Blasts from Our 90's Pasts
Scrolling through my Instagram feed, I encounter flannels, chokers, and—even more confusingly—disposable camera photos with 1998 date stamps on them. I’m pretty sure that I haven’t actually been transported twenty years in the past, but it seems like fashion and culture sure have recently found themselves in the grungy days of yore. Adidas slides, Clueless-inspired plaid skirts, slip dresses, and velvet are inescapably present everywhere from high-fashion runways to mall storefronts. Articles with headlines like “Reasons Why ‘90s Kids Had the Best Childhood” pop up on a daily basis. Apps like Huji Cam allow everyone to create faux-disposable camera images, and even add 1998 date stamps. We aren’t imitating the past…we’re trying to place ourselves back into it.
I admit being a fan of the whole ‘90s aesthetic. But it is a little strange to think about pop culture’s many blasts from the past. When we add a false date stamp to a picture or put on a choker, what is the line between fashion and nostalgia? Of course, this phenomenon isn’t unique to the ‘90s—nor is it anything new. While practically all cultural trends are influenced by the past in some capacity, still, why all the ’90s visuals now? What gives?
Somehow, ‘90s nostalgia feels more like it is banking on real nostalgia than, say, wearing ‘70s bell bottoms, because it’s at least a time most of us were actually alive. But in 1998, I was only two, despite what some of my recent Huji photos might lead one to believe. I don’t even remember what I wore or played with. In 1998, Clinton was president, Titanic won Best Picture, and “…Baby One More Time” was a #1 hit. But all I know from the ‘90s years is from those kinds of pop culture factoids, and from the photographs my dad took with his Canon film camera and got developed at CVS. As I mimic the grain of film on iPhone shots or the grease of grungy hair, maybe I’m trying to mimic my own memories that are incomplete, longing to participate in the culture of a time that I was way too small to even have any real consciousness of. I can recreate vintage images and return to my idea of the ‘90s culture at large, looking on current moments as if they’ve already gained the haziness of the past.
It could be that I’m just reading far too much into the current trends—and that people are dressing like it’s the ‘90s simply because they like how the styles look. They don’t actually feel like they’re in the ‘90s. But when fashion makes way for watching clips of All That or reading article after article talking about so-called ‘90s kids, it seems not just another trend: reveling in the culture is somehow a desire to pay homage to lost bits of our youth, like Skip-Its and orange Nickelodeon VHS tapes. We can’t actually travel through time, but we can pick out the good parts of the decade (like fashion trends), while also enjoying all of my modern luxuries that true ‘90s people could only dream of (like streaming songs and taking iPhone photos). It is 2018 for at least a few more weeks, and there is absolutely no changing that. Time only moves forward. But our Instagram feeds look back, becoming the catalogues of our lives, enabling instant nostalgia—and in these snapshots, we can pretend like it’s twenty years ago, and re-enact moments that never quite existed to begin with.
By Katie Duggan
Princeton student, feminist film enthusiast, and lover of all things spooky.