Nostalgia in the Fashion Industry

     Currently in the fashion industry, vintage clothing has been coming back in style. This is evident with the popularity of items including everything from Vans, jean jackets, to graphic tees. In society, one can see references to 80’s and 90’s fashion and there are many reasons for the rise in this trend. These reasons encompass the resurgence of vintage style in American society and the increased interest in older clothing. Within the fashion industry, the utilization of previous trends can be traced back to cultural, social, and economic explanations.

     It often occurs that one becomes nostalgic when it comes to items that remind one of past American culture, especially clothing. In today’s clothing stores, there are many references to clothing worn in one’s past or from eras long before now. In addition to this, the nostalgia for other parts of culture, such as music and movies, play a big part in this use of nostalgia in the fashion industry. For example, “edgy lace” resembles what Madonna wore in her iconic Vogue era and can be seen on the red carpets and in stores. This is because of Madonna’s resurgence in the music industry leading to her idolization and the copying of her iconic looks. In general, other aspects of culture have a big impact on what society wears, especially 80’s and 90’s trends. Recently, revivals in old television and movies have made a big comeback in the pop culture industry. Movies such as Wonder Woman, Star Wars and shows such as Stranger Things and Netflix’s Glow are all examples of shows inspired by earlier times. And not only did these shows grab audience’s attention, they became some of the most popular movies and television shows of this year. Because of these shows and movies, people have reflected back on their love for the time periods in which they take place in their clothing. In addition to the nostalgia towards movies and shows, very recently, the liberal fashion industry has been expressing their emotions towards the most recent presidency in their fashion. Their revival of fashion trends from before Trump became president can even be seen as a political statement. Especially during New York Fashion Week, designers were trying to relay their “nostalgia for a time when freedom of expression was at its height” (Madsen). Evidently, the interconnection between aspects of pop culture such as music and movies and the effect it has on one’s nostalgia and fascination for those time periods has caused an increase in vintage trends in the fashion industry.

Revival of 90's Fashion

Icons today rocking trends from the 90's

     For many people, the way one dresses is a significant hint at the type of person that they are. What is in style and how much one can afford affects who one hangs out with or what social circles they may run in. Recently, as the trend for vintage clothing has increased, nostalgic style has become what is considered hip and chic. One can open up their Instagram or Snapchat and see that Kylie Jenner is wearing a 90’s inspired choker or that Cara Delevigne is sporting a pixie-style haircut and want to imitate these styles in order to remain “on trend.” As recently as February of this year, items such as “My Little Ponies, bubble skirts, cycling shorts, and jelly shoes” have all be seen on the runway, designed by high-fashion and expensive clothing brands (Hunt). Although these fads may be too old or vintage for someone younger than thirty, the trends are entertaining whether you are “remembering the old or discovering the new” (Hunt). However, sometimes the nostalgia one may feel towards some clothing items may not be the greatest feeling. One may remember not having the clothes that would have made them popular in middle school or remember getting bullied for the clothes that they wore, but, overall, companies are attempting to promote the clothes that bring back good feelings and fond memories. However, they cannot cater to everyone’s pasts.  Very popular and stylish brands such as Stella McCartney, Versace, and Burberry have all embraced this sort of nostalgia fashion and needless to say, the masses have embraced it as well. Not only are women’s collections taking advantage of this trend but also men’s. Burberry released “a most clever revival of the Burberry check” in their men’s eighteen season. Clothing can emit emotions, and in a way, “apparel has the power to evoke feelings and memories; that’s good branding at its core, which is why a renaissance of a brand, retro styles—a hallmark of fashion, period—and nostalgia can be so powerful” (Schlossberg). This new fad has become not only a trend for the consumers but also for the brands as well. Because consumers can relate so personally to this nostalgic style of the clothing, they have a greater interest in purchasing it, therefore, brands are going to keep selling what brings them a large income.

     When wondering about how nostalgia plays into fashion, it is important for one to understand that this use of vintage clothing as a selling point is not a new trend in the fashion industry. The use of nostalgia as a commercial aspect in selling clothes has been a key marketing tool for a very long time now, dating back to “the early 19th century,” when nostalgia in fashion recalled a “preindustrial past.” (Sidell) This is important because from this we can glean that the fashion industry has played on the aspect of nostalgia for so long. One can only hypothesize that this is because everyone feels it in some way or another. Another important aspect in the use of nostalgia in the fashion industry is understanding what eras and trends impact the nostalgia society feels towards them.  According to Misty Sidell of WWD, “curators concur that the 19th century is perhaps the era richest in references.” The 19th century has many silhouettes and shapes that are still used very often in our fashion and styles today. However, this may seem untrue to some depending on their age. When looking at the trends currently circulating in our society, one would most likely see references to the 80’s, 90’s and more current time periods. This trend is prevalent for a reason. While many high-end brands are going to base their designs off of silhouettes and ideas from earlier centuries, lower end brands such as Forever 21 and Zara, are targeted to a different demographic. High end brands such Prada, Gucci, and Yves Saint Laurent are targeted to an older, more affluent audience. Brands like Forever 21, Zara, and Asos base their clothing designs on more current decades because they are trying to target their clothes to a younger demographic. This demographic targets consumers ranging from ages twelve to twenty-five and don’t have as much money to spend on a high-end ball gown and they also relate more to trends that they have seen and lived through. Very popular brands such as Steve Madden and Juicy Couture are even coming out with items such as strappy sandals and Juicy Couture’s famous track suits as an attempt to harbor the nostalgia that those who wore them feel towards the time period in which they were trendy.  This is also a great PR strategy because “Urban Outfitters specifically touted the ‘nostalgia factor’ in its release,” of the Juicy track suits (Schlossberg). These styles are targeted towards even younger audiences because people as young as fifteen wore some of these trends when they were younger. Although they were never very stylish, it is the way we feel towards the clothing itself and the memories the clothing recalls that persuades people to consume it. Fashion is a way for one to express themselves and is a “gigantic global industry, generating some three hundred billion dollars in revenue each year,” (Arnold 4) due to branding and understanding consumers. According to Patrick Metzger, author of The Nostalgia Pendulum, “People who were young thirty years ago suddenly have liquid assets, so companies market the culture of their childhood to them,” (Metzger) exemplifying the branding and selling techniques that these companies understand and utilize in order to receive a large profit. Whether advertised on television or harking back to a past, the brands from which people are buying understand their audience and the type of clothes that they are attracted to.  

Reference to Vintage Fashion

Transition of 19th Century Fashion to Today

     In today’s society, there is so much change. Whether it involves politics, movies, music or fashion, there is always comfort is reminiscing on the past and the fashion industry has taken this to their advantage. Nostalgia plays a huge factor in everything we do during our daily lives and that includes the clothes we wear, the stores we shop from, the music we listen to, the movies we watch and even the presidents we elect. Although it may not seem like it, these aspects of culture also play a large part in the clothing that is being sold. In addition to the cultural impact on the fashion industry, nostalgic fashion is also what is in style and everyone wants to be trendy. Therefore, one wears clothing from the past because everyone else is doing it too. This social aspect of the use of nostalgia in fashion is important because the popularity of this trend has led to a major increase in consumer interest—a big draw for the companies selling this clothing. Finally, the most important aspect in the use of nostalgia in fashion and branding is the money that the industry has been making from it. The fashion industry receives such a large income due to the way they brand and advertise their clothing, nostalgia being one of the best techniques that they have used because everyone can relate in some way or another. Nostalgia originated as a disease based on longing, but is now used as one of the most effective ways of advertising in the world.


Arnold, Rebecca. Fashion: A Very Short Introduction. New York, New York, Oxford University Press Inc, 2009.


Hunt, Kenya. “Why Nostalgia Promises to be Big in 2018.” Elle, 1 Feb, 2018, Accessed 23 Apr, 2018


Madsen, Anders Christain. “The Vogue Verdict on NYFW: Where Designers Got Nostalgic.” Vogue, 15 Sep, 2017, Accessed 23 Apr, 2018.


Metzger, Patrick. “The Nostalgia Pendulum: A Rolling 30-Year Cycle of Pop Culture Trends.” The Patterning, WordPress, 21 Mar. 2017,


Schlossberg, Mallory. “Let’s All Stop Freaking Out About Fashion Nostalgia.” The Cut, 7 Jun, 2017, Accessed 23 Apr, 2018


 White, Sidell Misty. “Decoding Fashion’s Nostalgia Addiction.” WWD, 22 Dec, 2017, Accessed 23 Apr, 2018.









Nostalgia in the Fashion Industry