Warning: By the time the ball drops at the end of this month and year and decade, there’s a good chance we’ll all be totally over the “Roaring Twenties Part 2” narrative being pushed on pop culture from every angle. And 2020 is still two months away as I write this.
Do a quick search for New Year’s Eve on Eventbrite, and you’ll start to wonder if all Denver event planners are working with the same designer to make their invitations. Black, gold, art deco-inspired fonts and patterned backgrounds style every other listing, as far as you’re willing to scroll. (We’re not judging: anything is better than a cliché clip-art of clinking glasses of bubbly.) And just like it’s hard to differentiate between the graphics on the invites, the event themes are indistinguishable: “Roaring ’20s NYE Bash” at The Curtis Denver. “Roaring into the ’20s, 1920s Style!” at the Sheraton Denver West. “The Great Gatsby New Year’s Eve Ball” at Lone Tree Golf Club. “Roaring Twenties NYE Party” at Bigsby’s Folly. And on and on it goes.
It’s like we’re all very eager to move on and leave the last decade or two in the past. (Understandable, really.) We’re entering a decade called the twenties. But the 20th-century ’20s earned itself the best moniker of any time, period, and rightfully so. The Roaring Twenties was a vibrant era of prosperity. The economy was surging, and women were voting for the first time, working more than ever before, and spending their evenings drinking, smoking, and dancing carefree. The Jazz Age was in full swing. For many, life in America was pretty grand. So, it’s understandable that people are hoping history repeats itself, and the upcoming decade is as prosperous as its namesake.
I Feel Stupid and Contagious1
Calling the 2020s the Roaring Twenties before they even start is like trying to name a generation before the first members have been born. (Gen X is an anomaly; Gen Z is already undergoing a rebranding, with iGeneration as a frontrunner.) We can’t label something as “roaring” and just hope it lives up to its nickname. You can’t just slip on a flapper dress or don a suit fit for Gatsby, head to a Prohibition-era speakeasy, dance the Charleston, and expect to usher in an age of dramatic social and political change. As if.
Besides, we’d rather do the Carlton. Or we’ll strike a pose, there’s nothing to it. Or Tootsee Roll, whatever. (We pretend we’re too cool to Macarena, but the truth comes out on wedding reception dance floors if the DJ is fire enough.) The point is: we’re obsessed with the ’90s.
And if you’re thinking, “Of course you are. Fashion is cyclical. Styles repeat themselves every few decades,” you’re not wrong. You just may be bad at math. (No judgment, I’m worse.) What you’re referring to is a theory in fashion and pop culture known as the “nostalgia pendulum”—a rolling 30-year cycle of pop culture trends.
“It’s not all that complicated, but it is a pattern that has profound consequences for how art is created, how we conceptualize culture, and perhaps even what sort of political rhetoric comes into vogue,” writes Patrick Metzger of The Patterning, a website that’s all about identifying patterns in music, culture, and the universe.
“There are a number of reasons why the nostalgia pendulum shows up, but the driving factor seems to be that it takes about 30 years for a critical mass of people who were consumers of culture when they were young to become the creators of culture in their adulthood,” Metzger continues. “It can be explained equally well from the consumer side. After about 30 years, you’ve got a real market of people with disposable income who are nostalgic for their childhoods.
This Is How We Do It2
So, really we’re just at the start of the ’90s nostalgia craze. The resurgence in popularity of Friends (younger millennials and elder Gen Zs just can’t get enough of the Central Perk gang) was just the beginning.
And so are the sartorial powers that be—a.k.a. the “it” designers who create the looks that models strut down runways during Fashion Weeks around the globe. Nineties nostalgia as a wardrobe staple started popping up in various collections as early as 2013, when designer Hedi Slimane’s second collection for Saint Laurent celebrated baby doll dresses and grunge-era–inspired cardigans. By 2015, grunge wasn’t just back for a visit; it was here to stay. And it’s ready to make a statement: tutus and combat boots are for real a good look, and you can totally pull it off.
Where will you get a tutu? Like, basically anywhere. But you don’t need to look any farther than H&M, assuming you can get your hands on any pieces from the designer collaboration with Italian couturier Giambattista Valli. The line is divine: bold colors, feminine details, tons of tulle. Think: Sex and the City’s Carrie Bradshaw at her most glamorous.
The nostalgia-fueled fashion floodgates have opened, and ’90s styles have dominated the runways in recent seasons—including SS20. Whether you gravitate toward Matrix-inspired head-to-toe black (pleather and trench coat optional) or a simple T-shirt dress paired with clunky throwback sneakers in white with bold accents or a Cher Horowitz–inspired plaid skirt ensemble straight off the set of Clueless, you’re covered.
It’s Something Unpredictable, but in the End It’s Right3
The ’90s: The Last Great Decade, a three-night docuseries released in 2014 on The National Geographic Channel (NGC), shines a spotlight on the enduring importance of the milestone moments and events that have come to define the 10 years before the world partied as Prince told us to: like it was 1999, duh. A media alert from NGC teased the six-hour miniseries: “Sandwiched between the Cold War and the War on terror, the ’90s were a decade that gave us grunge music, reality TV, the Internet, multiple national tragedies, a tumultuous presidency, a booming economy, and Viagra.”
That series came out five years ago—a lifetime ago when it comes to fashion and pop culture, especially in today’s constantly connected world, where we can see trends emerge, proliferate, influence, evolve, become old news (a.k.a. cliché, trite, trying too hard), and disappear all in a matter of months, weeks, maybe days.
Today, 25 years after Friends premiered its first episode in 1994, the show is more popular than ever, reportedly earning $1 billion a year from its syndication revenue. Authentic, somehow real and lacking pretense, Friends showcases a life that people from three generations—X, millennial, and Z—have described as “ideal.” It’s not forced, it’s not obvious, it’s not claiming to be something it’s not. And nothing about it is roaring.
We’re going to keep loving that for decades to come.