various fields from fashion items to electronics. South Korean cosmetics brand 3CE introduced a product reinterpreted with the sensibility of the new Generation Z on July 11. They released the edition of "FUTURE KIND", which expresses the trend's sensibility. The various media made in the 2000s show that colorful makeup was popular. Using that concept, 3CE added colorful colors that were not commonly used in their products previously. In the pictorial promoting this product, the concept was the 2000s, and through this, Y2K vibe could be felt. In other words, in 3CE, it can be seen that the marketing targeted the generation MZ by adding past connections to the product. In addition, the YouTube advertisement for Samsung Electronics' product range "Bespoke Home" uses the song "Come Back Home" by the boy group 'Seo Taiji and Boys' in the past. The song is famous for its Y2K music released in 1995. It had exceeded the previous most popular video by 22.5 million views and shows that using Y2K as a marketing tool appeals to a wide generation. Like this, new marketing strategies using Y2K culture continue to spread, and companies are using them in a way that can target multiple consumers.
Back to the 2000s
In the chaotic social reality, the trend of recalling the colorful Y2K culture has spread. In addition, the feature of the culture is similar to what the generation MZ wants to pursue. They have a unique characteristic of pursuing their own thing. Accordingly, this culture plays an important role as a means of expressing itself using a unique charm different from before. In other words, the current advanced culture is becoming a social trend, and it seems to be worth experiencing it as a way to express one's individuality.
1) Lee Yujin, "In 'Y2K' Style… The Generation Z Is Charmed", The Kyunghyang Shinmun, August 13, 2021
2) Yu Sunhe, "Kim Chuja 50 Years Ago, SES 20 Years Ago… Even If the Name Is Different, 'End of the Century Fashion Is Back.'", The Hankyoreh, May 5, 2022
3) Jeun Yunjung, "LEE and MARITHE Came Back...The Reason Why Generation MZ Daughter Rummages Mom's Closet", OhmyNews, April 16, 2022
4) Kwon Anna, "Fall in Love With Retro...Generation Z Is in the 'Y2K' Craze, Why?", Newsis, April 21, 2022
5) Song Seungyoon, ""From Pokémon Bread to Y2K Fashion."...a Nostalgic Distributor", The Asia Business Daily, April 12, 2022
6) Jun Jinyoung, "Recalling Memories of the Generation MZ...Convenience Stores Are Now in a 'Bread War'", The Asia Business Daily, July 7, 2022
Kim Jang Yunsun / Reporter
Jung Nam Chaehee / Reporter