Emma Chamberlain’s yoga pants pivot riled up some territorial Millennials, sparking the question: why so pressed about young people liking older stuff?
Emma Chamberlain’s influence knows no bounds. The 19-year-old is credited as the ‘original VSCO girl’ (the hydroflask-carrying, turtle-saving, tie dye-loving trope of many TikTok trends ago). Emma has attained and grown the golden influencer status since 2018, earning her spot on the front row of Louis Vuitton shows, while her podcast, Anything Goes, is consistently in Apple’s Top 20, and she’s graced the covers of Vogue, Cosmopolitan, and Nylon.
But when Emma posted a photo of herself chilling in a pair of particularly stretchy, ever-so-familiarly flared trousers in October to her 11-million strong following, it’s unlikely she even knew the intergenerational spat she was about to stoke.
The ‘flared leggings’ Gen Z began to don and post lovingly about thanks to Emma are more commonly known to Millennials as ‘yoga pants’, trousers first made popular by activewear brand LuluLemon in the 00s. They were a beloved go-to of aughts celebs like Britney, Cameron Diaz, and Lindsay Lohan, a trend that gradually trickled down to high street shops and into the wardrobes of thousands of Millennial women.
A storm in a teacup followed. Gen Zers flocked to TikTok to rave about their latest sartorial ‘discovery’ – the #flaredleggings hashtag now has 3.6 million views. Millennials flooded Twitter with hundreds of salty takes: “Is anyone else offended that yoga pants are making a comeback as 'flared leggings?’”, says one.
“People on Tiktok really be calling yoga pants ‘flared leggings’ as if it’s a new, never before done clothing trend,” decries another.
“If I see one more TikTok girl call yoga pants ‘leggings’ I’m going to pass away.”
“What we AREN’T going to do is call yoga pants FLARED LEGGINGS and try to make them the cool new Tiktok trend bc I hate to break it to you teens but I’ve been rocking them since middle school which was like 10 years ago.”
The ensuing outrage then made the news. This might be the pettiest example of Millennials gatekeeping who gets to enjoy old trends, but it certainly isn’t the first. This might be one of the more wide-reaching examples, and this sneering older sibling attitude towards Zoomers goes well beyond the realm of fashion.
In September, Idaho dad-of-two and skateboarder @420doggface208, aka Nathan Apodaca, drank cranberry juice while skateboarding on his morning commute to the soundtrack of “Dreams” by Fleetwood Mac. The short clip became instant meme fodder, and got a nod from the band themselves. The song re-entered the charts for the first time and enjoyed an 88.7 per cent increase in streams. Fleetwood Mac’s frontwoman Stevie Nicks said she was ‘happy’ about the sudden second wind. Though they weren’t the bands original Gen X consumers, Millennial Mac lovers cling to the 00s indie archetype that this music taste once denoted and call them their own. Hypocriticial? Pot, Kettle? Who said that? Still, Millennial music fans were less than thrilled. “It was cool to like Fleetwood Mac until TikTok ruined it, like they do with every single thing they touch,” one exemplary tweet read.
Similar reactions followed with other major cultural reference points. Kate Bush – “not the kate bush reverb mixes on Tiktok. I truly cannot take it anymore.” Muse – “TikTok’s suddenly discovering muse. gen z this song is from TWO THOUSAND AND SIX”). The, with 00s TV shows like Skins and Broad City – “i’ve seen one too many Tiktoks of gen z kids *~dIsCoVEriNg~* broad city and i don’t like this place). Then there were even some claims made over randomised video chat service Omegle, though the most vocal opponents to its comeback rebuffed its resurrection because, let’s be honest, it wasn’t all that great the first time around.
Gen-Z calling yoga pants ‘flare leggings’ hurts my soul (sighs in 2004)— Nilo Tabrizy (@ntabrizy) January 14, 2021
Teens reliving the past, of course, is a tale as old as time. Sabrina Duda, a psychologist who works for human insights agency VERJ, explains: “People never seem to like the time they are born in. Reviving past times is an escape from the frustrating ‘now’. People have always done it: In the 1950s, the Teddy Boys revived the Edwardian style and in the 1970s, there was a revival of the 1950s.
“We remove the past from its context, disregarding war, high unemployment rates, the atomic threat of past decades – we just enjoy the cool fashion and music of that time.”
If this behaviour is nothing new, the vitriol spouted by pissed-off Millennials begs the question: why are people in their late 20s and 30s so pressed about young people liking old stuff? I put this to digital culture expert Ryan Broderick, author of the internet newsletter Garbage Day, who tells me Millennial outrage is, simply, a symptom of ageing. “When young kids start exploring the fashion you grew up with and calling it ‘retro’ it’s undeniable proof you’re old,” he says. “But I think this affects Millennials particularly hard because we were so heavily analysed. I think we were conditioned – thanks to endless thinkpieces about every single thing we ever did – to assume that we’d always be the ones driving culture.”
Ryan’s assessment is enough to make you choke on your avocado toast, or whatever other Millennial trope comes to mind. Millennials have long been accused of trying to prolong their youth with adult ball pits and cereal restaurants. In their tenure as the contemporary, ‘all eyes on them’ generation, there have been sociological studies that suggest adolescence now stretches to 24-years-old. The adoption of adult responsibilities and roles are coming later in life, and mature milestones – from having kids to mortgaging a house – are either redundant or totally out of reach. But Millennials, now pushing into the upper echelons, are finally getting old. Without said milestones, cultural reference points and nostalgia become all the more emotionally important. The ensuing identity crisis, when a focal point of your collective identifier as a demographic is consumed by another, feels somewhat more understandable.
“I think we were conditioned – thanks to endless thinkpieces about every single thing we ever did – to assume that we’d always be the ones driving culture” – Ryan Broderick
I ask one of the Millennials tweeting verbal eye-rolls at her younger counterparts about this too, and I found another cause of disapproval. 26-year-old Bailey Jensen tells me: “When we were kids, it seemed like we were just copying other people of the same age instead of making fashion choices from a place of genuine interest. Now we’re seeing Gen Zers genuinely reach for them because they’re ‘cool’ or ‘stylish’, and it makes us think, ‘what the fuck?’ Like, I only wore that ugly Abercrombie & Fitch tee because all of my friends did, why would you CHOOSE to wear it?”
Nostalgia tends to filter the past through rose-tinted glasses, celebrating the favourable parts and editing out the bad bits, which can be cause for concern for people who can remember the first time a trend came around. Bailey points out there are some things better left in the past, like the unhealthy body ideals of 20 years ago, when the waifish figures of Kate Moss, Jodie Kidd, and Jaime King were celebrated above all else. “I hope the idolisation of the early 2000s body type doesn’t come back,” she says. “We’ve come so far from a body positive perspective from the era of Paris Hilton, Mary Kate Olsen, and Nicole Richie. I would hate to see us regress to that body ideal, especially because so many ‘y2k’ trends like low-rise jeans with tiny crop tops, are meant for thin people.”
But as Lauren DeLisa Coleman, author of America's Most Wanted: The Millennial, tells me, nit picking over yoga pants and moaning about young people liking Fleetwood Mac is indicative of a deeper desire for recognition: she says people in their late 20s and 30s feel deserving of some credit for the movements and causes they’ve helped further.
“Millennials have broken through as a demographic with a voice, by doing things like leading demonstrations against racism,” Lauren explains. “At the same time, they’re still not being taken completely seriously and in a position of power and control just yet. You want credit for what you created. This is larger, subconscious stuff that simply surfaces as what could be seen as petty, yet it really isn't.”
Zoomers are often credited as being the most socially progressive, politically attuned generation in however many eras, but the foundations of the moves made by young people today have come before. When Millennials pushed for gender equality, abolishment of fracking, and challenged tuition fees, Boomers labelled them entitled, lazy, and insolent. When it comes down to it though, shitting on the generation preceding might just be in our DNA – historical texts imply older generations have critiqued younger ones since the dawn of time. Perhaps dunking on young people is simply part of our conditioning.
And sometimes, the dunk is well earned. Recently, a TikTok teen posted a video of herself speaking without moving her lips, in what she dubbed a ‘human glitch’. The new cool thing she’d invented turned out to be, if you hadn’t already guessed, ventriloquism. As one person summed it up on Twitter: “Kids have ~discovered~ ventriloquism and call it the ‘human glitch’. TikTok is fun and today’s youth can be resourceful and hilarious and surprisingly moving, but they’re also idiots.”