Sells Like Teen Spirit: The Power Of Nostalgia In Fashion
Anyone who has ever attempted a closet reboot knows mom’s time-tested fashion advice: “Keep it, it’ll be in style again in 20 years!” If there’s any constant in as mutable a world as fashion, it’s that trends get recycled. And if you’re lucky enough now to have a pair of the perfect vintage bellbottoms on hand, you can relate.
But there’s something to be said for the recent hard-hitting nostalgia in the styles sent down the runways in recent shows. The SS18 runways were a blast from the past, with designers mining their archives for updates of their greatest hits. The result? An idealism-spurred ache for a simpler time. At Versace, all the original supermodels — think Cindy Crawford, Naomi Campbell, and Claudia Schiffer — made an appearance in honor of the 20th anniversary of Gianni Versace’s death, a recreation of their iconic lineup, while at Prada, Miuccia reinvented the IT bag of the nineties, a black nylon carryall reimagined with stud detail and colorful strips of leather. Miu Miu pulled out the grunge revival with a plaid midi dress modernized with a belt at the waist, while in a nod to nineties logomania, Fendi monogrammed everything that could be monogrammed in their traditional somber brown. Moschino went a step further, tapping into our childhood dreams with a saturation of My Little Pony, even going so far as to send recreations of the original 80s lunch boxes down the runway.
It’s no secret that nostalgia is a powerful element of fashion, but in order to be effective, it has to be done right. Nostalgia-driven pieces can’t simply be directly appropriated from a bygone era — in order to resonate with the current audience, they have to be updated with a modern flourish to be well received. While many of our favorite nostalgia silhouettes have returned — think the return of the backpack in its modern mini iteration and crossbody silhouette, the flannel, updated in chic tailoring, and even the “dreaded” fanny pack of which Kendall Jenner is a major fan, glammed out with studs and bling or done up in unicorn brights — they are as current as if they were new. Consumers who remember their first pair of Doc Martens now have the option of a pink velvet or flower-embroidered pair, and it’s truly the best of both worlds.
A huge part of the success of nostalgia is getting consumers to feel, and pulling at the heartstrings is almost always a win for a brand. In an age of impersonal digital media and what seems to be a constant cycle of bad news, nostalgia is "a glue that reinforces bonds of solidarity and shared experience," according to Carl Wilson at The New York Times Magazine. It is a very safe place, particularly reassuring in times of uncertainty. Aligning marketing strategies with emotion has already proven to be successful — think the cruelty-free movement — but tapping into fond memories can be an invaluable tactic, as building social connectedness through nostalgia is an easy way for companies to leverage the optimistic feelings that often accompany walks down memory lane. This is especially true for engaging millennials.
Between all the pressures of adult life and almost none of the rewards, such as owning a home and having disposable income, nostalgia is especially relevant to millennial consumers who are painfully stuck between childhood and "adulting." With millennials growing into their 30s and 40s, there has recently been a wild resurgence in all things 90s, thanks to the 20-year cycle: from new 90s-themed shows like the Netflix series Everything Sucksto classic revivals such as Fuller House and Saved By the Bell — our nostalgia is updated to reflect our values now: Everything Sucks, while chock full of Tori Amos, Surge, and babydoll dresses, features relevant social issues and openly queer characters, as well as a lack lead.
If there’s one thing that’s certain in a world as fickle as fashion, it’s that our memories stay constant. As we get older, and time seems to move faster and faster, tapping into nostalgia with an updated modern flair is a sure way of staying forever young. Fortunately for us, our favorite brands are proving quick on the uptake.