I have an awful new habit – it’s called the Explore section of Instagram. I waste hours on there, flicking past pictures of Keanu Reeves and River Phoenix, pouring over Winona Ryder quotes about Johnny Depp, watching videos of Cher on the red carpet and admiring Rachel from Friends’ hair from every possible angle. The photo sharing platform knows what I like: 90s nostalgia – and it’s made me a slave to the attention economy.
If you follow popular culture, you’ll know I’m not the only one. From dating apps asking you to confess which awful trends you participated in when you were younger to the daily arrival of a new Instagram account celebrating the clothes of your favourite TV show – nostalgia for the last decade of the 20th century is the gift that keeps on giving. But where we used to take inspiration from the past – think 80s style pant suits or disco influenced new music – we now just copy it, verbatim.
Take festival fashion. Ten years ago, pre-flower crowns and glitter, festival get up was individual, unique even. A chance to wear clothes you’d never dream of putting on in day to day life. Now you’re hard pressed to make out anyone in a crowd of matching chokers, hair pinned back, cutesy eye shadow, matrix-esque sunglasses. It’s as if the noughties never happened.
This isn’t just about the Insta-crowd and fashion though. Netflix’s new blockbuster is a film starring Jennifer Aniston and Adam Sandler – who epitomises the 90s more than these two charmingly beige actors, who repeatedly knock out big budget, low risk, equally beige productions?
Then there’s the new Men In Black film, out in cinemas now. And speaking of bad scripts, creepy sunglasses and slightly camp sci-fi comedy… even Spice World the Movie is getting a sequel. Yes, the Spice Girls – you know, the ones who are never far from the front pages despite last releasing a single over a decade ago?
Working as a fashion editor four years ago I remember thinking the 90s trend was never going to end. People sure love nostalgia – particularly if it’s for a decade they didn’t even witness because they were still in nappies (see current Gen Z clothing trends for more details). But could this never ending throwback to be more than just nostalgia? Were the 90s just …better?
According to Instagram explore, that would be an emphatic yes. Accounts like 90s. daily, 90s.smoke and 90s.inspiration all have between 90k – 500k followers who are served daily stories about the youthful romances, heroine chic fashion and simpler times that one can only ever see through very thick rose tinted glasses.
Maybe I’m being cynical. Maybe things really were better (I wouldn’t know, I was barely out of nappies then either.) I do remember the amazing female artists; Shania Twain, Cheryl Crow, TLC, All Saints and yes, of course The Spice Girls. The future – robots, sci-fi, a new millennium – seemed cool and remote. This was long before we had to worry about data protection and Alexa listening to our conversations.
People used to meet in real life. Equality hadn’t become a marketing strategy. Even reality TV was innocent, and less likely to cause contestants mental health issues. Oh, who knows. Maybe that’s just my borrowed nostalgia talking.
But this does all predate smart phones, social media – it was before the fourth industrial revolution really got going, the last analogue era. Maybe this is why we obsess over it so much – because on scratchy video footage and analogue photographs things really do look better (#nofilter.)
Now, the internet has mulched us all together into one giant global thing that lives and breathes through the same filter. Subcultures can barely come into existence before they’ve been disseminated around the world, commercialised and disowned by the people who started them.
All we have to rebel against is the wellness movement, smoking rollies awkwardly out the back of pubs, pretending we still think it’s cool just so we don’t have to be one of the matcha gang. Telling strangers on dating apps about the time we had a tamagotchi, or that we were 13 when we got our first mobile phone.
And what will the current decade be remembered for? It’s been so boring it doesn’t even have a nickname yet. And if the incessant 90s nostalgia continues, it runs the risk of vanishing into the ether without making a mark of its own.