With all the recent media attention surrounding Britney Spear’s conservatorship, it’s made us reflect more on the players from the decade we call the noughts (the 1990s).

For the past few months, all anyone could talk about was The New York Times’s documentary Framing Britney Spears, which chronicles the pop star’s battle for autonomy and the relentless media hounding that has shaped so much of her narrative. Before that, her fellow 2000s party buddy and tabloid target Paris Hilton dropped a YouTube documentary of her own, which showed a deeper side to the heiress. In the background were what these women wore—clothes, captured via telephoto lens by prying eagle-eyed paps, that defined the style of a decade.

Britney Spears and Lindsay Lohan (Photos: TPG/Click Photos)

With no Instagram then, celebrities were the original influencers and Los Angeles was where the world looked to get a measure of the zeitgeist. It didn’t hurt that a new breed of celebrity was cropping up—those who would seek the spotlight instead of shying away from it. Gossip rags and tabloids featured Paris, Nicole, Britney and Lindsay—so infamous they were easily known by first names only—on a daily basis, pretty much setting the style agenda; their Californian look was emulated the world over.

The reason their styles were so impactful, and memorable even today, was because there was often an offhandedness to them— nothing felt overly calculated or curated to garner likes or fit into a specific Instagram aesthetic. Instead, the overall vibe that came through most was that these girls were just out to have fun. There was sex, there was shock, and most tantalising of all, there was often a dash of bad taste. 

Nicole Richie and Paris Hilton (Photos: TPG/Click Photos)

Those were the wild days before the recession. Tops were cropped, skirts were small and jeans rode low. Dresses were sparkly, short or both. Red-carpet looks drew attention to the body without ever constricting it—skin-baring, but free-flowing. This season, iterations of those dresses can be found at Dior and Chanel. At the latter, Virginie Viard was inspired by Hollywood and starlets past and present, creating a full wardrobe that covers everything from movie premieres to coffee runs. Her weightless logo gown looks like something Lindsay would have worn at the height of her movie stardom. 

Photo: Versace Spring/Summer 2021

In Milan, another female designer also felt the noughties vibe. Donatella Versace is undoubtedly the queen of 2000s red-carpet dressing with her more-is-more approach when it comes to print and skin—who could forget J. Lo in that dress? Her current-season propositions of searing colours, cleavage-centric silhouettes and skirts slung low or hiked high seem right out the wardrobe of a The Simple Life press tour. 

Photo: Celine Spring/Summer 2021

When it comes to off-duty looks, Hedi Slimane captured the delightful, deliberate haphazardness of 2000s style most perfectly at CELINE. After a few seasons exploring a sense of sophistication rooted in ’70s bourgeoisie, the designer presented a spring/summer 2021 collection that mirrored the way young women actually dress in today’s world and echoed the way young Hollywood did then: Expressive, eclectic, but effortless. That nonchalance came through the most in the way logo bras and denim shorts were worn with a boyfriend blazer or an oversize shirt, a baseball cap and flat  black boots completing the look.

At Paco Rabanne, there was a similar spirit of things not being too precious, with Julien Dossena mashing up disparate elements. Much like the way Paris would wear designer with Von Dutch, here, too, the glamorous intermingled with the everyday— chainmail and lace, for example, alongside faded denim and shaggy coats. There was also a freewheeling spirit at Balenciaga, where Demna Gvasalia mined certain tropes of 2000s style. There were sweatsuit sets that evoked those of Juicy Couture—the most 2000s of all 2000s brands and a previous Gvasalia collaborator—and ugly-cute footwear not dissimilar to Crocs, yet another 2000s mainstay and previous Gvasalia partner. The designer even showed a silvery chainmail slip that  is almost an exact replica of Paris’s 21st-birthday look. 

Kim Kardashian and Paris Hilton (Photo: TPG/Click Photos)
Photo: Balenciaga Spring/Summer 2021

It is often said that fashion trends go round in 20-year cycles; the timing is particularly right for the noughties to make a comeback—it was the last decade in recent memory to have a hedonistic streak, and as the world emerges from lockdowns and a year spent inert, there will be pent-up cravings for the pursuit of pleasure, for living large and loud. The fashion pendulum has already swung that way—just like it was in the 2000s, the fall/winter 2021 collections are filled with unapologetically party-ready, entrance-making clothes. That’s hot.

Text: Jeffrey Yan/Harper’s Bazaar