What’s behind the innate human need to recycle trends years beyond their popularity? The short answer is: No one actually knows. So, we’re going to explain it ourselves. And we’re going to call it “cultural deja vu.” Let's work it out.

“True Detective” and some Internet memes once told us “Time is a flat circle.” Let’s figure out why.

Nineties clothes. Seventies hair. Eighties synth-pop. Sixties psych-surf rock. Victorian lacy things. Fucking beards. So many beards. No matter how far back in time you go, you can bet Urban Outfitters will profit from it, and we’ll bet you our life savings it’s being worn or raved to at an underground warehouse party in Williamsburg. That’s because, no matter how antiquated they are, trends recycle themselves. Be it 10, 15 or 20 years beyond the point of inception, movements in fashion and music reappear in society, marred only by the slight embellishment of future tastes. But why does this happen? What’s behind the innate human need to recycle trends years beyond their popularity?

The short answer is: No one actually knows. Philosophers Heinrich Heine and Friedrich Nietzsche attempted to explain it through their theory of “historic recurrence,” which basically says history repeats itself due to ascertainable circumstances and chains of causality … whatever the fuck that means. Other philosophers and historians have similar theories but none we could find to attempt to explain the recurrence of themes in fashion and music in particular.

So, we’re going to explain it ourselves. And we’re going to call it “cultural deja vu.” Let's work it out.

>> We’re all psychos.

Our first theory takes a psychological bend: People recycle past trends in music and fashion because nostalgia makes them feel like they matter. Connecting yourself to the past helps establish you in the present. It gives who you are context. Without the past, you might as well just have materialized out of thin air like your ex always seems to do at the grocery store. (Go away, Jared.) We idealize the past, crystallizing it in memory so we don’t feel insignificant. Because we can’t see the future, and the present is fleeting, anchoring ourselves to the past is all we can do to define ourselves within the vastness of time. Can you feel the peyote kicking in?
Our personality disorder is a lack thereof.

>> Our personality disorder is a lack thereof.

Our next theory is, in trying to figure out how you matter and how the little blip on the radar that is you fits into a wider cultural scheme, reaching into the past and sampling from its menu of trends is just a search for a wearable personality (fashion) or an auditory personality emblem (music). Past events in music and culture have intrinsic emotional symbolism. Bell bottoms, platform shoes and circular glasses tell the world you have a certain background, beliefs and interests. Polo shirts and boat shoes say you have others. Listening to rap and low-riding your pants beneath your anus expresses still other values. That’s why we tend to throw shade at people who don’t come from those backgrounds but try to embody those styles or musical interests. Cultural deja vu is just another way for humans to exercise their innate need to categorize groups, in this case by upbringing and interests.
How else do you say “I’m a product of cultural ennui who rejects the bright, shiny optimism of the early 2000s” other than listening to shoegaze-y grunge rock, tearing your clothes and bringing back Jellies like it was 1995? Exactly.

>> We possess no natural creativity.

Our last theory is that tastemakers have to get inspiration from somewhere, and it’s easier to look to the past than to invent something completely new that the world hasn’t seen. When you don’t know how to say something yourself, you look for others to say it for you. The irony of this is that the uniqueness is coming from something that’s already existed, already been popularized, already been a “thing,” but since it comes from a place of nostalgia, it imparts a certain respectful irony that’s endearing because it’s relatable. People have seen it. When you wear it or play it on guitar, they get it.

There’s nothing bad about taking inspiration from the past, but it’s often boring to make an exact photocopy of it. That’s why there’s also a particular aesthetic satisfaction from combining the modern with the classic. Today’s trend of combining pastel chalked hair with vintage ’90s clothing or making a dubstep remix of an old ’60s song is a perfect example of that. We can forgive the unoriginality if there is an added value to it, a personal interpretation. Paying homage to past patterns implies you’ve spent time pouring over that era, so when you finally share your amalgamation of your imagined personal style and your generational theft, it says a lot about your skill set, interests and mastery over a genre.