The throwback decade

5 Mins read

Chokers, slip dresses over T-shirts with a statement pair of Dr Martens and dungarees, one strap undone, paired with a crop top.

If at times you feel as though you have stepped into an early episode of Friends, you are not alone – the nineties are back, although it may seem as though women’s fashion of the nineties has lasted longer than the decade itself.

And it doesn’t stop there. Walk into a mainstream store, any of the colleges at UAL or scroll through the feeds of fashion and beauty influencers and you end up feeling as though you have awoken from a coma and have no idea which decade you stepped into.

Notice those mom jeans your friend paired with an Adidas sweater and boyfriend coat? It has the eighties stamped all over it. And that bomber jacket you particularly love actually took off in the 1970s.

What do all of these things have in common? They were once seen as unfashionable and unflattering and yet here they are.

Making a comeback.

However, it is the 1980s and 1990s that exert the biggest influence on contemporary women’s fashion. According to Chidera, a fashion blogger who appears on Instagram as the Slumflower, they are the key eras that we want to imitate.

“It’s the most nostalgic because most of us grew up influenced by the nineties. We saw lots of pictures of our parents in the eighties and I think that’s [what] we feel most related to,” the London College of Fashion graduate says, adding that when you don’t experience something, you tend to over-romanticise it.

You only have to scroll through her Instagram feed to see how these decades have inspired her look.

Time-travelling scammer from the 80’s looks.

A photo posted by Style Goddess | Visual Artist (@theslumflower) on

While the fashion industry is no stranger to taking inspiration from the past, should a line not be drawn between admiration and unoriginality? Are we in danger of losing ourselves to iconic pieces that do not necessarily reflect the 2010s?

The sixties were a time when boundaries were broken: the mini skirt made its mark and women began to take control of their bodies. The seventies saw us going against the norm and making a statement against the status quo through the punk movement.

So is commercial fashion having an identity crisis?

Critics have argued that designers and magazines pretend that their lack of originality is a quirky historical reference, when in fact it’s for the simple reason that due to our recycling habits, fashion has come full circle.

And the faster we accept that, the better.

However, Helen Storey, a designer and professor of fashion and science at LCF, says that it would be a shame to assume that designers are only ever inspired and interested by the past.

She believes that designers are free to be inspired by anything, at any period of history.

“It’s what we do with it that makes it relevant,” she explains, but she does agree that in the past, fashion has, one way or another, reflected its time.

But this love affair we have with the fashion of the past has shielded us from the issues that encompassed those decades. The nineties, for example, were not all about getting “the Rachel” at the hairdressers or playing the Spice Girls at full volume.

In America, the police in Los Angeles were on trial for the beating of Rodney King, which spawned protests across the country after they were found not guilty, despite video footage of the attack.

While the war in Kosovo dominated the latter years, the first half of the decade saw much of the world go into a recession which was said to be worse than that of 1929.

We’re looking at the past with rose-tinted glasses, and the danger of focusing on the past is that we fail to engage with the realities of today.

The past is safe. But through our nostalgia, we have put certain decades on a pedestal. To the point that we just remember them for their spoilt choice of dungarees rather than the serious issues they were faced with.

However, Chidera argues that fashion is actually more open-minded and forward-thinking than we are as people.

As fashion has no boundaries it accepts people for how they want to dress, though when it comes to society, we’re not accepting people for who they are.

In some ways, we’re just as behind socially as the time periods we take inspiration from – we still have the issues of homophobia, racism and sexism, to name a few.

But while fashion and politics have often gone hand-in-hand, and with so many political and social movements happening today, the fashion industry appears to be so busy looking at the past that we’re letting the present slip by right in front us.

And retailers are profiting from it.

Over the summer, Urban Outfitters saw their sales increase by five per cent through their collaborations with Adidas and Calvin Klein.

If you currently browse through the “Tommy Jeans” section (an exclusive collection by Tommy Hilfiger for the retailer) it features more nineties throwbacks than should be socially acceptable.

And they don’t come cheap. Dungarees for $179? Who could have afforded that during the 90s recession?

It’s not only the mainstream retailers that have seen their fair share of success as a result of the nostalgia.

Beyond Retro, a leading vintage retailer across the UK and Sweden, has its roots in Cheshire Street since 2002 – today the brand has grown internationally as the hunger for throwbacks dominates the wardrobes of young women.

A photo posted by Beyond Retro (@beyondretro) on

However, this is very different from that of Urban Outfitters – it isn’t simply a process of copying the looks of the past, but rather showing an admiration for the pieces that have survived the test of time.

With a team of skilled specialists, Beyond Retro scout through mountains of second-hand clothes, simultaneously predicting and paving the way for bigger retailers.

“If it wasn’t made in the seventies, and then you try to say it’s a seventies style, it’s not going to be the same as something that was actually made then,” says Chidera, and this removes its authenticity.

“People who walk into vintage stores have a genuine love for these items,” Storey tells Artefact, “and not because it’s fashionable at the moment. It gives the clothes character and a sentimental connection.”

“When it comes to fashion,” Chidera adds, “this has been the most experimental generation because we have merged all eras together to create modern looks.”

This is referred to as ‘upcycling’, which is the process of revamping something that has already been used.

[pullquote align=”right”]We’re looking at the past with rose-tinted glasses, and the danger of focusing on the past is that we fail to engage with the realities of today.[/pullquote]

Fashion isn’t the only thing that has made a comeback. According to Chidera, the same concept that motivated the punk movement in the seventies is the same today.

“The future of fashion is rebellion,” she says, “in a world where we’re taught to look like everyone else, to be perceived as normal and desirable,” we are breaking the mould, suggesting that one thing we have in common with previous decades is going against the status quo.

And maybe that’s not the worst thing to imitate.

So is it fair to claim that the 2010s will be defined as the throwback decade of fashion?

If retailer websites and catwalks are anything to go by, then yes – big brands are living for the nostalgia young women have with the past, and what better way to make a profit than bringing back what they were selling 20 years ago?

The 2010s have become a time-capsule of fashion to date. But while recycling trends is not ground-breaking, it would be a shame for this decade to be remembered for it’s lack of commitment to try something new.

The 80s had their vibrant, though questionable, colours and shoulder pads. The 70s had their disco pants.

With just over three years left of this decade, to have something to claim our own and make its mark in the industry that goes beyond what we already know shouldn’t be too much to ask.



Featured image by Erich Stüssi via Flickr CC.

Related posts
NewsUNESCO: 70% Salty

Echoes of the Earth: Living Archive brings the ocean to London

2 Mins read
Serpentine North has been transformed into an immersive underwater environment through their new exhibition Echoes of the Earth: Living Archive on show until the 7th of April.
NewsUNESCO: 70% Salty

London's hippest sustainable seafood venue: Faber's at Hammersmith

3 Mins read
Faber Restaurant co-founders Anthony Pender and Matt Ward share knowledge and passion through UK’s coastal sustainable seafood. FABER BRITISH WINE…

Silenced Solidarity: Students suspended from UK universities

1 Mins read
Student suspensions due to pro-Palestinian action are on the rise at UK Universities. What is happening and what can we do?