Retro sneakers scurrying to class. Vintage tops making their way to parties. Disposable film cameras snapping pictures.
As I observe the students on Lehigh’s campus lately, I can’t help but wonder: what year is it?
We’re tucking away our skinny jeans for low-rise flares, swapping our conveniently tiny Airpods for bulky headphones and switching our music from pop to punk.
I acknowledge that trends aren’t representative of all people and know that today more than ever, we have the freedom to be and do whatever we please. Even so, I think it’s safe to say that for many college students, the past is in.
It’s in what we’re wearing:
Hand-me-downs and vintage items are having a resurgence in popularity. Instead of shopping at the mall, you can find clothes at your local thrift store, in your parents’ closets or on sustainable websites like Depop.
Whether it be band tees, “dad” sneakers or claw hair clips from the 90s, current Lehigh students are starting to look more and more like the students from a few decades ago.
It’s in what we’re consuming:
Even though students are using new streaming services, they’re often tuning into programs from the past. Sitcoms like “Friends” and “Sex and the City” continue to be trendy, and the sound of popular music is also changing before our eyes. Electronically-produced pop is being replaced with a more vintage sound, embracing the punk and soul from the past.
And it’s even in what we’re using:
While our smartphones and laptops are likely here to stay, retro items are becoming increasingly popular among college students. We now have the choice to listen to music on record players or to capture photos on film cameras instead of using our phones. The options are expanding as we embrace items from the past.
As far as I can see, the progression of a trend goes as follows: the introduction, the rise, the peak, the decline and the retirement to obsolescence. But, it doesn’t stop there.
Trends seem to be cyclical.
Before we know it, we start to feel nostalgic and forget why we ever ruled out a trend in the first place. So we recycle past ideas, and history repeats itself. While “trendy” and “new” are often seen as synonymous, sometimes things that are popular are anything but new.
Yet I think there’s more to this resurgence than just a pattern of what’s popular. It’s possible that we’re turning to the past in order to escape our current reality.
The majority of college students today are between the ages of 18 and 22 years old, meaning most were born after the turn of the century. We enjoyed the 2000s and 2010s while they lasted, and based on the cycle of trends, they’ll have their time in the spotlight again soon.
But it seems that in the 2020s, college students are reminiscing about a time that they weren’t even there for in the first place.
To put things plainly, the 2020s have been rough so far. We’ve witnessed global conflict, a climate crisis, a world-wide pandemic, the stripping of human rights and corruption of national systems, just to name a few.
This has all happened within three years, and for college students, these years have been a critical turning point.
Yet even at times when it has looked like the world was coming to an end, we have yet to reach a stand still.
The constant revolution of technology has brought us new forms of social media allowing people to escape their real lives. Due to the sheer size and speed of these platforms, trends are circulating at an unprecedented rate.
There could be many reasons for why things from the past are trending. Maybe we’re trying to be more like our parents, or perhaps we’re jealous of the sheer coolness of the late 1900s. But more than anything else, I think it’s possible that college students today are seeking comfort, connection, and most of all, a simpler time.
For now, I think there is no harm in embracing the past, and it’s up to individuals to decide whether they want to take part in these trends or sit them out.
All we can do is allow these trends to flow in and out of the limelight and wait for the inevitable day in the future when the 2020s are back in fashion.