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Y2K aesthetics makes a comeback 23 years on

In the year 2000, humanity’s love affair with technology was still fresh, but many feared a Y2K bug would destroy the internet. From that hope and fear emerged a style dubbed Y2K aesthetics that can best be described as a mix of futurism, grunge and cyberpunk.

In the 1990s, the fashion styles showcased by Britney Spears, the Spice Girls and characters in the movie. The Matrix is a typical Y2K style:  metallic jackets, iridescent tops, and low-rise jeans.

In the early 2000s, Y2K was more about such as cargo pants, military-style jackets, and chunky boots.

Nowadays, Y2K fashionistas tend to do crop-Ts, plastic flares and metallic colours.

Irene Jin at a Y2K market in Mong Kok wearing her own designs. (Source: Jin)

“Y2K now is a mix of original Y2K, Neo-Y2K, and the Harajuku style,” said Du Yuxiao, a student fascinated with the style.

Du first got interested in Y2K culture in high school because of a rock music video. Nowadays, her favourite items include bulky plastic pants and a lot of metal accessories.

“To be honest, I cannot empathise with the people in the 1990s because I didn’t have the same experience,” said Du. “However, I love how they can express themselves freely regardless of mainstream opinion. Plus, the clothes suit my taste.”

She said the current version of Y2K includes more elements like bright colours, loose socks, and gothic accessories because of the rise of social tolerance.

“Dressing Y2K style can make me feel that I am the most special in the world because I always feel that I am ordinary in life,” said Du.

Irene Jin, 21, owns a Y2K store in Mong Kok. It all started four years ago through a local forum called Y2K culture exchange on social media.

“I made some friends with the people in that Y2K forum, and I learned the culture from them,” said Jin.

She designs Y2K accessories, clothes and bags when in a bad mood. It’s an outlet for expression.

“Stop Imprisoning Me”, a necklace by Irene Jin, is made of Japanese dolls, glass beads and metal accessories (Source: Irene Jin)

“When I create, I imagine that I am the work itself, and then I feel their emotions,” said Jin.

Her designs usually involve a mix and match of accessories she acquires online.

Jin’s accessories store is in Tung Chun Commercial Centre, where there are many similar stores.

Her store, which mainly sells hand made hats and jewellery, is popular with Y2K fans. The store’s Instagram account has nearly 700 followers.

Jin said that although there is a revival of  Y2K,  most people still follow the original style from the early 2000s, which includes thigh-high socks and platform shoes.

“Actually, people can add any to their Y2K outfits,” she added.

For some, Y2K culture is also about sharing their anxieties about the future and technology.

Uni Wong, 22, a gallery designer, considers Y2K culture as a kind of utopia and identifies as a “mental Y2K”.

That means they not only pursue aesthetic individuality but also emphasise spiritual independence.

In high school, she got into Y2K culture through watching rock music videos on social media. She then started a WhatsApp group to share her worries and sorrows with friends.

“In a broader sense, Y2K represents a significant, potentially disruptive, transitional moment in time,” Uni said.

She expressed this through her photos about gluttony and greed, hoping to raise people's awareness of human weaknesses.

“The information on social media about feminism and political issues annoys me, and I want to escape through Y2K culture,” said Wong.

A 2019 research by U.S. advertising agency Hill Holiday says 48% of Gen Z found that social media makes them depressed, and 58% of them “seek relief” from its influence.

Wong said Y2K culture means she can express anything she wants without judgment from others and find a place to escape from a patriarchal society and constantly changing technologies.

She posts her thoughts and poems on social media with her friends to try to adopt Y2K cultural identity and create a "safe space" where like-minded individuals can express themselves.

“I want to create an era of idealisation through nostalgia, to resist modern people’s evolution,” Wong said.

Some Gen-Zers use different ways to pass on the spirit of Y2K culture.

Violet Lee, 21, a Hong Kong Baptist University student, created Y2K music with her friends to express their feelings.

“Y2K music is close to rock music, but we use a retro way with Y2K style demos by adding electronic and organic elements such as Hammond organ and drum beats to create the songs,” said Lee.

Lee and her friends use the lyrics to express their worries, fears and uncertainties about social issues. They made music called “She is Everybody”, depicting women's social pressure and struggles and encouraging them to have strength and hope.

“I want people to recognise that Y2K comes in many forms, each with unique strengths,” said Lee.



《The Young Reporter》

The Young Reporter (TYR) started as a newspaper in 1969. Today, it is published across multiple media platforms and updated constantly to bring the latest news and analyses to its readers.


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