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  • Writer's pictureJane Lewis

These 20-Somethings Collect Designer Skinny Jeans Instead of Baseball Cards

What happens when Gen Z starts building their own archives?


L-R: Stone Rose, Reyn Smith, Patrick Flynn

In an East Village apartment, roommates Stone Rose and Patrick Flynn’s wall shelves boast extensive Hot Wheels and Lego Star Wars collections arranged in intricate battle scenes, a tribute to childhoods spent collecting the in-demand toys. But the Gen Z New Yorkers have another collecting project that demands a bit more time and money: archives of clothes from designers Martin Margiela and Hedi Slimane — and kitchen cabinets filled with Vivienne Westwood and Jun Takahashi catwalk books in lieu of plates.

Rose and Flynn are part of a new generation gathering vintage and second-hand designer garments — connecting them to nostalgic and often romanticized eras of fashion like the 1990s and 2000s, which birthed rockstars, supermodels, clothing brands, and indie sleaze. Like a child with a beloved toy, each collector has a specific garment, designer, or texture they cling to and collect — and often find personal truth and transactive memory in the clothing they cherish.


“To get into something, I have to own it first,” says Rose, 22-year-old FIT student, who began collecting Hedi Slimane in 2022 after resonating with the designer’s ethos and grunge aesthetic. 

“There’s peer pressure to know what you’re wearing. It’s like someone asking you to name six songs by the band on your t-shirt,” Rose explains. With that in mind, his first purchase was a pair of Slimane’s Dior Homme cumberbund jeans… almost three sizes too small. “I could wear them, but I almost blacked out.” 

He doesn’t believe that fashion should be uncomfortable, which is why Dior Homme is his favorite Slimane era. It’s wearable — mostly jeans, shirts, and boots that he can wear every day. The clothes are also reminiscent of a time that Rose deeply admires: the grimy 2000s rock and roll scene. His favorite rock star, Pete Doherty, fronted The Libertines wearing trousers, undershirts, and loafers with the laces ripped out. The Strokes wore Converse, jeans, and loose ties over wrinkled shirts. Rose admires the ease and almost thoughtlessness of these fashion choices. As someone born after this era, he can admire the period without having to confront the relentless and dangerous drug use that accompanied the scene. He chooses to highlight the effortlessness and simplicity of ‘00s rock and roll style — an effortlessness that Rose wants to emulate, now, when life doesn’t feel so simple. 

New York City can be isolating even when there are hundreds of people living on the same block as you. For Rose, his connection to fashion has helped curate a community of like-minded collectors. It began in high school, when he joined a group chat started by Instagram influencer Jake John Howard and started chatting with other people who loved clothes as much as he did. Rose explains that he and the group chat boys still keep in touch, doing Secret Santa exchanges every year and visiting each other across the country. 

Connecting with people who love clothes as much as he does is crucial — and possible because of social media like Instagram and Twitter. He’s been able to find empowerment within his online fashion communities and also by finding clothes that are made for his slight build. Slimane “makes 28 to 32-inch waists and 34 length, always. It sounds silly, but it’s hard to find pants that fit my proportions,” Rose explains.

He resonates with Slimane’s origin story: growing up, Slimane was bullied for not fitting a traditional, hypermasculine mold. Slimane turned that insecurity into his business and appealed to boys like Rose, who had trouble finding clothes that fit him. “It used to be that you had to be jacked. Like Abercrombie and all that. So it’s cool to feel cool and empowered in my skinny jeans.” 

Slimane has succeeded in appealing to young men — because Rose has 21 pieces in his archive and does not plan to stop collecting anytime soon. He’s worked at 2nd Street Vintage, Elkel Boutique, and The RealReal to fund his collection. “I’m just looking for the next amazing piece. I like buying cheap things, obviously. It might be time to enter the big boy arena, but the prices are going up.” By “big boy arena,” Rose is referring to Slimane’s Celine pieces. Since those are newer, they aren’t commonly found on cheaper second-hand sites like eBay and Grailed, where his purchases range from $90 to $700 — and where Rose can buy Slimane’s pieces from the 2000s to try and recreate the rock ‘n’ roll era that he loves.


Patrick Flynn, a 22-year-old FIT Student and Rose’s roommate, has an equally impressive collection in the other half of their apartment. His love lies with Margiela's menswear and “...the nostalgia for the early to mid-2000s, when all these clothes I’m buying were being made and shown. So it’s the era that I love, too.” Flynn comes from Colorado Springs and met Rose at the Fashion Institute of Technology, but before that, his love for clothes grew out of the pandemic. “It was during [COVID-19] so I had nothing to do. I watched all the documentaries about all the designers. Margiela was the one I always looked back to… the menswear is just how he thought men should dress. And he created a uniform every season.” 

Designer clothes often feel precious and untouchable. Flynn needs clothes that he can live in and that won’t get in his way. Margiela's menswear allows him that freedom in their casual but well-crafted jeans, trousers, tops, and jackets. The 22-year-old’s collection has risen to 30 pieces. It isn’t as highly sought after online, apart from a small community of dedicated collectors, and the prices seem manageable to Flynn —his acquisitions ranging from $50 to $450, which he affords by working at Elkel Boutique. “I like the freedom of still feeling cool, dressing how I want. They’re fashion pieces, but I’m not being restrained by it… the slimmer silhouettes, the grungier, grosser rockstar. The mid-2000s aesthetic which is when these clothes were coming out.” Clothes shouldn’t be too precious, and when they come from an era of edgy glamour, you can’t help but want to feel like a part of it.

He and Rose both have a fascination with eras like the 2000s — when the coolest spot on the internet was MySpace, and magazines determined who and what were considered relevant. Flynn’s been able to find a modest Margiela menswear community online, but faceless groups in fashion forums and Twitter threads can only be so fulfilling. Young people still desperately cling to pieces of the past, when connection was more analog and face-to-face. 


Heaven by Marc Jacobs is a brand that feels nostalgic even though it was started in 2020 — and Reyn Smith, a 19-year-old NYU student from Malibu, California, has been a loyal follower since its first drop. The brand doesn’t confine itself to the traditional Spring/Summer and Fall/Winter calendar; instead, they sporadically release collections to keep fans on their toes. Their ad campaigns are the epitome of “if you know, you know,” including niche celebrities, influencers, photographers, and artists. At 18 years old, Smith gets it — and he loves it. The brand represents a new, fluid generation. The pieces aren’t labeled as menswear or womenswear. Each drop is colorful and textural, and includes tops, bottoms, accessories, and shoes. Something for everyone.

Their campaigns are meticulous — drops each have a different theme that appeals to the nostalgia for an era before most Heaven fans were even born. Some of the most popular collections have been based on cult classic films like The Virgin Suicides, directed by Sofia Coppola in 1999; the Hong Kong crime drama Fallen Angels, directed by Wong Kar-wai in 1995; Donnie Darko, directed by Richard Kelly in 2001; and even Totally F***ed Up, directed by Gregg Araki in 1993, — who’s also known for pioneering the New Queer Cinema movement of the ‘90s. Not only are clothes sold in these Heaven by Marc Jacobs collections, but also zines, CDs, cassettes, VHS tapes, action figures, and books on theme for each film. These appeal to a generation that has been bombarded with digital content since birth. Heaven allows them to physically hold something from the era that the clothes are inspired by, and Gen Z doesn’t mind using these artifacts as decorations if they don’t have the technology to watch and listen to tapes and discs.

“They got the guy from The White Lotus!” Smith says, referring to the actor Michael Imperioli, who modeled on the infamous Heaven couch after starring in the 2022 HBO series, but is perhaps better known from HBO’s previous 1999 hit, The Sopranos. “A lot of the criticism is that Heaven is made only for the younger generation, but it’s one of the only things that the younger generation is able to know from its start and see how it evolves,” Smith explains. “Yes, you could collect a brand like Chanel. But Chanel’s been around forever. You can’t get everything from Chanel. It’s cool that since I’ve known Heaven since the beginning, I can actually collect it as it grows.” 

Smith describes seeing a paparazzi picture of supermodel Bella Hadid in a cropped striped sweater drinking coffee on a Sunday. No brand was tagged, but he and his friends knew the sweater was Heaven. “[It] reminds me so much of how, in the 2000s, brands would pay Kim Kardashian and Paris Hilton to wear things just to get paparazzi’d in it,” he says. “You had to search for it. It wasn’t just handed to you.” 

Nowadays, brands are tagged directly on social media, so there’s barely a challenge in finding what your favorite celebrities and influencers are wearing. It adds to the allure of the brand :that, even if Hadid was paid to wear the sweater, it seems like she chose it. “And everyone wants to choose the same clothes as Bella Hadid,” Smith says with a smile.

According to Adam Brown, a professor of Psychology at The New School, there are two types of nostalgia: nostalgia from a lived experience, as well as an “imagined nostalgia,” which is yearning for a period you weren’t alive to experience. “At a moment when people are feeling really disconnected, it connects people to a sense of community, real or imagined,” says Brown. Clothing can serve as a physical connection to an imagined lived experience; a wearable and tactile nostalgia. 

Clothes that are from or inspired by a past time not only connect people to the fashion of that era but also to its ideas. It’s about “bringing a perspective into this moment and reinterpreting it, and using that as a way to express my particular viewpoint of the world,” Brown muses. “There’s something interesting about the past and the present coming together for people and how they choose to express that through clothing [...] Fashion is intimate. We wear it on our bodies.” 

Brown explains that collecting is connected to memory — and memory retrieval is dependent on the physical queues that humans have around them. “Transactive memory” describes how our brain cognition is structured by the materials around us, meaning memories live in the things we surround ourselves with. Putting on a specific garment can provide emotional comfort when it jogs a pleasant feeling or memory, even if that memory is not one’s own.

Brown tells me how he has a collection of T-shirts. He never wears them, but they’re deeply sentimental. Included in the stash is a T-shirt from a friend that he lost touch with, but his friend’s last name is written on the tag in Sharpie. There’s something about handwriting from that time that feels too important for Brown to ever let go. He also has T-shirts that belonged to his late father. They hold an essence of him; the materials feel more visceral and tangible than photographs. “This is my history,” he says.

Smith's Heaven collection.

Collecting is deeply connected to human emotion. Whether you are holding onto a time that you lived through or a time that you wish you lived through, there’s a reason why people have the urge to gather objects that are linked to a personal or communal history. For Gen Z, there is comfort to be found in eras that have passed, and the artifacts continue to gather meaning as younger generations collect and discuss them, giving these pieces of history new memories on clothing racks and inside cabinets.

Flynn’s sartorial connection to Margiela gives him a sense of purpose, a ritual, and a sense of control over social media’s algorithms and incessant targeted eCommerce ads. Collecting is like a treasure hunt. He recounts an interaction he had with an eBay seller that he chose to meet in Tribeca instead of waiting weeks for the item to ship. Flynn waited eagerly to greet his new Margiela cardigan. An older man hobbled out of his apartment carrying the sweater in a bag. The man told Flynn that he bought this piece at the Margiela store in Paris decades before, and even had the chance to meet Martin himself. “He became a brief friend. It felt like he was handing a piece of the Margiela legacy down to me. I like talking to older people in fashion. It was cool to get the direct pass-down. This cardigan hasn’t been through anyone but him,” Flynn smiles, clutching his new piece of history. 🌀


Jane Lewis is a writer, editor, and fashion journalism student at The New School in New York City. She spent her adolescence playing and working on farms in California, but now wears her Marc Jacobs FW 2005 plaid trench coat every day and always matches her shoes to her bag. Find her on Instagram (@janethefarmer) and Twitter (@janelikethesong).


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