Why This Mid-Noughties Style Moment Is Best Left In The Past

Not all eras are ripe for revival...

Paris Hilton 2005

by Laura Antonia Jordan |
Updated on

Some sense of equilibrium has been restored in the universe this month as Paris Hilton is back where she belongs – in the headlines. In the mid-Noughties, the original influencer was tabloid catnip: party-hopping, cat-fighting, catchphrasing (‘That’s hot!’) and baby-voice cooing her way to defining the paparazzi-fuelled zeitgeist. And now she’s back, the subject of a new documentary, ‘This is Paris’ out next month.

Paris Hilton at her 21st birthday party
Paris Hilton at her 21st birthday party ©Getty

Today, Hilton is 39 and has ditched the baby voice (thankfully, the dinky dogs still remain). But to many of us she will forever remain petrified in the mid-Noughties, a kitsch poster girl for a curious footnote in fashion history.

We all have secrets in our past, but if you are a woman of a certain age you probably have them hidden in your closet somewhere too: Von Dutch hats, super low-slung jeans (to be obligatorily worn with a thong riding out), bubble hem skirts (to be worn with footless tights, the horror!), cowl-neck tops, wrestling-championship belts that served precisely zero practical purpose. And if you didn’t own a candy-coloured Juicy Couture tracksuit back then – or a high-street knockoff of one – were you even getting dressed at all?

Of course, fashion is all about niches, and these big hitter trends evolved into something highly-specific. This was also the era of the ‘zoebots’ – as the clients of super-stylist Rachel Zoe were dubbed. Pre-Zoe, celebrity stylists were something of an insider secret, but her look became so influential that she became a celebrity in her own right. Styling her clients not just for the red carpet but for pap-bait Starbucks runs, she was the architect of the boho-meets-rock chic look that came to define a new breed of Hollywood ‘it’-girls who were as adept at setting trends as they were at causing trouble: Nicole Richie, Lindsay Lohan, Mischa Barton exemplified the moment (pre their The Row paring-down, the Olsens - not Zoe clients - were working a similar look).

Nicole Richie in 2006
Nicole Richie in 2006 ©Getty

You know the look, you probably wore the look, or some watered-down version of it. Bug-eyed sunglasses and gilets, stacks of chunky bangles and trailing scarves, distressed denim and Grecian dresses, no-bra-needed tops and waitlist-definitely-needed supersized handbags tucked into the crook of a scrawny arm. Skin: tanned; hair: artfully mussed up. Chateau Marmont meets Coachella VIP area. It was a sort of ’70s tribute act reworked for the early 21st century.

I certainly wasn’t immune to the look's dubious charms. Back in 2006 I was an impressionable 21-year old and a literal fashion victim, falling off clompy shoes and straining my back with gargantuan handbags in a sad attempt to mimic the Hollywood bad-girl vibes (despite being a relatively good girl, well ish, from Hampshire). It was better look than a DUI mugshot, but still deeply problematic.

Lindsay Lohan, Nicky Hilton, Nicole Richie and Rachel Zoe in 2005
Lindsay Lohan, Nicky Hilton, Nicole Richie and Rachel Zoe in 2005 ©Getty

The crux of the problem was that the ‘zoebot’ look became inextricable from the glorification of size zero. The cartoonish proportions only served to exaggerate those jutting hipbones, spaghetti limbs and protruding clavicles. Rumours were rife about extreme diets, but Zoe and Richie always publicly claimed to be bemused by the backlash (it’s worth noting too that Zoe didn’t just style these women, other clients included Jennifer Lawrence, Cameron Diaz and Eva Mendes). To say the look was troubling is not to skinny-shame, the problem was that it was indivisible from a very, very narrow body-type, one that the clothes served to highlight. Eating disorders are knotty, painful, complicated psychological illnesses (I speak from personal experience, having lived with one myself for over 20 years and can tell you that my own complicated relationship with carbs has long outlasted any desire to don footless tights or platform court shoes) that you could never pin responsibility on one person for propelling; but still, the fact that these women saw their style status soar as their weight plummeted, their fashion clout become bigger as they literally shrunk, does not reflect glowingly on fashion, pop culture or our attitudes to women from that time.

Still, when it comes to fashion there are things to pick and choose from any era (even the much-maligned ’80s). From the mid-Noughties it should no more be size zero than it is a Von Dutch cap. Perhaps we can, however, find an unlikely icon in Hilton who is still peddling a version of the Barbie-queen look she always did. Is it tasteful? In the purest fashion terms, absolutely not. But wearing something unapologetically tacky just because you love it? Well that’s hot – whatever size you are.


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Jennifer Lopez

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Kiera Knightley

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Nicole Richie

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Paris Hilton

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Lindsay Lohan

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Jennifer Lopez

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Nicole Richie

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Mary-Kate and Ashley Olsen

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Mischa Barton

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Kiera Knightley

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Mischa Barton and Rachel Zoe

READ MORE: All Of The Best Noughties Trends That We Were Definitely Guilty Of Wearing

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