I sat on my sister’s bed and watched as she stuffed billowy jeans, vest tops, and studded belts into an Osprey backpack that was much larger than her 16-year-old self. The inevitable “out” came. So I offered to carefully fold each piece of clothing to the size of a postage stamp. Space was prime real estate on their upcoming journey. After all, she had a tent to carry, and tupperware of cold pasta that my mum had organized and a box of hot Carling that my mum hadn’t organized. They were all important for their first festival, the Leeds Festival, which would be mine in five years’ time.
I held up a black shirt. Flames licked the hem and sleeves, the collar was unnecessarily large, and it was boxy. Not in that Parisian, sculptural, louche way, but in a crude way. If this shirt traveled first class to Charles de Gaulle, it would shoot a can of Heineken to the thin wails of Alien Ant Farm via CD Walkman — a band that happened to be blasting out of my sister’s house at that precise moment in anticipation their appearance in the line-up. My request to keep it was abruptly denied by my sister because it belonged to her boyfriend at the time, who my parents were not very interested in.
Since then, this flame shirt, sometimes tarred with Y2K tribal motifs and almost always flinching, has become a tattered flag of the fraternal rock/nu-metal alliance. In the late ’90s and early ’00s, a movement accompanied by artists like Sum 41, The Offspring, and Linkin Park led to a kind of counterculture that swept into the mainstream. It was on MTV. It was the stuffing of american cake. It was in my sister’s bedroom. It was everywhere.
History doesn’t smile about it. Latest Netflix documentary Train wreck: Woodstock ’99 traces the event horizon of the genre, a notorious New York festival that quickly dissolved into a human borscht of chaos, misogyny and abuse. The reasons for his downfall are legion and the subject of much blame. Was it the venue? The corporate greed of the organizers? The broken infrastructure? The heat? The lack of basic services? The bear bait file? The barking mob? Fred Durst? “Woodstock ’99 remains the only live music event I was evacuated from,” he says esquire Writer Dave Holmes. “Woodstock ’99 was one of the greatest experiences of my life,” said journalist Ethan Fixell in Kerrangwho has also gone to great lengths to list the festival’s shortcomings.
But despite this overdue reckoning of his behavior, the dress code remains oddly topical. XXL t-shirts with bands you’ve never heard of 0f. Shin-length, sail-length shorts. Marshmallow Hoodies. Licking bleached hair. baggy jeans. White tank tops. Rope-like chains. Wraparound sunglasses. Cap backwards. bandanas In a place where skatewear, emo and balenciaga meet, frat bro rock and nu metal style rides higher than ever – and I couldn’t be more excited about it.
There’s a level of comfort, sure. Massive clothing will do that. But there’s also a rebellious streak, a sense that you’re deliberately messing up the old stuff, turning the traditional understanding of “style” on its head. Even now, at an age that my young teenage self would have thought grotesque, I relish the opportunity to see my parents scoff when I’m in Oakley Katos and shorts so long they only show a strip of skin, walk down the garden path white socks begin. Besides, it’s fun.
And it’s also fashion. While Balenciaga is undoubtedly the Y2k time capsule’s chief architect, there’s undeniably some Blink-182 to the super-comfy boy’s slouch from brands like Ronning and Butter Goods. In the bizarre millennial rewiring of traditional Maori tattoos, there’s a Grimes album cover just waiting to pop out and an Alyx t-shirt. Even the current brands of yore make an appearance: Juice Couture, Ed Hardy and Von Dutch, all relics that have a lot more to offer in 2022. Just this summer, Justin Bieber was spotted in alien wraparounds, inverted beanie and giant sweatpants. Nu Bizkit.
It’s still a divisive way of dressing. But the Guilty Pleasure goes beyond the cyclical trend carousel. It’s a reminder of the excitement of what was to come. Teenage years, no matter how monstrously voiced or how badly dressed, are magical and harmful and rosy all at once. Watching my sister pack for the party of my life put me in high spirits as a 10-year-old. I wanted to squirm in the mud, smoke in tents, and blast away to music you only hear on shows that felt incredibly glamorous because of the American accent and the genetic confidence that inspired them. I would do all that a few years later but the music was British and indie and staccato. Nobody listened to Alien Ant Farm anymore.
But fire up the rousing, shrill intro to “Movies” and I’m folding my sister’s clothes in her room. I’m actually wearing an XXL T-shirt and baggy shorts, I’m an adult and this time I know all the words. I brought a lot of that with me into adulthood. The facial hair of Durst and company—soul spots, goatee, or some topiary carved by the kind of guy who drinks monsters for breakfast—can stay in 2002. However, the flame shirt still burns brightly.
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