Google “’90s nostalgia” and your search results will not disappoint. It’s fair to say that over the past few years, wistful listicles documenting the brown lipstick and butterfly clips we left in the old millennium have conquered the web. After all, the teens of the ’90s are now in their 30s and running the internet. It only makes sense that their nostalgia would enjoy a healthy renaissance.
But I have to admit that ’90s nostalgia falls a little flat for me. I’m 24, so in the ’90s, I was just a little kid. While I can certainly appreciate a throwback photo of Winona Ryder or a quiz informing me which My So-Called Life character I most closely resemble (Angela Chase, duh), my teendom didn’t begin until a few years later.
I, like many millennials born at the tail end of our generation, am instead a teen of the aughts. My awareness and participation in beauty trends coincided not with Alanis Morissette and Dawson’s Creek but with the Olsen twins, Gilmore Girls, and Avril Lavigne. I’m talking thick black eyeliner, glossy pink lips, bone-straight hair, and Bath & Body Works perfume. Remember?
I figured it was high time we 20-somethings quit pretending we’re teens of the ’90s and acknowledge our true nostalgia: the early to mid-2000s. So for one week, I decided to re-create an iconic celebrity look from the era I best remember, using the very products that were popular at the time. The goal was simply to cake my lips in Lancôme Juicy Tubes, douse myself in Victoria’s Secret Love Spell, and have a blast. But what actually ended up happening, I did not expect.
Behold: Lindsay Lohan at the 2003 premiere of the cinematic masterpiece Freaky Friday.
For this look, I decided to focus primarily on makeup, mostly because I don’t have enough hair to achieve LiLo’s glorious style (do I spot a Bumpit ($30) back there?!). Of course, in the actual early 2000s, my hair was as long and layered as Lindsay’s, but since then, I’ve opted for a bang-less blunt bob. The #gloup is real.
But the makeup here made me so giddy that it didn’t even matter. I nearly sobbed when I got my hands on a Lancôme Juicy Tube ($19). Can you believe my parents never bought me one back in the day? I always had to steal squeezes from my much cooler best friend (who also had a hot-pink Motorola Razr and chunky blond highlights. Still jealous.)
To complete my look, I acquired a pan of bright blue eye shadow, some roll-on body glitter, a bottle of Bath & Body Works Warm Vanilla Sugar ($14) (my once signature scent), and a stick of black Benefit Badgal Eye Pencil ($20).
I wore so much black eyeliner in the aughts that I could apply it to my waterline with one hand. And no mirror. In a moving car. I hadn’t worn black liner on my lower waterline for years, of course, but I was excited to whip it out and show off my skills. What I absolutely did not expect was the emotional spiral I experienced once I did.
Down to the shade of Juicy Tube, this was exactly how I did my makeup when I was a tween. And like something out of Freaky Friday itself, when I looked in the mirror, I saw 13-year-old me—all her debilitating insecurity and desperation to be cool. You know how when you smell a familiar scent, it instantly brings you back to the time and place where you first smelled it? That’s what this felt like. I didn’t even know makeup could do that.
Even my co-workers noticed how quiet and nervous I seemed all day. “The makeup is cute!” they assured me. I even got a few compliments on the eye shadow. It didn’t matter. The remarkable thing was that until this lighthearted beauty experiment, I had completely forgotten how much I hated being 13. I’d forgotten the fact that it took time to build the confidence I know now, that I didn’t always feel this secure. This was a visceral reminder.
I wiped the eyeliner off in the bathroom before the workday even finished, at once marveling at the emotional power of makeup and hoping Tuesday would be better.
PHOTOS: Getty/Amy Graves, Amanda Montell
If the term #goals had existed in 2002, Avril Lavigne would have been it for me. The girl was my icon. I related to Avril because we were both small in stature and unexpectedly foul-mouthed, and I admired her for not giving a damn about miniskirts or fake tanner or traditional femininity.
This look put me in a better mental place. For one, the extra hundred layers of eyeliner made me feel like the punky badass I was never brave enough to be 10 years ago. The Dr. Pepper Lip Smacker ($3) was a winning conversation piece at the office, as was the Hard Candy Nail Polish ($3) (the kind that comes with a collectible ring). But most importantly, to pull a true Avril, I finally got to straighten my hair with a Chi.
All my fanciest middle and high school friends had Chi flatirons. I owned some strange off-brand contraption that required you to fill it with water like a clothing iron. But I never even asked for a Chi; it seemed too far-fetched a request.
My first Chi, the Ceramic 1'' Hairstyling Iron ($80) may have come a decade too late, but I still felt vindicated. Upon its arrival, I ceremoniously slipped the tool out of its well-crafted cardboard packaging, uncoiled the cord, and plugged it in. It heated up in seconds, and after just a few runs, my hair was the straightest it had literally ever been. The middle schooler within in me nearly wept with joy. Finally, the nostalgic fun I’d been hoping for.
PHOTOS: Blender, Amanda Montell
In my humble opinion, the early 2000s were the flyest era in the Olsen twins’ beauty evolution. Need I remind you of the ABC Family one-season wonder So Little Time? Mary-Kate had the straight, flippy hair; Ashley had the tight barrel curls. I knew this 2001 glory had to make it into my week of throwback beauty.
I decided to base my look on Mary-Kate. (Growing up, she was always my favorite twin.) There were three key elements: the outward hair flip, the intense pink blush, and the ultra-glossy lip.
I used my precious new Chi to straighten my hair, curving the tool outward at the ends to create that famous flip. To lock the style in place, I used none other than Herbal Essences hair spray.
I applied a bubblegum-colored blush with a generous hand, and for lips I grabbed the nearest pink color and topped it off with a shiny coat of MAC’s Clear Lip Glass ($18). And for a final touch, I spritzed myself all over with Victoria’s Secret Love Spell ($16).
When the look was finished, I felt like the coolest girl in school. I certainly never looked (or smelled) this trendy 10 years ago, but getting the chance to pull it off now was almost as good. This look also solicited the best reactions from my 20-something co-workers. They geeked out over my hair flip and bright pink blush, like they’d suddenly found themselves back in middle school at a sleepover or school dance.
PHOTOS: marykateashleyolsenblog, Amanda Montell
My hair was already fried to a crisp by the time I whipped out my crimper. Somehow, I had also forgotten how brutally we used to abuse our hair—heat styling it day in and day out, coloring it with box dye.
I don’t know what I was thinking when I decided to try re-creating this legendary Beyoncé look. My hair is nowhere near long enough for her luscious pigtails, and the colorful sunglasses I found weren’t as majestically oversize and rimless. (Go figure—Beyoncé was flawless well before she was #FLAWLESS.)
I also never wear earrings anymore—though I owned about eight pairs of hoops in middle school, I keep my jewelry fairly minimal now. The hoops felt heavy and itchy in my ears, and it suddenly occurred to me how strange it was that 10 years ago, I never left the house without some sort of cumbersome object dangling from each ear. Oh, the perspective a decade can bring.
PHOTOS: Paper, Amanda Montell
By Friday, I think it’s safe to say I’d gone a little overboard. But I stand by it. This Hilary Duff look from the 2002 Nickelodeon Kids’ Choice Awards was too perfect not to attempt.
Lizzie McGuire mania peaked that year. What 15-year-old television superstar wouldn’t want to grace the orange carpet in green eye shadow and a sky-high ponytail adorned with pens? My version is admittedly a bit outrageous (did I mention my hair was fried?). But I will say, as a writer, it was delightfully handy to have a headful of writing instruments. I actually didn’t mind the green shadow, either. It was a nice departure from the traumatizing eyeliner of Monday, at least.
That said, by the end of the week, I was more than ready to return to 2016. Though I'm proud to have given early 2000s beauty the love it deserves, this walk down memory lane was a little *too soon.*
After all, there's a reason it takes a few decades for beauty trends to circle back again. We need enough time to forget how awkward we were the first time. So until black eyeliner and glossy lips make a comeback, I'll stick with my grown-up highlight and unstyled crop.
I'm hanging on to this Juicy Tube, though.
PHOTOS: Getty/Jeffrey Mayer, Amanda Montell