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All Hail 2002: The Worst Year in Fashion History

The year VICE UK started we were all dressing like someone vomited a jumble sale directly onto us.

by Ione Gamble
29 November 2017, 9:00am

Images via Wiki, full credits at bottom of article.

This post is part of VICE's 15th anniversary series, presented by VANS

When fashion historians try to pinpoint the most disgraceful year in fashion, they will unanimously decide on 2002. For anyone too young to remember, that is the year we decided it was fine to wear scarves as tops, belts as skirts, tank-tops as red carpet attire and hair extensions only if you could spot the glue or clips peeking out of a badly assembled ponytail. It was bad, and not in a "so bad it's good" way.

Long before irony infiltrated the fashion system and minimalism in clothing signified you had your shit together, celebrities appeared donning PVC bootcut flares, fedoras and waistcoats with T-shirts with the most earnest of intentions. To us today, it looks like this was the year all celebrities decided to sack their stylists and throw on the first ten items they found at the car-boot sale.

Marking the year that Christina Aguilera released "Dirrty" alongside a now iconic music video, 2002 took underwear as outerwear to the next level. Yeah, you still had to be brave to sport ass-baring chaps and a triangle bra anywhere outside of a music video wrestling ring, but showing off most of your midriff was commonplace. Any notions of "classy" or "refined" sexuality went out the window, and for the better. Visible thongs roamed free, low-rise trousers were the only way forward, and the more-is-more philosophy applied to the amount of flesh on show as well as the number of accessories worn. Women were free to – and applauded for – wearing the most outrageous thing they could think of.

It was democratic in the sense that it had never been easier to emulate your then-icons' looks, as they were all too lowbrow to be considered as any sort of wealth indicator. It was just as easy to find an oversized Shakira-style buckled belt in your local charity shop as it was in Selfridges. Dressing well wasn’t about dressing wealthy. Instead, the early-2000s applauded unfiltered outfits and embraced maximalism and wearing whatever made you feel good – even if that meant a knee-length dress over flared jeans for no logical reason whatsoever.

For the British girl, Tammy Girl ruled the high street with their mildly inappropriate corsets, matching bootcut trousers and slogan tees for tweens. Bustier bags – literally those bags that looked like mini leather and lace bustiers – were a must have, and pocket money was only for Claire’s Accessories. There was no shame in wearing Ugg boots wherever and whenever your heart desired. For young women, velour tracksuits were appropriate office wear. If you weren't trying to dress like a fully fledged member of Britney Spears’ clique in Crossroads, then what were you doing?

Britney Spears in 'Crossroads' (2002) via YouTube

What makes this year both interesting and peculiar is that while most eras in terms of fashion can be pinned down by a small number of dominating trends and visual markers, 2002 was all over the place. More is more sat beside boho-chic, next to the now unheard of idea of wearing a tank-top to a formal event. Avril Lavigne essentially invented the iconic T-shirt and short tie pairing, flinging mall goth into the mainstream with the release of "Sk8er Boi" and immediately propelling thousands of us to buy stripy hand-warmers. Crotchet was applied to every garment imaginable and shell necklaces weren’t just crap gifts from your summer holidays. A singular idea of ‘cool’ didn’t exist. Instead we were left with a mad melting pot that now seems surreal when looking back on paparazzi shots.

An embodiment of the 2002 DIY style, via Flickr user Tammy McGary / CC By 2.0

Although you might say they came out better off, men didn’t escape this strange curse. Who could forget David Beckham wearing a zig-zag headband everywhere, or everyone copying Justin Timberlake’s dodgy highlights. This was the cusp of indie, just before the slightly more acceptable combo of cardigans and skinny jeans. It didn’t matter if you were a middle school boy or a man in his twenties – it was fine to walk around in a polo shirt with a popped collar. In winter, a roll-neck sweater with a pair of tinted sunglasses. Top all of this off with a simple fedora: good to go.

With most of us still cringing when our apps throw us back to photos from 15 years ago, the concept of emulating these old looks anytime soon seems unlikely. Fashion is cyclical, with brands and houses endlessly producing new takes on bygone areas and presenting them as must-haves. We’re well overdue a y2k revival, but it seems completely improbable.

Shakira – "Whenever, Wherever". Screenshot via YouTube

There is some evidence to suggest we’re looking back at that time. A quick search on Depop also hints towards a re emergence of the era, with "y2k" producing over 46,500 item results. Mind you, this could possibly be attributed to many of us flogging whatever we can find in the back of our wardrobes to make some spare cash.

Online magazines such as OKgrl nostalgically channel early-2000s pop stars in everything from their site layout to the styling and in-site music player. Girls online emulating IRL Bratz Dollz such as Phoebe Lee garner over 50,000 followers, and even Beyonce paid homage to late 90s/early-2000s queen of trash, Lil' Kim, this Halloween.

But it’s not the same – they aren’t getting down and dirrty with real 2002. It's a gross accessory here, a trashy pair of boots there.

The only thing we want from the most unfashionable year in modern history is the lesson of throwing prescribed notions of taste out of the window, forgetting what we "should" or "shouldn't" wear and taking cues from fashion trends that just didn’t give a fuck. 2002 may have produced many, many fashion faux pas, and given us some of the most memorable and iconic outfit moments of the millennium so far, but let’s keep it in the past.

We might be able to laugh about emo and smile at indie looks, but 2002 is not a time, fashion-wise, we will ever remember fondly. For most of us, the thought of donning a baker boy cap is too much to bear. There is (apparently) a time for platform flip-flops, frosted hair tips and cheesecloth clothing, but with life as confusing as it is right now, that time is not 2017.

@ionegamble

Top image, L-R: Celeste, via / CC By 2.0; Larsinio, via / CC By 2.0; Kristopher Harris, via / CC By 2.0