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How Nostalgia Conquered the Beauty World

Between the ultra-pink shades of Barbiemania and the ‘90s-inspired neutrals on makeup shelves everywhere, one thing is clear: what’s old is new again…and again, and again.

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It's no secret that modern-day beauty trends pull inspiration from the past. (To be fair, entertainment, technology, and even space exploration have been spotted doing the same.) This was the case long before the pandemic, but the generation-altering events of 2020, as well as the gnawing uncertainty of the years since, have only accelerated our obsession with all things old-made-new. I've worked in the beauty journalism industry for upwards of 10 years—and been an obsessive devourer of beauty news for the last 25—and have never seen such a hunger for the imagery of the past.

There's a certain comfort in looking back—after all, we already know what we'll find. Thanks to the Barbie movie creating a cultural wave that even childhood superfans of America's favorite doll couldn't have anticipated, bright and bubblegum shades of pink have peppered every element of our appearances, from our eyelids and hair colors to our fingertips and our toenails.

Ironically, 2023 also saw a leap in an almost contradictory nostalgia that pulls influence from how creatives of the past visualized the aesthetic of the future. In contrast with the pastel-pink shades of Barbieland, we've seen a rise in trends inspired by dark, industrial cyberpunk style (think: Trinity and Neo's club scene in The Matrix) and cool, carefree neon-accented looks that could be pulled straight from the scenes of your favorite anime.

The difference—and the beauty—in modern trends, though, is that you never need to pick just one. With the notable exception of microbeads, not much goes "out of fashion" these days. You can dress up, dress down, play around with crossover styles, and hop on and off of whatever [noun]-core you like. We pulled together some of today's most fascinating trends and aesthetics to help spark creativity, inspiration, and conversation on the beauty of the past—and the future.

Image by Tom Kelley Archive/Getty Images

You Can Smell the Spritz on These ‘90s Hair Looks

Jihan Forbes

“It is hard to overstate the talent and impact of a hairstylist like Nikki Nelms. In this feature written by longtime beauty journalist (and dear friend) Jihan Forbes and photographed by Adrienne Raquel, Nelms masterfully bridges the gap between past and present Black hairstyles, and the whole result is just chef’s kiss. ‘What I love about these looks is that they were so… normal to us,’ Nelms says. ‘When we wanted to give it, it didn’t need to be for a special occasion. We are the special occasion.’” -Sam Escobar

How to Be a Barbie Girl in This Barbiecore World

Marie Lodi

SE: “Barbie is everywhere. Everywhere. Every brand on planet Earth, it seems, has done a licensing deal with Mattel—and reader, I am here for it. (Seriously, I bought Barbie-branded Crocs not too long ago and I couldn’t contain my juvenile excitement when they arrived.) Personally, though, I’m not a huge head-to-toe pink kind of person, so I found this guide from writer Marie Lodi genuinely useful.”

35 Anime Nail Art Ideas That Look Like They Were Pulled Off Your TV Screen 

Gabi Thorne

SE: “Gabi Thorne, an Allure writer and our resident anime expert, spotted anime nail art all over social media. To help inspire other fans to create their own colorful, fun manicures, she assembled this strikingly comprehensive collection of anime- and manga-inspired designs, featuring straightforward looks with Fullmetal Alchemist and Hello Kitty characters, as well as subtler nail art, like a set of numerical, Bleach-inspired nails.”

Vanilla Perfume Is Finally Trending Again. Will You Wear It?

Elizabeth Siegel

SE: “Vanilla fragrances get a bad rap, but in my opinion, there’s no reason for this. Fortunately, the tastemakers of scent and smell have encouraged a revitalization of this classic ingredient—with some updates, of course. No sugary-sweet, breath-taking (in a bad way) top notes here.”

A Founding Father of Cyberpunk Isn't Surprised By Its Comeback

Matthew Gault

SE: “I am a huge, huge fan of Cyberpunk 2077. (Yes, its launch was marred with dysfunction, but in my opinion, its developer has since redeemed itself; regardless, none of that is relevant to the excellence of the original tabletop. I’ll say no more on the matter!) While this interview with Mike Pondsmith by Matthew Gault for WIRED isn’t focused on beauty, it is a fascinating read for anyone interested in the aesthetic sparked by Pondsmith’s original creation and its subsequence renaissance as a video game.”

TikTok’s Latest “Nostalgic” Beauty Trend Is 2016 Makeup

Anya Meyerowitz

SE: “Okay, I have a small confession. I try not to make fun of most trends, but there are exceptions that I feel fine about mocking a bit, provided that I was a guilty party in participating or perpetuating said trends. One such example: the heavy, ultra-intense brows that hit the scene circa 2016, when we all stumbled upon brow pomade and said to ourselves, ‘Wouldn’t it be nice to look like a Sim?’”

Sam Escobar

Sam Escobar is Allure’s Site Director. Their writing has appeared in Esquire, MEL Magazine, The Observer, Business Insider, and Cosmopolitan, and they were named one of Brooklyn Magazine's "30 under 30." In the 10 years they’ve spent in the media world, they’ve held editorial roles at Good Housekeeping, Bustle, and The Gloss. In 2016, they co-edited Kill Your Darlings, Tweet Yr Drafts, a chapbook of casual love poetry. In their spare time, Sam can be found practicing calligraphy, petting cats, and staring into a telescope. You can follow them on Twitter, which they refuse to call “X,” as well as Instagram.

Image by Christine Hahn