Long Live the Roaring '20s (In Bucket Hats and Tie Dye)
How Pandemicouture has (quite tragically) sustained itself.
It’s Friday night. You’re reaching for an overpriced gin and tonic you purchased at a club on Christopher Street. Your abdomen smashes against the edge of the bar, a crowd of sweaty bodies dancing against each other. The bright lights ricochet against the mirrorball, splashing rainbow-colored rays onto the walls. Sweat trickles off your neck and onto the sticky floor, but you don’t really notice because Bad Bunny is playing and you’re a little tipsy and you wonder if you’ve actually ever been this happy Just when you’re thinking this night can’t get any better, you spot your crush. They look as dreamy as ever. You make eye contact and weave your way towards them, waving, licking your lips. When you finally reach them, they look confused, but then laugh with recognition:
“Oh my god, hey! I didn’t recognize you under that bucket hat. Isn’t it too hot in here for that?”
There are certain trends that hold a chokehold on society and slip surreptitiously into places where they aren’t welcome. The bucket hat in a nightclub is one of them. Few items of clothing are as divisive as it. Madeline, a 28-year-old social worker based in Michigan, believes the entire menagerie, bucket or not, should be burned: “I hate all hats,” she tells me when I ask her to elaborate on her strong anti-bucket hat feelings. “I won’t wear any hats and I think most hats are ugly on other people, too, but bucket hats especially.” She doesn’t feel this way about any other clothing items or big trends.
Bucket hats were so overexposed in 2020 that by 2021 they started popping up in merch collections of some of the most popular cultural voices of the year. Olivia Rodrigo released a lilac bucket hat that read “It’s Brutal Out Here” as part of her SOUR album merch, and Sally Rooney had yellow bucket hats with the title of her 2021 release, the novel Beautiful World, Where Are You. And maybe it’s something about the mercantilization of a fashion item that was subversive in its irony when Rhianna wore it in 2018, but the bucket hat simply cannot have the same effect it once did. Especially not in a nightclub — which I have spotted multiple times over the last year on nights out in New York.
While the bucket hat evokes negative feelings from some, others are proud wearers and defenders. Alexis is a 26-year-old Advertising Sales Manager based in the greater L.A. area. She first bit into the bucket hat trend when visiting Hawaii in 2021: “I remember I got all dressed up — I had my Birkenstocks, but they were like water Birkenstocks my high-waisted jean shorts; a crop-top tank-top, and I had my bucket hat ready to go.” After that, she embraced the “bucket hat lifestyle” and looked for more ways to incorporate the trend into her “everyday, more laid-back style.” This happens in two specific instances: she wears them for sun protection or to attend baseball games, even when the games are at night (She’s a big baseball fan and has now added two L.A. Angels bucket hats to her collection). I mention to Alexis that I have spotted kids wearing these head accessories to clubs. “That’s bold! I mean, kudos to them for being confident, but I personally don’t think a nightclub is the setting to wear a bucket hat unless there’s, like, a theme.”
Jordan is a 28-year-old social media manager based in North Carolina, and another proud bucket hat wearer-devotee. To her, bucket hats offer honest, humble value: a cute accessory that can help dress up an outfit. She owns one in snakeskin print and is a big fan. Jordan tells me: “I don’t wear a ton of bucket hats anymore. I definitely wore more of them when they were like a little bit more trendy.” Now, she pulls out her snakeprint number with intent. “[I wear it] on days when I’m trying to dress a little bit more cute, or that I know I’m going to be taking pictures.” Similarly, for Lina, a 27-year-old writer in the New York City metro area, a sunny yellow bucket hat was the perfect accessory for Pride. She thinks bucket hats are perfect for the summer because they are “joyful” and “fun.” And who wouldn't agree that nothing says "fun" quite like a jaunty $550 Loewe fisherman’s cap?
The popularity of the bucket hat seems to be a symptom — or perhaps a trusty pathogen — of a larger phenomenon. Tie-dye sweats, Y2K baby tees, and yes, bucket hats — all overly popular items from early 2020, right before the pandemic broke out in the Western hemisphere — remain in our closets and on the streets despite the fact that the fashion industry is moving at unprecedented hyperspeed. A century ago, the world had overcome the pandemic of the Spanish flu. It was the time of Vionnet, Prohibition, and Bernice Bobs Her Hair. And, at least in the stories that we tell each other about that time, wardrobes did the inverse of our modern proclivities: outfits became more daring, showing more skin, adding a twinge of sparkle. It’s an era that places like New York still glamorize, with an onslaught of speakeasy-inspired venues popping up every year. And while occassionwear has been booming, it’s as if we can’t fully let go of the moments before everything changed. No sparkle — just sobriety.
Other than bucket hats, Alexis also owns two pairs of tie-dye sweatpants. “I don’t know if, for me, I’d be comfortable in a rainbow tie-dye. It has to be a little bit more subtle. So I started with a tan and white [...] my other sweatpants that I just purchased at a warehouse deal, probably like two weeks ago, are blue and green tie-dye.” Alexis describes this style as coastal-beachy, which works for her SoCal lifestyle. She’s also not someone who buys into a trend right away, but rather waits around to see if there’s one she really likes and then eventually makes a purchase that will work with the rest of her wardrobe. She got her first pair in 2021, and she got them in a neutral tan. She wore sweatpants before this, but her older pairs were solid bright pink and she wanted something more wearable and trendy. To her, clothing choices are diegetic to comfort — quite literally all about what makes you feel good: “If you like it, flaunt it.” With comfort the reigning undercurrent of Pandemicouture — and the continued rise of athleisure — you start to wonder if repose, rather than beauty, is now the thing driving what we wear.
While I believe there’s a time and a place to wear certain things (and maybe the time for fuzzy bucket hats really was the winter of 2021), I do want to encourage you, ever-stylish partygoer, to consider specifically what draws you to a specific trend. Does it remind you of the possibility of a better time? Are you wearing something because TikTok told you that you should? Or are you trying to unfreeze yourself from the overwhelming overflow of microtrends by pulling something seemingly outrageous from your closet? Just make sure that the next time you bump into your crush under the disco lights, your gorgeous face is not hiding under all that fabric. 🌀