The Nostal-Gen 🕺
Gen Z, nostalgia, and the rise of an old aesthetic
The origins of our nostalgia
It started with mom jeans and then scrunchies and now the Internet is filled with "retro" fonts and a modernized 90s style dominates fashion. Though certain trends in fashion and the Internet may come and go, Gen Z's overall appeal towards nostalgic vibes is not a trend— it is an identifying feature of a generation that longs for a time before technology.
Although we are known as "digital natives," we are well aware of the consequences that the title comes with. Most of us are addicted to social media and craft our physical selves to be shared on a digital platform. The thought of the 80s and 90s (and even the early 2000s in some cases) is intriguing, perhaps, because people simply existed to exist. No one back then experienced technology the way we do. This behavior is not very different from previous older generations collecting antiques or enjoying vintage items. There has always been a mysterious attraction to old items— whether it's WWII posters or a slide rule— as if they are a preservation of history itself. The psychology of the hunt in looking for these items is replicated in the way Gen Z tries to find things to distinguish themselves from their current, sometimes ubiquitous, reality.
The Internet has given us access to older media, whether it's television shows with refreshing color palettes or images of fashion styles from previous decades. TikTok is filled with "throwback videos" and comments are all about nostalgia and regret that they couldn't grow up in those times. The reason? Those times seem simpler.
When we look upon the past, there is a sense of certainty in how things played out which brings us comfort. We tend to only remember the positives instead of recalling the minor annoyances that build up in day-to-day lives. Gen Z is overwhelmed with information, ads, and content. It is virtually impossible to have a moment of silence in our own minds (which also contributes to the growth of the mindfulness industry and apps like Calm and Headspace). We long for the time people just had conversations without checking their phones. When people didn't have a second, digital identity.
Clothes, aesthetics and escapism
The overwhelming amount of content that Gen Z consumes has naturally made Gen Z more attentive to "aesthetics." Many of the appealing vibes are from the 80s and 90s. Instead of a desire to be futuristic, Gen Z seems to be attracted to slowing down and going backward. Perhaps this is because of the difficulty we have imagining our future, whether it's because of climate change-related worry or financial insecurity. Gen Z's tendency to "thrift shop" is intensified by climate change and our increasing desire to be sustainable. Second-hand clothing is cheaper and also more unique— straight out of the "old days"— which is great for a generation that loves to highlight identity. This has also led to the rise of Depop, a peer-to-peer shopping app on which many Gen Zers resell their special finds. Perhaps looking like people from the 90s or listening to music from the 80s or decorating our rooms with vinyl is a form of escapism— a form of time travel. Something that makes us feel a little more connected to our authentic selves.
The changing use of social media
I saw a tweet saying how the beginning days of Instagram were much simpler— everyone used the same pre-installed filters, people posted the most random pictures, and all you saw on your feed was friends. An "aesthetic" movement has pushed us to curate more touched-up and unique social media personalities. This has its cons, such as increased pressure to look a certain way and tendencies to compare yourself with others. But it has also spread the nostalgic, retro look. People are seeing the appeal and applying it to their own lives. For example, YouTuber David Dobrik launched his camera app, Dispo, which takes pictures with the same quality as a disposable camera. You even have to wait 24 hours to see the pictures you took! Now, we have reached a mixing point in which "vintage-ness" is harmoniously blended into social media and the Internet. We have seen the birth of "alt" TikTok (which is often defined by surreal memes and old aesthetics), "e-boys" (who deeply resemble 90s heartthrobs), and a rising obsession with pastel cartoons and old anime.
Is there a Gen Z aesthetic?
This new form of reviving old styles has led to some pretty general design features that Gen Z prefers. Firstly, as opposed to the clean, white, minimalist style that Millennials were obsessed with, Gen Z is open to bringing back color— particularly pastel tones. These shades are reminiscent of old anime and cartoons. When it comes to editing photos, many of us will go out of the way to make them lower-quality by adding some grain and fading the colors. Fonts have changed too. As a generation that grew up online, we have always been used to the boring yet "neat" fonts that dominate the Internet. Typewriter-style fonts or groovy scripts add more depth and excitement to a website. Popular new brands with Gen Z like Starface (below) have influenced brands like CO (launched by Colgate) to put these aesthetics to use. Check out Tasha Kim’s thread on Gen Z aesthetics here (our fav Gen Z VC).
So why does this all matter?
We've all watched old movies depicting how the future would be. Looking back, the movies are hilariously outdated. Flying cars exist yet people still use flip phones. Cool purples and blues are found everywhere and people have eccentric styles. But it turns out that the future ended up looking much more boring. In a way, Gen Z goes back and mimics the bizarre depictions shown in those movies. We live in that future and we realize that it doesn't need to look as bland as it does right now.
What can I do about this as a brand?
Don't just play into our nostalgia without understanding it. Authenticity is still 👑 and jumping into a cultural shift without understanding why it's happening may open you up to some serious backlash.
Find creative ways to tie in experiences from the 80s, 90s, or even the early 2000s 😎.
Take smart risks. We're not suggesting you redo your entire branding. We're suggesting you lean-in to this nostalgic movement one step at a time. If we (Gen Z) recognize brands trying to use this opportunity to just make some $$, we'll move on to another trend.
Our favorite option, and the easiest for you? Talk to us.