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Why Gen Z is actually a (not-so) secret 90s rerun

Marketers often talk about the vast differences between Gen Zs and earlier generations. But for all their dissimilarities, it turns out many Gen Zers do have a lot in common with earlier trends and social attitudes — particularly those from the 1990s. 


They might not understand what “a Blockbuster night” means. Nor will they ever feel the instant absence that diehard Nirvana fans felt when Kurt Cobain passed away — or be able to follow every conspiracy theory still swirling online about Tupac and Biggie. There are a million things that separate Gen Zs from those of us who lived and breathed every trend, fad and technology development of the 1990s.

But there’s also a lot that connects 1999 with 2019. Take it from Gen Zers themselves. When they say yeah, they’re big retro fans of the 90s, they mean it. Many would even go so far as to say they feel a certain degree of nostalgia.

Same penchant for streetwear fashion

Gen Zs are into a lot of the same fashion trends that 90s kids were into, particularly when it comes to streetwear and athleisure clothing brands. Think Vans and Nike shoes. Think Champion and Tommy Hilfiger tracksuits. Think Gucci’s embrace of colourful (and highly Instagrammable) “kitsch-baroque” fashion.

All of these things were “things” back in the 1990s — and they’re coming back strong in retro-chic flavour with Gen Z.

Gen Zs embrace the same self-reliant mindset

Gen Zs were raised by Gen X parents, those card-carrying members of the “Latchkey Generation,” a cohort with a reputation for seeing the world in a cynical, un-gentle, unsafe light. Gen Xers, or so the story goes, were the first generation to take it for granted that things might not work out between mum and dad; and that the post-war, neighbourly “Leave It to Beaver” world of Boomers was all but dead and gone. There wasn’t any social safety net to cling to or Flower Child fantasy at the end of the tunnel to hold out for. If things needed to be done, they best to be done by Gen Xers themselves.

It seems Gen X parents have instilled that same DIY, hard-knock-life mindset into Gen Z and the kids have taken that lesson to heart. One study shows how 69 percent of Gen Zs believe that hard work has everything to do with success and that luck doesn’t play much of a factor — a higher score than any other generation yet on record.

Gen Z shares (many of the) same shopping habits

When it comes to shopping, Gen X and Gen Z actually share quite a lot in common. While Gen X does have far more brand loyalty than most Gen Zs, they also value many of the same things their younger counterparts do.

Like most Gen Zs (though unlike the majority of Millennials), Gen Xers tend to prefer in-store to online retail shopping, albeit for somewhat different reasons. Whereas Gen Xers cite the practical need of being able to “touch or try on a product before buying it” as the prime motivator for in-store shopping, Gen Zs view in-store retail trips as “experiences” that allow them to have fun with their friends offline. That being said, a study from IBM also finds a significant percentage of Gen Zs see in-store shopping as a chance to connect with brands at a personal level, which puts them in similar “behavioural waters” as their pragmatic-minded Gen X parents after all.

Gen X vs. Gen Z... not so dissimilar after all

Gen Xers remember a time when the Apple iie was state-of-the-art computer hardware, when “Oregon Trail” was the best of all computer games and when the commercial internet was still an ambitious gleam in the eye of Sir Tim Berners-Lee. For Gen Zs, Apple will forever be associated with the iPhone and Apple Music. But some things — like style, social attitudes and maybe even certain shopping habits — have a habit of staging comebacks.

John Wheeler
John Wheeler
Contributor, Gen Z Insights

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