As confusing as this will no doubt sound, I feel almost a little too late responding to a throwback that might have been just slightly ahead of its time.
It was just before March — before the spread of the Coronavirus forced everyone to work from home, attempt to live their best life at home and to shut all but the essential stores — that I learned about The Nostalgia Project.
Curated by the fashion department at Hudson’s Bay Company, the Nostalgia Project was described as “an immersive pop-up shop designed to meet consumer demands for fashion that is recollective of decades past.” Not too many decades, though: the focus here was entirely on the 1990s.
In practice, this turned out to be a lot of items that didn’t necessarily look that far removed from what you see on the streets today. Most of the brands are still going strong, but some, like Fila and Champs, seemed to be given a greater share of the spotlight.
The overall aesthetic was based on bright primary colours, with a lot of colour blocking — including vertically, which made me think of boy-bands like Boyz II Men, NKOTBSB and, most of all, Color Me Badd.
I had reached out to the Bay for an interview but heard nothing back, so this explanation from its fashion director, Tyler Franch, will have to do:
“The Nostalgia Project brings brands together that allow style seekers to reminisce while still offering them fresh up-and-coming designers that modernize the aesthetic.”
The fashion industry is certainly no stranger to nostalgia, of course. If anything, its propensity to turn back to earlier influences sometimes feels like certain styles are recycled too often.
In an article Australia’s Design Online, Nadia Buik noted that the technologies we use may reference for yesteryear that helps make the massive changes they introduce a little less overwhelming:
“The fact that so much high street fashion is simply reproducing the styles and ideas from previous, or recent, decades seems to signal a much wider cultural nostalgia for the past,” Buik writes. “Other cultural phenomena seem to suggest a similar thing: Instagram and Hipstamatic, for instance, are attempting to reproduce the sensation of a Polaroid from 40 years ago.”
This psychological impact was driven home even harder by an article on Sourcing Journal that suggested pop-ups like The Nostalgia Project are particularly appealing to Millennials. This was a generation that was already facing tough times before COVID-19 arrived.
“There is a sense of comfort in reconnecting with feelings or experiences that millennial consumers remember fondly,” generational expert Alexis Abramson, PhD, told the magazine. “When we reach back and pull up memories of our favorite teen idol, TV show or article of clothing we normally associate it with a positive experience and we want more of the same.”
I think the 90s work especially well as a source of nostaglia because they strike a great balance between modernity and simplicity. There’s a lot you can relate to in those TV shows and music videos, for instance, but there was also a lot you didn’t have to worry about (like what was happening on your smartphone, for instance, or the Internet — the latter was still nascent and the former hadn’t been invented yet).
Of course, shopping the Nostalgia Project in person is no longer an option. You can, however, channel a lot of the 90’s spirit by being creative with what might already be in your closet.
While we wait for this pandemic to ease up and return to something akin to a normal life, what we wear can help strengthen our resolve. It’s not a matter of wallowing in memories. Nostalgia in fashion is way a to worry a bit less about what’s going to come by basking a little in what came before.