Analysis |  The homes and fashion of the ’90s are back – just in time for the ’70s economy
Analysis | The homes and fashion of the ’90s are back – just in time for the ’70s economy

Analysis | The homes and fashion of the ’90s are back – just in time for the ’70s economy

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The 1990s are having a moment in consumer culture. But with the world in the grip of rampant inflation, and Britain enduring a summer of discontent, it feels like we’re living in a 1970s economy.

Nostalgia for the ’90s has been building up for quite some time now. Bold slogans, which disappeared after the financial crisis, are back in style. Burberry Group Plc even resurrected their brand name in black, white, tan and red, a re-enactment of the plaid band that Oasis’ Liam Gallagher wore in the 1995 music video for “Wonderwall.” Y2K, inspired by the fashion of the mid-’90s to the early 2000s, has become a fashion category in its own right.

But lately, the hype about all things ’90s, especially earlier years, has intensified.

In the world of fashion, the smiling face, a powerful symbol of rave culture in Britain’s late ’80s and early ’90s, was embossed on everything from socks to designer handbags to home furnishings. The Clarks Wallaby shoe, a favorite of Ravers and the Manchester squad scene, was the sixth hottest men’s item in the first quarter of this year, according to the Lyst Index. Aquarius, which has undergone a luxury makeover, has been high in previous Lyst Indexes, which measure searches on the fashion platform and other sites as well as interaction with social media.

And just this week, Beyoncé released her song “Break My Soul,” with bounce beats and distinctive piano music. Some songs on Drake’s new album “Honestly, Nevermind” also remind us of the dance rhythms of the era.

The fear of stagnation may have driven today’s all-things obsession in the early ’90s. The period was marked by dismal economics and widespread unemployment, though Beyoncé’s path is more an ode to great resignation than sounding alarm bells about repetition. Certainly, caution about the global economy is becoming more widespread. The New York Federal Reserve’s latest forecast puts a recession, or “sharp down,” possible at 80%.

However, this anxiety comes against a backdrop of joy at being able to socialize again. This may be one reason the euphoria of the dance scene in the early ’90s resonates.

With recession warning signs flashing, the immediate problem is inflation, at a 40-year high on both sides of the Atlantic. As pointed out by Mohamed El-Erian, the current situation mirrors the 1970s, with a winter of discontent, stagflation, resistance to real wages, and labor strikes. The similarities don’t stop there: The S&P 500 is on track for its worst first half since 1970, while the prospect of gas rationing in Europe this winter looks like an earlier era blackout.

There are some decade marks making their way into consumer culture as well.

Alessandro Michele, creative director at Gucci, has long incorporated design icons of the 70s, such as trousers and turtlenecks, as well as bold prints. But there are signs that the bohemian aesthetic is gaining momentum.

Just take a look at the clothes Harry Styles has recently worn, including many from Kering SA owned brand. This week, Gucci unveiled a collection with patterns in distinct 70s shades.

Other traces of the era appeared, including wide-legged, crocheted, and patchwork jeans. Online searches for rattan bedroom furniture at British department store John Lewis are double what they were a year ago. There are even some hits from the ’70s and ’90s – platform shoes (high in the Lyst index) and clogs that can be found everywhere from Versace and Hermes International to Christian Dior’s collaboration with Birkenstock.

Meanwhile, world-famous music group Abba is back with their 2022 Voyage tour. They will act as digital avatars, giving the 1970s a 21st century touch.

Consumer-facing businesses expect the economic outlook to deteriorate this fall, as energy costs and pandemic savings are depleted by the summer of travel. It would be worth watching if more 1970s-era trends appear in stores, restaurants, and streaming services. Flashlights and fondue, anyone?

Consumers’ reluctance to embrace the ’90s and early 2000s may be because the ’70s is simply the decade that style has been forgotten. Even today, fashion inspired by that era seems hard to come by. Furthermore, for Generation Z, the ’90s represented a happy almost mythical place, before the perils of social media. That might explain why they wanted to go back there instead of the ’70s. Higher prices and blackouts are much less fun.

Wearing multiple jackets to keep warm this winter and having to shop for cheaper toilet paper in Lidl would be bad enough. The prospect of doing so in a shiny, bell-bottomed jumpsuit is even more terrifying.

More from Bloomberg Opinion:

• X-rated recession risk cannot be covered up: John Others

• The US economy is heading for a hard landing: Bill Dudley

Italy’s Families Not Rich Enough to Avoid the Crisis: Rachel Sanderson

This column does not necessarily reflect the opinion of the editorial staff or Bloomberg LP and its owners.

Andrea Felstead is a columnist for Bloomberg Opinion covering consumer goods and the retail industry. Previously, she worked as a reporter for the Financial Times.

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