I’ve always loved Polar Ice gum. In fact, my grandfather always used to carry that flavor around and would offer me a piece when he came over. The taste of that gum quickly became associated with the way he was always able to make someone feel so incredibly special. When he passed, I carried that gum with me everywhere. It was the only flavor I would consider chewing, perhaps as a small way of honoring his memory.
For me it was that brand of gum, but other aspects of our culture, particularly fashion, can have a similar nostalgic effect on us. Not only do we use fashion as an outlet to express ourselves to the very core of who we are, as well as the way in which we intend others to perceive us, but we can also connect universally with humanity and more closely with people we look up to by mimicking the trends they wear.
There are three elements that we (usually subconsciously) connect our fashion choices with. We bond with these pieces of clothing, which is why we sometimes hold onto a certain pair of shoes until they completely fall apart. They store our memories with them and relate us back to either a specific memory, a particular person, or a desired emotion. For instance, a woman might feel a strong surge of confidence when she curls her hair and sports red lipstick for a fun night out. Meanwhile, another person might be reminded of the time their significant other proposed to them when they put on the outfit they wore that day. These items have an extraordinary way of comforting us and, in more extreme cases, provide a temporary and therapeutic escape from the struggles we face in everyday life. By clothing ourselves with certain associative pieces, we are able to connect with fond memories, people we admire or seek to remember, and experience emotions, such as confidence and love.
Recently, a variety of old styles have been making a comeback with greater influence now than in the past. Prominent examples of nostalgic trends we have witnessed in the last couple of years are cheetah print, leggings, headbands, scrunchies, loose, oversized t-shirts, chokers, and big, voluminous hair. The commonality all of these share is the time frame from which they have been borrowed from. Interestingly, several of these fashion trends originated in the 80s and 90s. Perhaps this is because in those years, many of us were experiencing the various stages of childhood and exploring our individuality by mimicking the trends of celebrities we admired. The return of these iconic fashion statements are primarily inspired by repeated sights of celebrities, such as Miley Cyrus, sporting oversized t-shirts, characters in movies and television shows, like Betty and Veronica in Riverdale rocking voluminous hair, and mainstream clothing stores, such as Zara, displaying cheetah print jackets and putting them on the racks for purchase.
Since we are so heavily influenced as a culture by mainstream media, it seems reasonable that would be our main source of nostalgic direction. Nowadays, millennials are embracing the past and making a bold change to their appearance through retro-fashion. This trend is not only a nod at the days gone by, but the implications of our desire for out-of-date styles runs deeper in our society than we might initially assume.
Prom dresses and graduation caps/gowns are another example of this phenomenon. We are likely never going to wear those large robes and pointy hats again, yet we stubbornly hold on to these materials because they remind us of a threshold moment in our lives. This is why we have sentimental attachments to items that are cluttering our closet space. There are two reasons we struggle with this when we attempt to purge our wardrobes: either we are halted by the memory of an experience that occurred in those clothes, or we lie to ourselves and decide that there is the smallest chance that they can be worn again. Ultimately, we wear our memories- often tangibly- and fashion trends keep our memories alive when we fear we’ve almost forgotten them.
Sometimes we are reminded of people we love when we wear certain clothing- the qualities we loved and admired about them and how they made us feel. The memories we have of them come rising to the surface as we touch the fabric, smell the lingering laundry detergent, and see the details of the design. An example that signifies this type of nostalgic fashion is a scene from the hit television show, Thirteen Reasons Why, where Hannah Baker’s emotionally distraught mother reveals that she was never able to throw out the dress that Hannah passed away in because she felt it was all that she had left of her. This type of emotional attachment rings true for people across various circumstances, as fashion is an outward statement of personality and character. Personally, I’m reminded of my sweet grandmother every time I put on a sweater. When I was growing up, she would always arrive early to concerts, competitions, and church services to save seats for the family with her multitude of sweaters, which is one of the things I love most about her.
Finally, emotions we desire to be reunited with are the primary reason we like to repeat styles from the past. Perhaps sporting cheetah print and chokers takes us back to an edgy sort of confidence and individuality we felt when wearing them, and maybe oversized t-shirts remind us of when we rebelliously defied social norms during our self-discovery stages. Perhaps in doing so, we experience a sense of admiration for our younger selves who didn’t care so much about what others thought of us. Either way, fashion has a powerful grasp on our emotions and effectively reminisces us with them.
Human beings are fundamentally expressive creatures- we crave outlets that showcase the intricacies of our character, our experiences, and our perspective. While fashion can aid as an outlet for this purpose, it is more than merely self-expression. Fashion unifies humanity across various cultures and circumstances through its functionality- it nostalgically connects us to memories, people, and emotions. Without it, we would find it much more complicated to differentiate ourselves from others and identify the nature and personality of those we encounter. Although trends come and go, our associations with the past continue to play a part in how we conduct ourselves in the future.
Gould, Hannah. “Clothes and the Memories They Hold: Share Your Photos and Stories.” The Guardian, Guardian News and Media, 19 Feb. 2015.
“Dressing for Dream Destinations: Australia.” College Fashion, College Fashion, 5 May 2018, www.collegefashion.net/college-life/how-clothes-affect-memories/.