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Summer 2021 Fashion Trends: Remnants From the Past and Idyllic Escapism

By Teresa Pavia | June 25, 2021

Whether they are symbolic of the modern day’s cultural direction, or are recycled versions of old fads born of nostalgia, changes in fashion trends are a vehicle by which reactions to the world are expressed. As we approach what looks like the end of a global pandemic, this summer’s fashion follows the familiar pattern of old trends being influenced by modernity coupled with the comprehensive interconnectedness that the Internet provides access to.

The “20-Year Rule” is a term used in the fashion industry to describe the cyclic nature of fashion trends, and how styles can be expected to reemerge in new, modernized forms 20 to 30 years after they were first popularized.

An example of this cycle was seen in the 90s nostalgia craze that was popular throughout the 2010s which gave us grunge Tumblr circa 2014 with tattoo chokers and American Apparel mom jeans to emulate the minimalist fashion trends of a decade distinguished by alternative rock and skate culture.

Despite a return to these styles, the 2010s did present their own trademark trends, such as the thick eyebrows, brightly colored cut crease eyeshadows, and liquid lipsticks known as “Instagram Makeup,” named for the social media site which popularized the look beginning in 2016.

As we enter the 20s, we are transitioning to styles which glamorize the fashion of the early 2000s, or what has been dubbed the Y2K aesthetic. We also see the primary role the Internet plays in the changing dynamic of the fashion industry, and how a more globalized Internet gives the opportunity for the extending reach of ideas and smaller communities to form. What we see in fashion today is the marrying of those trends as characterized by the 20 Year Rule, a vastly expanded and constantly maturing cyberspace, and a new generation coming of age whose interests are catered to by markets and media.

While the term Y2K literally means The Year 2000, the Y2K Bug refers to the exact minute the millenia turned, and the fear that the world’s still young digital infrastructure would be overwhelmed by the switch. The lack of an apocalyptic meltdown, and the tail end of the dot-com boom, led to world wide web browsers that provided people more immediate access to communication than ever. It also led to a whole new generation of babies being born, who were growing up on Kardashians instead of Kate Moss.

The Y2K aesthetic can be interpreted in a number of ways, with many different styles originally popularized by many different communities at the time. Images on Pinterest boards today feature looks that exaggerate the glamor of pink bedazzled baby tees and low waisted jeans (though some may also refer to this as the Bratz Doll aesthetic, as a callback to another fixture of the early 2000s).

Noticeable aspects of this summer’s fashion additionally features an infusion of the Mod movement of the late 60s and the furor of the bohemian flower children of the early 70s. In a Youtube video titled “2021 Trend Analysis & Where You Can Get Them” fashion blogger Madison Wild theorizes, “Fashion is regressing to the ‘60s and ‘70s because the time periods are so comparable. The younger generations are completely rejecting the government...we have the spiritual movement which is right on par with the 70s, people romanticizing these hippie parents...and [the Black Lives Matter movement] completely mirrored the Civil Rights Movement of the 50s and 60s.”

While the trends of decades past are liable to influence any era’s fashion, unique to 2021 are the sweeping online networks and their role in influencing the cultural orientation.

Though the Y2K Bug failed to live up to its purported expectations, the Internet we know today is far more developed than what was widely available throughout the early 2000s. Texting quickly replaced phone calls as the primary mode of telecommunication, and social media platforms originating with MySpace gave way to TikTok, which is currently clocking in at 689 million users worldwide, now introducing users to content quite literally curated “for you”.

With a more accessible, extensive, and interpersonal range of electronic communication representative of the 21st Century, ideas spread like wildfire across physical boundaries and borders simply through the use of a smartphone. Influencers and algorithms aside, regular people are now more in control of the content which they consume or produce, allowing for the exposure to different subsets of society using the Internet as its bedrock.

Among these online communities are the niche fashion aesthetics which have been cropping up over the last few years, and in 2021 seem to have officially made their way into the conventional culture.

Maybe the most well known of these niche aesthetics is known as Cottagecore, defined by Wikipedia as a “Generation Z subculture that celebrates an idealised rural life.” Sprouting various deviations and sub-aesthetics going by names like Fairycore, Countrycore, and Grandmacore, the Cottagecore umbrella emphasizes a return to softness and simplicity. In a 2020 New York Times article titled “Into Cottagecore, Calming Ethos for Our Febrile Moment” Isabel Slone argues, “an obvious backlash to the hustle culture embodied by Fiverr ads, cottagecore attempts to assuage burnout with a languid enjoyment of life’s mundane tasks.” These fashion aesthetics originating online can be seen as a form of escapism, and a person’s outward expression of their internal self.

While Cottagecore was the first online aesthetic to be formally identified, there are tons of niche groups to represent the wide spectrum of tastes, from Alt and E-girl, to Parisian, to Lolita. As these communities grow, hallmark features of the aesthetics can be seen making their way into the status quo. The otherwise quirky and offbeat outfit choices filter down onto mainstream fashion markets in a more digestible way that appeals to a broader variety of consumers.

In drawing from this historical and cultural context, here are the trends I expect we’ll see this season:

Big Pants

Hit by the double whammy that is a simultaneous reminiscence for the eras that popularized bell bottoms and JNCO jeans, when it comes to pants this season, the bigger the better. Though it might be harder to find (or more intimidating to wear) bell bottoms as big as the ones worn by Diana Ross and Cher, there are a range of styles today with differing lengths, patterns, and level of flare. On popular sites like FashionNova or Princess Polly, you’re likely to find that denim is looser with wider ankles and in response to true Y2K fashion, with lower waistlines. Think Destiny’s Child in “True Religion” jeans, paired with tiny tube tops or baby tees. The big pants trend has even made its way on to runway as well as in the more professional business casual chic looks, with traditional trousers wide legged and pleated, ranging in fabrics with neutral tones to those with bolder prints. Notwithstanding, bootcut jeans and tribal print flare pants seem to be styles we are collectively leaving behind.

Small Skirts

A callback to the ultra high hemlines of 60s Mod fashion, as well as the miniskirts Regina George would be caught dead in, micro minis are having a real moment this season and can be styled in a number of ways. For a look more reminiscent of the 60s, try an A-line skirt with knee high block heel boots, in contrasting colors if possible. If you’re aspiring to a Y2K complexion, a pleated mini with a bold plaid print and a fun baby tee should do the trick.


While halter tops have never completely gone out of vogue, the styles we’ve seen this year harken back to those popular in the 70s and the 2000s, coming in a variety of cuts and lengths. Low cut and glittery disco halters are an adventurous choice for a night out and are perfect for those who want to look like they’ve been taken straight out of “Saturday Night Fever” (bonus points if you pair it with bell bottoms). If you’re leaning more towards the Y2K aesthetic, halters with sparkles are replaced with sequins, and bright vibrant colors are more popular. A popular piece this year is the sequined halter top that is sewn and tied at the back in the shape of a butterfly, seen on Mariah Carey in 1997 and Olivia Rodrigo in 2021. Microtrends in halters this year feature cowl necks, O-rings, and cuts that end in a triangular hem.

Everyday Lingerie

As much as we see trends that come from eras more recently in our memories, this season we’ve seen a proliferation of the corset, originally attributed to Cathrine de’ Medici, Queen Consort of France. Since the days of the French aristocracy, corsets have evolved and been repackaged over the centuries, from the Edwardian era, to Billie Eilish on the cover of British Vogue. More generally, lingerie fashion seems to be an overarching theme we see this summer, with more wearable looks like bustier tops with lace up detailing. The resurgence of the corset trend may be attributed to Cottagecore, though more closely falls in line with the Milkmaid or Barmaid aesthetic that features looks evocative of the Medieval English countryside.

Scarf Tops

While scarf tops have made their way onto the fashion scene for quite some time now, recent trends see scarf tops even more popular than ever, and bolder than ever. These silky and sleek tops fit more into the Zara Chic aesthetic, named for the global chain that features linen, clean lines, and more solidly on-trend pieces. For those who prefer skinny jeans and sneakers, a scarf top is a surefire way to turn an otherwise uneventful outfit into an eye-catching look.


Popular last fall as part of a Dark Academia trend that seemed to match the October mood, we can expect to see sweatervests and sleeveless knit tops again this summer, though perhaps with a summertime twist. Unlike Cottagecore, Dark Academia, essentially gothic prep, gravitates more towards an aesthetic featuring heavy dark shoes and cooler and darker tones. Light Academia is an offshoot of the subculture, with almost entirely the same aesthetic concept, but favors pastel colors to argyle prints.

Ultimately, these are only one person’s predictions. Sometimes we don’t like the trends, sometimes they don’t match our style, and that is okay. Fashion is just another form of expression, Wear whatever you want to.


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