90s home and fashion are back – in time for a 70s economy

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

The nostalgia of the nineties has been building for a while. Bold logos, which disappeared after the financial crisis, have made a spectacular comeback. Burberry Group Plc has even revived its signature black, white, brown and red plaid, a revival for the plaid worn by Oasis’ Liam Gallagher in the 1995 music video for “Wonderwall.” Inspired by the outfits of the mid-90s to early 2000s, Y2K is now a fashion category in its own right.

But lately, the call for everything to do with the 90s, especially the earlier years, has grown.

In fashion, the smiley face, a powerful symbol of British rave culture in the late ’80s and early ’90s, has been re-embellished on everything from socks to designer handbags to home furnishings. A favorite among ravers and the Manchester band scene, the Clarks Wallabee boot was the sixth most popular men’s item in the first quarter of this year, according to the Lyst Index. Bucket hats, which have had a luxurious makeover, have ranked high in previous Lyst indices, which measure searches on the fashion platform and other sites, as well as social media engagement.

And just this week, Beyonce released her single “Break My Soul,” which features house music’s signature bouncing beats and piano riffs. Some of the songs on Drake’s new album “Honestly, Nevermind” are also reminiscent of the dance melodies of the time.

It may be the fear of a recession that is driving the current obsession with everything in the early 1990s. The period was marked by a gloomy economy and widespread unemployment, although Beyoncé’s song is more an ode to the Great Resignation than ringing alarm bells about layoffs. Caution about the global economy is certainly becoming increasingly important. The latest forecast from the New York Federal Reserve estimates the possibility of a recession or a ‘hard landing’ at 80%.

And yet this fear comes against the background of joy at being able to socialize again. That could be one of the reasons why the euphoria of the early 90s dance scene is catching on.

While the warning signs of a recession are flashing, the immediate problem is inflation, which has been high for 40 years on both sides of the Atlantic. As Mohamed A. El-Erian has pointed out, the current situation mirrors the 1970s, with its winter of discontent, stagflation, resistance to real wages and strikes. The similarities don’t stop there: The S&P 500 index is headed for its worst first half since 1970, while the prospect of gas rationing in Europe this winter sounds like the blackouts of the previous era.

There are also signs that the decade is making its way into consumer culture.

Gucci’s creative director Alessandro Michele has long incorporated 1970s design codes such as wider trousers and lapels, as well as bold prints. But there are signs that the seedier, bohemian aesthetic is gaining traction.

Just look at the outfits Harry Styles has been wearing recently, including many from the Kering SA brand. This week, Gucci unveiled a collection of styles with distinct 70s undertones.

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

Meanwhile, world-renowned music group Abba is making a comeback with their 2022 Voyage tour. They act as digital avatars and give the 70s a very 21st century touch.

Consumer-oriented companies expect the economic outlook to deteriorate this fall as energy costs climb and pandemic savings are exhausted by a summer of travel. It’s worth checking out for more 1970s trends popping up in stores, restaurants, and streaming services. Torches and fondue, anyone?

Perhaps the consumer’s reluctance to embrace the period is as much as the ’90s and early 2000s, because the ’70s are simply the decade that style has been forgotten. Even today, fashion looks inspired by the era are tricky to create. What’s more, for Gen Z, the ’90s represent an almost mythical happy place, before the perils of social media. That might explain why they want to go back there instead of the 70s. Price hikes and power cuts are much less fun.

Wearing several sweaters this winter to stay warm and having to go shopping for the cheapest toilet paper in Lidl is bad enough. The prospect of doing so in a shiny bell-bottom jumpsuit is even more horrifying.

More from Bloomberg Opinion:

• X-rated recession risks cannot be hedged: John Authers

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

• Italian families are not rich enough to avoid a crisis: Rachel Sanderson

This column does not necessarily reflect the views of the editors or Bloomberg LP and its owners.

Andrea Felsted is a Bloomberg Opinion columnist on consumer goods and retail. Previously, she was a reporter for the Financial Times.

More stories like this are available at bloomberg.com/opinion

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