Back to School: 2002 vs. 2012

Like Christmas, back-to-school time comes but once a year. Unlike the former, however, the morning screams are of a far different emotion. This time 10 years ago, I could be seen wearing the carpet down pacing the path from my bedroom to the bathroom mirror, obsessively trying on new clothes and piecing together outfits in hopes of winning over upperclassmen and cool teachers in my very first year of high school. A horrifying realization, no doubt, that a whole decade has slipped past and I’m still figuring out what I want to be when I grow up and getting nervous around 17-year-olds. Some things will never change. Yet, when you compare the styles of the present with my freshman days of yore, I’m thankful that I at least grew out of the oversized glasses and Old Navy flared denim.

Let us take a glimpse, shall we, at the looks sold in the suburban malls of 2002, set to a soundtrack of Papa Roach, Christina Aguilera and passersby discussing Michael Jackson’s baby-dangling, so I can feel all old and granny-like about the garments draping off of teens today and you young’ns can feel lucky about your aesthetic options of today.


In the humble bedroom community of Mansfield, Texas, on the outskirts of Dallas and Ft. Worth, not owning a pair of these literally made me a social outcast. Every cool girl whose parents hung out at the country club had them while I donned a Payless Shoesource knock-off version with white socks. These bulky sandals were no relief from the Texas summer heat, and most had weird foot sweat stains because leather is no good in 100 degree weather when your feet have the most glands on your whole body. Not to mention they’re also the complete anti-thesis of what the Doc Marten footwear lifestyle is supposed to be about. Sooo no punk rock, Chelsea, Chelsey, and Chelzee!



Fortunately, fashion has embraced everything classically wonderful in vintage, and now high schoolers can go to class in the adorable classic oxfords they see in the Great Depression chapter of their American History books. If I’d had these options back then, I wouldn’t have had to shop at Skechers for so long.


Thank Britney Spears for making the low-rise flare denim thing happen and therefore making them the only pants I would wear until halfway through college. The early 2000s were a time of unnecessary embellishments and bedazzlements on jeans paired with dangly faux-leather or scarf belts that were never intended to actually hold up your pants. Fortunately, the recession changed our mindsets on purchasing certain kinds of fashion that both served no purpose and looked ridiculous.


In the last few years we experienced the rise of skinny jeans on a god-like level and haven’t looked back. But when your pants are that super tight, what else can we do to spice them up? Apparently, PATTERNS. While I’m slightly jealous of teens for having the option of well-cut mint jeans and loafers, I can’t get behind floral and other busy prints. For one, it just seems like an invitation for pesky summertime bees, and two, they sure are hard to rock for us gals with a pear-shape. Wear ’em now before the thighs come, girls!


The hilariously controversial yet stylistically uncreative Abercrombie and Fitch seemed as essential a part of the hip teen uniform as fur on Jennifer Lopez. I remember the day I bought my very first Abercrombie T-shirt, and just in the nick of time to wear to my first “popular kids” social event – Skechers included. I was a late-bloomer. The cologne that’s so heavily sprayed in the store as though it was full of vitamins or some crock never washed out, though. We used ourselves as walking billboards to promote that our parents could (begrudgingly) afford a $39.95 tee, yet never actually did any of the sports or vacationed in the Adirondacks like our shirts suggested. BUT AREN’T MOOSE KINDA COOL?!


For some reason beyond my comprehension, neon has taken over (a foreshadowing of our future alien overlords!), as if teens don’t already draw enough attention to themselves in hordes at the mall and pizza joints. On a positive note, it’s essential in avoiding potential pummeling by a car for teens who have a hard time lifting their necks up from Ayden’s text messages. Now that I think about it, I probably just answered my own question.

But can we please just stop this whole sheer-top-with-just-a-bra-underneath? Just because there’s technically something OVER your bra doesn’t mean your bra still isn’t underwear. Anything showcasing that much suggestion of skin in such bold colors just seems like a human strip club sign. Modesty, ladies!


tank tops for the win!


Let us revel in the fact that THIS fad is no longer. Yes, yes, we’re all super beautiful inside and out and all that good stuff, but we’re not one size fits all. Nice try, Limited Too.


You’re fierce, Kelly, but chunky highlights were just never a good idea. I couldn’t understand this trend and was happy to see it go like a tornado fading back up into the dark clouds from which it came. While everyone was hung up on “The Rachel” cut or the soccer mom-esque bob, the early 2000s hair also saw some arguably unnecessary hair dying that looked more like tiger cos-play than fashion.

But the side-cut hit this year and I blame Skrillex as the guy who smuggled it into American households. For you fickle pickles who like the idea of a pixie cut but can’t handle parting from your luscious locks, why not do both and look like the Two-Face of hair? It’s edgy but still cute and youthful and females of all ages have been sporting it. Get back to me on how it grows in, though.


In 2000, my school district decided they didn’t trust the youth of America and banned “real” backpacks unless they were kept in your locker. If you wanted to carry your books in a bag so you wouldn’t have to stress over locker visits through long crowded hallway walks and short passing periods, you had to have a clear one. Yes, clear. As in, here’s all of my stuff! As in, oh! I’m also a young woman who just “became a woman” and am carrying cargo on me I don’t feel like sharing yet, kinda clear.


So you can see why I’m super jealous of the vintage mid-century looks coming back with satchels and old-fashioned bookbags. If I had a Never Been Kissed moment and had to go back to high school, this would be my Josie Gellar oversized lemon bag. And it doesn’t even matter that this probably can’t hold a lot of books because you’re all on iPads and brain chips now.


I feel ya, sassy tween on box wearing a bracelet on your bicep. (Get it, it’s the one that represents health) You’re boss. Why? Because you just got your power beads kit and the newest Britney Spears album and this year is gonna be totally awesome. Let’s all wear Passionate Pink!


Spiky bracelets and rings that take up ya whole dang fingah will really give you some power, though. Anyone who had this stuff when I was in school was tucked in the corner seat in Geometry listening to Marilyn Manson and went through a stick of eyeliner a week. Now, spikes, metal, and leather are popular while managing to not look deadly.

But, just in case your school has metal detectors…

There’s still SillyBandzzzzzzz.


The Books You’d Rather Be Reading

No explanations necessary.


Definitely no Harry Potter, but it’ll work.

Happy School Year!

Main photo courtesy of The Epoch Times

  • Bobbie Aleen Hendron

    Oh my gosh those scrunchy shirt things!!! I never wore one but they were still awful. Looked awful, felt awful. Bleh. Ten years later, all A&F shirts still look the same. haha!

  • Chelsea Keesler

    This is such a funny list, because I didn’t wear those terrible sandals, either – I wore flip flops and vintage shoes/clothing. I wore dark wash boot cut jeans (when I wore jeans,) wore spikes and metal (but didn’t appreciate that Manson covered Annie Lennox AT ALL,) and didn’t read Harry Potter until I was in college. I cut my hair short, didn’t get chunky highlights, and just carried my books by hand while I was inside the school, anyway. I started working at Hot Topic, but I didn’t even “fit in” there, which the people I worked with actually liked; they hired me because they thought the parents wouldn’t be afraid to buy from me. I totally get this list, but I wasn’t really a part of it, haha!

  • Clare Bamford

    Really the only thing I had on this list was the chunky highlights and I seriously must’ve had the worst hair in my grade nine class, it was just awful. It was super long, all one length, and then I just had two big fat blonde stripes at the front of my head. WHAT WAS I THINKING!?!?!?

  • Ashley Lynn Cook

    Oh my word lol….I had ALL of the 2002 articles! Haha! Crazy blast from the past! Love it :-)

  • Lara Caresse Saikali

    Thank god Abercrombie is dying out now. When I was is high school I was into band t-shirts, ripped jeans, studded belts and ripped converse. Because I didnt want to conform to the norm at the time. Now as im older I am conforming ALOT! im into Forever 21,H&M,Macy’s,JC Penny, J.Crew, American Appareal etc., I am glad that these vintage pieces are in style because I never want to go back to chunky highlights, scrunchy tops, and clear backpacks.

  • Hannah J Barth

    A friend sent me the link to this blog as it happens to be none other than myself looking cheerful and holding that one size fits all “popcorn shirt”. An early modeling gig that I’d be mortified if I had ever adopted as my own fashion statement. I believe it was shot in 2003.

    • Courtney Barnett

      Oh my gosh! Imagine that! I just found this under Google images for “bubble shirt”. Sorry for embarrassing you! Know that you are now a legend in my eyes.

  • Courtney Barnett
  • Courtney Anne

    I was so insecure in high school that I avoided all of these things like plague! I wore baggy jeans, t-shirts two sizes too big, a huge DC Shoes sweatshirt even in summertime, my hair in a poorly groomed ponytail to my waist, closed-toed Doc Martin boots with two pairs of hot pink laces, and those homemade friendship bracelets going halfway up each forearm. I also wore thick black eye-liner and really bright eye-shadow. It was horrible. My dad still, ten years later, gets teary-eyed when he sees me looking particularly girly.

  • Lindsay Ann

    I was a freshman in high school in 2002 – now I teach 8th graders haha. How times have changed! I also had a lot of flare jeans and logo t-shirts, though mine were mostly from Aeropostale. I forgot all about bubble shirts – my sister had one, but her American girl doll wore it haha. I also loved those beaded bracelets and I might still have them somewhere. I also had a lot of rubber/jelly bracelets. Remember the tattoo necklaces? Those were equally as horrifying…

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