Gen Z and Nostalgia: Why We Love Visiting The Past

By Ong Zhi Yi

Y2K is so… 2022?  
Low-rise jeans, beaded accessories, and even wired headphones are making their comeback recently. The ‘90s situational-comedy FRIENDS enjoys unwavering popularity not just from millennials, but also from Gen Zs who weren’t even born when the show first aired. Be it fashion, pop culture, or film and television, retro vibes are here to stay.  

While digital advancements and fast-changing trends define the Gen Z era, it seems as though our TikTok generation is obsessed with the past. If you’ve ever exclaimed “I’m born in the wrong era”, you’re not alone.  

But what exactly are we clinging onto, and why can’t we let go of the past?  

Since the pandemic, youths have been feeling stressed and anxious because of looming concerns about the uncertain future. Plus, social isolation during the lockdown had us searching for some sort of connection that brings us together.  

Enter nostalgia – a sentimental longing for the past, and for many, a form of escapism where we reminisce about simpler times. Revisiting shared memories and experiences is a way to keep in touch with one another, creating a sacred safe space. It also gives us a glimmer of hope that things will return to normalcy.  

And even if we didn’t experience the ‘90s, we still long for the times when things weren’t so difficult, and the promise that it’ll all work out eventually.  

That’s one of the reasons people love old TV shows like Friends. The show, depicting the lives of six titular friends and their journey through adulthood, ran from 1994 to 2004, long before many Gen Zs were born. Since being made available for streaming on Netflix in 2014, the show experienced a renaissance in popularity, and even had a reunion last year.  

“The show circles around light-hearted themes, which gives me a sense of comfort. And the concept of a group of 20-somethings being lost is something we can relate to,” shared FRIENDS superfan and year 3 biological sciences student Annamalai Tanisha. 

And I agree. The reason why I personally always go back to 2000s Hollywood romantic-comedies, despite their cliches and cringe-worthy moments, is because I adore the simplicity of romance back in the day, when all we needed to connect with our true love was a destined run-in in the hallway. The rise of social media and the boom of technology has since complicated dating culture, presenting modern problems like the fatigue of dating apps and overanalysing every move your crush or partner makes on the Internet.  

At the same time, others would say that our love for vintage trends might not run that deep –– it’s simply for the aesthetics and vibes.  

The fashion industry is always reimagining old trends, so it’s not new when mom jeans or cottagecore are back in style now. As people have told me: if you feel your clothes have gone out of style, just wait until it comes back. Even large, bulky headphones ooze chic and are considered snazzy now. Just look at Gen Zs’ love for thrifting – the search for vintage and nostalgic fashion, with a touch of modern styling.  

While we have been quick to ditch analogue devices in the past, vinyl records and film photography have also made their way back into our lives.  

“The best part about film photography is the thrill and excitement from developing your photos. You’ll get to see your photos immediately with digital cameras, but when you develop a roll of film, it’s like looking back at a set of memories,” shared year 3 Communication Studies student, Jeannette Ooi.  

“And with the nostalgic grain and colour of film photos, it makes you look back at these past memories with a hint of sentimental value.” 

Tapping into nostalgia is simply a way for Gen Zs to create and express themselves, as they explore and connect the past with the future. And to be honest, as long as our loud graphic tees and dainty beaded accessories make us look and feel good, sometimes it doesn’t matter which era they’re from –– even if your fashion icon is still Regina George from Mean Girls (2004) 

Seems like Gen Z’s obsession with nostalgia will be here for a while, especially when things aren’t going too well in present times. Inflation, unemployment, political instability – make it all stop! Take me back to the good ol’ days.  

Just know that you’re not alone in such unsettling times – seeking comfort from the past is normal. And be bold in expressing yourself, even if that means wearing your mom’s Levi’s.  

Making A Comeback

1. 2000s Sitcoms

While FRIENDS debuted in 1994, its popularity not only endured, but exploded throughout the past 2 decades. A testament to its unwavering popularity – it’s still one of the most viewed shows on Netflix. Other old shows that viewers turned to during the pandemic included: Gilmore Girls and Sex and the City.

2. Y2K Fashion

Inspired by 90s and 00s pop-culture and ultra- consumerism – as seen in popular chick flicks like Mean Girls, or The Devil Wears Prada. Low-rise jeans and denim skirts, pink tracksuits, beaded accessories… Opposite from the minimalist, modern streetwear we used to love. Complete the look with large, bulky headphones – it’s a way of accessorising too!  

3. Film Photography 

We thought we bided film cameras goodbye forever when the world was introduced to digital cameras in the 90s, and even more so when cameras can be found in every mobile phone. After Kendall Jenner flaunted her Contax T2 during a talk show appearance, film cameras are highly coveted and gen Zs are busy getting their hands on one.  

4. Wired Earphones

We thought we finally bid goodbye to tangled wires and bulky headphones after Apple’s great invention of the Airpod, but It girls like Lily-Rose Depp and Bella Hadid are choosing to be ‘plugged in’. Over-the-ear headphones are chic and snazzy way of telling people: ‘don’t talk to me’.  

5. #RegencyCore Fashion

Thanks to Bridgerton, Gen Z is giving new life to the once-divisive corset, which used to be extremely uncomfortable for young women. Now, you can channel your hyper-feminine style with corsets that are a lot more flexible and casual – all you need is a pair of jeans and long gloves to complete the look 

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