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Buffy and bucket hats: why 1997 has taken over fashion

Viewers of Netflix’s hit series, The Last Dance, will at first be dumbstruck by the way Michael Jordan passes to himself to dunk a basketball, Dennis Rodman’s party boy reputation and the length of Scottie Pippen’s legs, which seem to stretch 3-D style into living rooms. By episode 10, though, the overriding takeaway is late-90s style: with the unstoppable force of an MJ attack, it moves from your laptop screen to your wardrobe.

Dennis Rodman on The Tonight Show in 1997
 Dennis Rodman on The Tonight Show in 1997. Photograph: NBC/NBCU Photo Bank/NBCUniversal/Getty Images
Reese Witherspoon and Kerry Washington – wearing high rise jeans – in 1997-set Little Fires Everywhere.
 Reese Witherspoon and Kerry Washington – wearing high rise jeans – in 1997-set Little Fires Everywhere. Photograph: Erin Simkin/Hulu

Not only are there Jordan’s very Balençiaga boxy suits and Rodman’s endlessly changing DayGlo hair and penchant for nail varnish and leopard print that could be mined by musicians ranging from Billie Eilish and Cardi B to A$AP Rocky, but also the normcore style of coach Phil Jackson. Footage of Jordan in a très approprié beret on a 1997 trip to Paris has – sorry – slam-dunked the hat back on the radar of street style. General basketball style is also becoming popular, with searches in May for Jordan 1s up by 23% and 12% for basketball shirts, according to search platform Lyst.

The Last Dance takes place principally during the 1997-98 NBA season, and once you notice 1997, that year’s style seems to be everywhere. Sure, it’s got nothing on the historically seismic years of 1929, 1966, 1968, 1989 or 2008, but it’s the under-the-radar reference for your style this summer. It’s in your denim wishlist: maybe like me, you’ve been distracted from the storylines of 1997-set Little Fires Everywhere by Kerry Washington’s high rise jeans, or are studying the wide and mid-blue classics worn in 1997 by Joey from Friends or Jerry Seinfeld. Almost non-fashion at the time, they are now a centrepiece of normcore style. Bucket hats – as sported by Rodman in leopard print, as well as the likes of Liam Gallagher and Tyra Banks – are a 2020 staple, with searches up 51% in the past month on eBay. Then there are slipdresses – worn by Cameron Diaz and Katie Holmes in 1997, and hailed as the answer to comfort and style in lockdown 2020. Reruns of Buffy the Vampire Slayer – a series that began in, you guessed it, 1997 – are now on All4, for fresh, sofa-based inspiration. Willow’s slipdress and jumper is a combo to consider.

Buffy the Vampire, which began in 1997.
 Buffy the Vampire Slayer, which began in 1997. Photograph: Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation. All rights reserved

Nostalgia makes sense for now, of course – in times of crisis, familiarity brings comfort to fashion, adding reassurance when getting dressed, and providing something certain and established when almost nothing else is. With anxiety levels so high, wearing nailed-on modern classics such as slipdresses and bucket hats alleviates the stress of trying to fit into a trend or wear the right thing. Perhaps these pieces are like a good spag bol – the sartorial equivalent of comfort eating.

Zeroing in on one year feels like a new spin on nostalgia. The year 1997 works because it is long enough ago to have a “Remember when?” feel, but modern enough to avoid retro tweeness. If the early seasons of Friends – those before Rachel got the Rachel and Phoebe wore lots of denim – feel dated, we recognise the cast in 1997’s season four, the one where Ross doesn’t marry Emily. Princess Diana died in 1997 and has become a style icon for Gen Z. Gianni Versace died, too, and still influences the style of young women such as Kylie Jenner, who was, yes, born in 1997.

Lisa Kudrow and Mira Sorvino in 1997’s Romy & Michelle’s High School Reunion
 Lisa Kudrow and Mira Sorvino in 1997’s Romy & Michele’s High School Reunion. Photograph: Allstar Picture Library Limited/Alamy Stock Photo

Films from the year feel as if they could influence your wardrobe rather than your costume-party look. The outfits worn by Lisa Kudrow and Mira Sorvino in Romy & Michele’s High School Reunion would be snapped up on Depop. Boogie Nights nailed the whole 90s-does-the-70s thing, and feels quite Celine SS20. And Bridget Fonda’s surfer combo of bikini top and denim cut-offs in Jackie Brown is the aim of my social-distancing-while-sunbathing-in-the-park look this summer.

Kate Moss on the catwalk for Alexander McQueen’s SS97 collection
 Kate Moss on the catwalk for Alexander McQueen’s SS97 collection. Photograph: Ken Towner/ANL/REX/Shutterstock

Catwalk fashion was big in 1997, but it was also a year when today’s major players began to move into position. Tom Ford was in his pomp at Gucci, all oiled-up bodies and G-branded g-strings. Kate Moss walked on water wearing bumsters for Alexander McQueen. Marc Jacobs – only four years away from dismissal at Perry Ellis for a grunge collection – was appointed creative director at Louis Vuitton. Victoria Adams started to date David Beckham, and to dress a little differently to her fellow Spice Girls. Acne Studios was founded in Stockholm.

With 90s style now everywhere from high street brands to Instagram accounts, a focus on 1997 feels both gloriously niche and a bit of a hack – a Kondo-ing of the broader retro references, if you will. It’s finite: a bite-sized nugget of comfort, where an endless refreshed feed of retro cool can be exhausting. It’s manageable. And, right now, manageable feels good.

 This article was amended on 17 June 2020 because an earlier version referred in the text and in a picture caption to Kerry Washington’s character in Little Fires Everywhere wearing “hip-huggers” whereas she was wearing high rise jeans.

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