British Youth Culture & The 90s Nostalgia Obsession


It is easy to romanticise the past; to get caught up in notions of idiosyncratic tribes, often played out in nostalgia-addled movies about particular subcultures. It has been a trait of almost every generation I can think of since the 60s – each one pining for the apparently idyllic times of those who had gone before them. Such feelings, however, never defined their generation, nor did they play a defining role in how their new subcultures were shaped. Sure, with the casuals of the 80s, there was an undeniable element of mod mentality but, on the whole, it was something entirely different – many would call it progression. Similarly, with the 90’s emergent skate culture, nuances of hip hop and mental were interwoven. Borrowing traits from other sub cultures is what drives this organic evolution.


Progressive thinkers in music, style and culture have pushed the envelope of sub-cultural evolution for decades. And while some stay mired in a bygone movement and conservative thinking sets in (see; middle aged casuals in bootcut denim and bobbling Paul & Shark knitwear), the progressive element drives on – picking up newcomers on the way and leaving those who have found their comfortable niche behind.


The democratising effect of the internet and its obvious effect on youth culture has spawned a fresh wave of newness. Whilst you can argue the merits of Swedish rap fuelled by Internet-hype or flannel shirts emblazoned with a Tupperware competitor – its influence on the zeitgeist is there for all to see. Decades from now, many will likely look back and laugh at such a lack of discernment but, again, that is nothing new for youth culture. Juxtaposed with this is a growing number of youths who – perhaps through a desire to shun a sense of omnipresent, wifi-fuelled, modernity – have begun to look to the style of the 90s for some sartorial respite. Burberry, Polo Sport, Moschino are all enjoying a nostalgia-led renaissance, largely from a consumer base that never owned any of it in the first place.


Instead of forging new identities or scenes through style – as has always been the case – many are opting for mawkish get ups that you’d have once seen at Garage nights or warehouse raves. This isn’t a case of taking cues from the previous generation – like most facets of youth culture before us – throngs of us are simply copying it. Reebok classics, Burberry trench coats; in fact, Burberry anything as long as it has a check lining, and oversized Tommy Hilfiger have all became recognised hallmarks of contemporary youth culture. A dose of 90s nostalgia can certainly act as a stimulus for progression, as we saw with Palace’s Italia 90-inspired Umbro collaboration, which effectively ushered in a look which blurred football lad culture and skate style. The power of that collaboration, however, was deeper than a mere reference point. Maybe it’s just me, but it all seems a bit easy – a tried and tested formula which, in the face of any derision, can at least be passed off as irony.


Is dressing ironically what we’ve been reduced to? With a large section of young people so lacking in personal identity, or a subculture to identify with, we’ve opted for some form of post-ironic, nova-check shrug of the shoulders. Progression is eschewed for a joke that was never really all the funny to begin with and clichéd reference points are now a fallback position. Quite frankly, it’s dull as fuck.


Some may argue that it all relative to the economic and social state of the country; a reassuring sartorial reminder in the face of harsh realities – as middle class kids up and down the country appropriate a look founded on estates and in schemes a decade earlier. Take a look at the slew of recent editorials which draw from that instantly recognisable tower block aesthetic; each one pretending that they weren’t turning their nose up at Reeboks six months ago. So much of it seems confused; fetishizing one of the easiest methods that people have traditionally used to elevate themselves out of social class constructs. Others may simply just enjoy that style, but I’m still struggling to rationalise why someone would opt for what is effectively fancy dress – and not even a particularly great one at that. The colours were often garish, the fits were out of proportion and then compounded by nearly two decades of wear and tear, it all looks a big haggard.


Style itself is a personal journey, influenced by so many aspects that it would be impossible to list. And so, it would be silly, bordering on arrogant, for me to suggest a comprehensive alternative to this trend – but, I’m steadfast in my belief that it’s an undeniably shit one. When 2014’s mid 90s clones look back 10 years from now, they won’t remember forging their own style and, through it, some form of personal identity. While that may not be particularly damaging to them in the long run, they’ll have probably missed out on one of the better aspects of being young in modern Britain.


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