I remember dressing up in my mom’s denim jacket on top of the stairs of my old home. Disney movies ran in the background, and my hair was all bundled up in pink clips. My mother told me I had the brightest look in my eyes that day when I told her that I wanted to be cool like her when I grew up. Today, more often than not, I still find myself reaching back to that same, old denim jacket. The wear and tear of the jacket is oddly comforting on me even now as an adult. When I wear it, I remember all the kisses and encouragement she’s given throughout my life. And sometimes, I might need those feelings now that I’m alone and still growing. Though my mother’s denim jacket stands for her love and peace in my life — others that I know are fond of different fashion pieces that act as keepers of their memories. There’s a growing trend of us adolescents gravitating towards their past as a way to cope. Playful fashion is emerging once again because millennials are using their clothing to place themselves back in a time when things were better. But, why are we going back to the past when there’s so much of our future that lies ahead of us?
Alison Landsberg, a professor of History and Cultural Studies at George Mason University warns, “A nostalgic version of the past is never an accurate depiction of the past. It’s always a sort of stylized, idealized, sterilized version of it.” Nostalgia is a sacred and safe place that many of us live in from time to time. It’s a method of escaping to a time where our lives may have been happier and less stressful. When you take the world into your hands with a childlike approach, you’re back in control. Being in your childhood feels familiar; it feels like you’re exploring known territory. However, we forget the unpleasant feelings of growing up misunderstood, helpless, and shrugged to the side. We don’t want to remember that pain still existed in our childhood. But with a changing and vulnerable world, the younger generations are choosing to find comfort in their pasts rather than the present.
A changing job environment, the competitive pursuit of success and clashing cultures are problems that younger generations face. More than ever, we are left with a lack of privacy and the development of our own identity. The pressure of past generations and increasingly competitive job markets builds an unhealthy and toxic work ethic that young adults are heading into. The growing globalization in the world mixes cultures and creates a strain where you have to prove yourself to your parents, as well as everyone else out there. In modern society, you have to look and be your best. But we don’t like the stern boundaries that restrict us to this world. We try to emulate that feeling of retaliation through our fashion identity. And so we’re spiraling back to times where we could actually have a sense of guidance.
Common fashion brands around the world have taken notice of this attitude and have targeted their styles towards a major part of our childhood: cartoons. For example, Uniqlo brings childhood back through their recent UT Collection, an array of T-shirts that feature numerous playful characters from our childhood, ranging from Mickey Mouse to Sesame Street. These classic icons are printed on simple t-shirts with minimalistic designs. Uniqlo claims that these T-shirts are an “expression of who you are. Where you’ve been. What you love.” The UT collection reimagines what childhood feels like through modern-day designs.
High fashion brands have also explored the more playful side of cartoons and childhood stories. We see Givenchy on the runway in 2013 with a Bambi inspired sweatshirt. And Mickey Mouse lives on several Coach purse designs. We’ve spent more time than any other generation watching cartoons on TV and embracing the emerging technology. Cartoon characters have become our role models and who we learned life lessons from. All of these icons that we’ve spent our lives watching, and all of the memories we’ve had with them give us a sense of connection, encouragement. Maybe cartoons have found a permanent niche inside the fashion market because of this special relationship with our old friends.
Wearing our childhood means pulling back from the stress and pressure of the modern world. It’s putting yourself in tiny fun socks with polka dots all over them because with every dot, your parents would give you a “boop” on the nose. It means pulling the overall strap over your shoulder and learning how to tighten it so the next time you fell off the swing, you wouldn’t have to fix it again. It’s feeling the way your mom or dad’s oversized sweater would brush against your knees and swallow you whole when it was too cold. Transparent flower hair clips and purple, glitter jelly shoes making you bounce with every step you took. Dressing up and bringing back the old times may be exactly what we needed this entire time.
Nostalgia makes us feel connected to a part of ourselves again. It’s something that we’re wary of, but it’s a good coping mechanism for those that need to find themselves. We find comfort in our childhood during a time of stress and constant pressure for success. We tend to hide in the cartoons we spent time watching 10 years ago to feel like we know ourselves just a bit better. We use fashion as a way to bring out our inner child as an inspiration and as encouragement. We’re taking these little bits and pieces of memories and wearing them now to make us feel a little less homesick, a little less lost, and a lot more like ourselves.