One of the most satisfying scenes in The Matrix is when Neo finally meets Morpheus (Laurence Fishburne), captain of the Nebuchadnezzar hovercraft and all-around cool dude. Neo, skeptical about why the hell his life has turned upside-down, listens as Morpheus explains the Matrix, a simulated reality where humanity is unknowingly trapped.
Morpheus says, “The Matrix is everywhere. It is all around us. Even now, in this very room. You can see it when you look out your window, or when you turn on your television. You can feel it when you go to work, when you go to church, when you pay your taxes.”
What neither could realize at the time is Morpheus isn’t actually talking about a quantum computer imitation world. He’s talking about New York’s Lower East Side on a Friday at happy hour. The Matrix is actually the undergrads using their fake IDs to get into the Flower Shop wearing knockoff mall versions of Bottega Veneta’s latest ready-to-wear collection.
The 1999 movie starring daddy Fishburne, twink Keanu Reeves and butch Carrie-Anne Moss, along with its two sequels, changed film, introducing the bullet time slow-motion effect, bringing cyberpunk to the mainstream and launching the career of two of Hollywood’s most high-profile trans filmmakers, Lana and Lilly Wachowski.
It also changed fashion, although it’d take another two decades.
Everything Gen Z cool kids wear is inspired by The Matrix, a film most people under 25 probably haven’t seen. In the movie, the three leads wear an enviable cadre of tiny sunglasses, black trench coats and patent leather boots.
The trend first started to resurface around 2018 when models Bella and Gigi Hadid, tastemakers for the teens, started sporting full-leather looks. Their slick styles came courtesy of couture labels like Vetements and Alexander McQueen. “High Fashion Is Just The Matrix Cosplay Now,” reported New York magazine in January 2019.
But now it’s everywhere.
Charli XCX and Troye Sivan quite literally told everyone in 2018 they want to go back to 1999 on their club banger “1999.” For the record art, the duo dressed up in their best Matrix attire.
Once three or more Gen Z icons back a concept, it officially becomes a youth trend. “Many of the people who are currently influencers and leaders in the fashion industry grew up in the ’90s and thus had exposure to this style at a young age,” says Sara Idacavage, fashion historian and instructor at Parsons School of Design and the Pratt Institute.
On Depop, the popular Gen Z thrifting app, women started selling black ribbed turtleneck crop tops and leather pants. There’s even a black trench coat for sale with the caption “matrix vibes such a classy leather jacket.”
“I often have people tell me on a regular day I look like I’ve come straight out of The Matrix movie,” says Macy Kerrigan, a 19-year-old studying fashion photography in London, who sells a collection of monotone cropped sweaters, high-waisted leather skirts and anything else Victoria Beckham was likely to wear as Posh Spice.
She sees her aesthetic as not specifically Matrix but part of a larger ’90s-revival trend. “People often call it the Bratz doll style,” Kerrigan says. The butt cut haircut has been renamed the eBoy cut by TikTok and K-pop stans. Frosted tips are back. And everything is denim.
Even Lady Gaga’s new record embraces ’90s dystopia. Chromatica is a concept album about a punk planet named after the chromatic scale. “If you see and listen to Chromatica, and you want to live there, too, you’re invited,” she tells Paper. The land of Chromatica is spotted in the music videos for “Stupid Love” and “Rain on Me.” Gaga clearly took inspiration from films Starship Troopers and Blade Runner.
Of course, no Gen Z trend is complete with the approval of pop star Billie Eilish. Thankfully, the “Ocean Eyes” singer has an eye for ’90s supervillain vibes. Though her style is constantly changing, Eilish is currently favoring monochromatic looks with Mountain Dew neon-green accents.
“As dystopian as the film is, I also think that it may have something to do with people yearning for a ‘simpler time,’ when the type of inescapable technology that we experience today still felt like a far-away fantasy,” Idacavage theorizes.
It just feels right that our fits match the current dystopia that is living through 2020.