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688: Comeback Culture

A while ago, I went to an event that had 1970s disco as the theme. Among all of the full-body jumpsuits, sequins, white athleisure wear, and glitter – I overheard a number of very interesting conversations. Specifically, that the clothes for the evening had been particularly easy to find. Several people reported finding full-body glitter jumpsuits at stores like Forever 21, and honestly, I found my full-glitter dress at Ross.

This fashion nostalgia shouldn’t come as a full surprise, it seems. In 2018, Vogue magazine reported, quote:

The data doesn’t lie: The ’80s, ’90s, and ’00s are officially fashion’s favorite decades—at least according to Google. In the company’s yearly study of the most trending searches, a metric Google calculates by tracking the greatest increase in year over year searches, the top four fashion searches were: 1980s fashion, grunge fashion, 1990s fashion, and 2000s fashion. Compared to past years, which have featured questions like “How to wear booties with skinny jeans?” as top style queries, the retro revival shows an increased influence of the runways on mainstream fashion searches.

And it would be very easy to get skeptical about this retro love, it can be seen just about anywhere you look. And love or hate the 70s, you’re likely to find similar nostalgia for the 1920s (expressed in a number of Great Gatsby-themed parties that walk right past the tragedy of Great Gatsby), or even the furniture throwing back to mid-century modern.

In other words, nostalgia and retro love seem built in to our modern pop culture, love it or hate it. But research tells us that no matter how much we may claim otherwise, that nostalgia may be serving us well. In a 2016 article in Scientific American, Matthew Hutson reported, quote:

In several experiments […], when subjects were induced to experience wistful reverie via sentimental song lyrics or memories, they reported greater self-continuity, as measured by a validated index that asks participants how much they agree with statements such as “I feel connected with my past” and “important aspects of my personality remain the same over time.” Constantine Sedikides, a psychologist at the University of Southampton in England and the primary author of the paper, […] found that nostalgia boosted self-continuity by increasing a sense of social connectedness. Sentimental recollections often include loved ones, which can remind us of a social web that extends across people—and across time. The researchers found this pattern in American, British and Chinese participants. They also went a step further and observed, via questionnaires about other concurrent feelings, that self-continuity brings a feeling of vitality—of “energy and spirit.”

More than connecting us to ourselves, our history, and the feeling of continuing our experience from one point in time to another, nostalgia (and its expression in all of this retro pop culture) could even be helping us improve the future. As the New York Times’ John Tierney wrote in 2013, quote:

Nostalgia [has] been considered a disorder ever since the term was coined by a 17th-century Swiss physician who attributed soldiers’ mental and physical maladies to their longing to return home — nostos in Greek, and the accompanying pain, algos. [In research done over the last 19 years using the Southampton Nostalgia Scale, however,] Nostalgia has been shown to counteract loneliness, boredom and anxiety. It makes people more generous to strangers and more tolerant of outsiders. Couples feel closer and look happier when they’re sharing nostalgic memories. On cold days, or in cold rooms, people use nostalgia to literally feel warmer. Nostalgia does have its painful side — it’s a bittersweet emotion — but the net effect is to make life seem more meaningful […] When people speak wistfully of the past, they typically become more optimistic and inspired about the future.

In other words, no matter how much we may roll our eyes at how fashion seems to be coming back around, and around again — pulling out your bell bottom pants and fringe vests may have more benefit to your mental well-being and hope for the future than you realize. And either way, it means more glitter in your life, which can’t be all bad.