Photo:Don Arnold/Wire Image; Barry King/Liaison; Matt Winkelmeyer/Getty Images for Critics Choice Association
It’s no secret that some trends don’t age well. There are entire decades that implore us to ask, What were you thinking wearing that? I can’t think of a period other than the early 2000s that gets tons of flack and is simultaneously considered on-trend. Even if we wanted to forget it, Y2K trends—like velour tracksuits, rhinestone swimsuits, and even the beloved brands of the era—have all reemerged into the fashion zeitgeist, making them impossible to ignore. But amid the chaos of grappling with low-rise denim’s comeback, we’ve forgotten that not all of the ’00s trends were cringe-worthy. In fact, some distill the purest form of nostalgia for the era, including one trend that’s managed to fly under the radar: butterfly clothing.
Since last summer, I’ve noticed that butterflies have been spotted everywhere. From recent red carpet events to ready-to-wear presentations to Instagram, butterflies have reemerged from their cocoons in a new form. Ahead, I’m taking a deep dive into the archives of the early aughts, including the receipts from recent runways and red carpets to show that butterflies are back and bigger than ever.
Photo:Dave Benett/Getty Images; Alamy Stock Photo; Barry King/Liaison; Evan Agostini/Getty Images; Ron Galella/Ron Galella Collection via Getty Images
Not to age myself, but I definitely was one of those children that exclusively wore butterfly clothing. Luckily, I was in the company of the era’s great divas. You can’t look back into the early ’00s without noticing that monarchs were the moment. Of course, there were the women who carried this trend (hello, Mariah Carey), but iterations of butterflies were found everywhere, from luxury pieces like the S/S 1999 Atelier Versace chain-mail butterfly dress (worn both by Naomi Campbell and Christina Aguilera) to everyday clothing for the masses. However, to restrict this jaunt down memory lane to just a few bedazzled patches would be like clipping this trend’s wings. The vibrantly colored critters took over our television screens and beauty routines, too. Who can forget when fictional characters like Jenna Rink of 13 Going on 30 donned a statement-making encrusted butterfly necklace or when Carrie Bradshaw wore an oversize butterfly Kenneth Jay Lane piece on the “Frenemies” episode of Sex and the City?
Of course, we must put respect on butterfly hair clips. Everyone from fictional characters like Lizzie McGuire to larger-than-life celebrities like Tyra Banks and Gwen Stafani styled their hair with butterfly hair clips. And if jewelry, dresses, and hair accessories don’t cement that this trend was flying high, how about temporary butterfly tattoos worn by actresses like Salma Hayek to the MTV Awards? Basically, butterflies took over everything as quickly as the fluttering of wings. Whether or not you were a fan, it was a defining moment in time.
Photo:Matt Winkelmeyer/Getty Images for Critics Choice Association; @tinashenow; Don Arnold/WireImage; Backgrid; Kevin Mazur/Getty Images for The Recording Academy
All trends that wield influence over high fashion, television, and our beauty routines eventually taper out. But no trend is genuinely over; it can undergo a metamorphosis again. This is the case for butterfly clothing. This slow reemergence can be attributed to a mix of nostalgia, Google searches, runway collections, and celebrities championing the trend. One of the earlier iterations of the reemergence of the butterfly in fashion was Zendaya's incredible floor-length monarch-inspired Moschino gown that she wore to the 2017 premiere of The Greatest Showman. Then, Billy Porter attended the 2020 Critics' Choice Awards covered in temporary butterfly tattoos. Of course, they were trendsetters. It wasn’t until March 2021 that the monarch truly took flight with the fashion set. From Dua Lipa’s incredible custom Versace butterfly gown worn at the Grammy Awards to Bella Hadid wearing Blumarine’s F/W 21 collection to Paris Fashion Week, it’s clear that these winged beings have reentered the chat. But it’s not just red carpet looks. Everyone from Halle Berry to Tinashe has been spotted wearing butterfly belts, shoes, hair clips, and belly chains. Butterfly clothing is fluttering back in a way we couldn’t have imagined.
Photo:Courtesy of Jil Sander; Courtesy of Blumarine; Courtesy of Altuzarra; Noam Galai/Getty Images for NYFW; Courtesy of Undercover
The biggest case for butterflies making their comeback is their resurgence on the runways. The insect motif has appeared in some of our favorite designers’ most recent ready-to-wear collections (including Kim Shui and Jil Sander). However, don’t be fooled—this is not the same butterfly trend of the past. The rebirth of this trend finds its distinction from the early aughts version as a more refined, grown-up butterfly. Yes, kitschy butterfly baby tees and butterfly pendant necklaces still abound, but designers have reimagined this insect for the new age into a more polished form (think bustiers, blazers, and mini bags adorned with butterflies). Over are the days of low-rise jeans bedazzled with butterflies or full head-to-toe butterfly looks. Instead, they’ve found a new form in our everyday essentials. Only time will tell if butterfly clothing will be a fleeting trend, but either way, we can look back at the moment with a fondness similar to our love for the ’00s—hopefully with less regret.
Shop more butterfly-inspired pieces:
These subtle studs are the perfect way to bring butterflies back into the mix.
Your search for the perfect butterfly baby tee is over.
A butterfly bucket hat? How Y2K of you.
A subtle lesson in embracing butterflies, courtesy of a chic embroidered slip dress.
Now these are statement earrings.
Your Hot Girl Summer wardrobe is now complete thanks to this sheer lace bustier.
The easiest way to embrace butterflies is with a patch. Put these on your favorite ripped jeans, and voilà!
We love a little embroidered butterfly detail.
Tie tops are back, so opting for this butterfly version is not a bad call.
Up your face-mask game with this butterfly-print version.
Everything about this corset top is perfect—the woven butterflies, the boning, and the pointed hem.
This pearl butterfly choker is a vibe.
Take your denim collection to the next level with these boyfriend-cut embroidered-butterfly jeans.
The simplest way to inject butterflies into your wardrobe is to add this chain to your sunglasses.
This summer, cutout swimsuits have been one of the biggest trends, but the butterflies make this one-piece even better.
Vans were the ’00s sneakers of choice.
Not ready to wear butterflies out into the streets? How about in the sheets with this pajama set?
The acrylic butterflies and shimmering freshwater pearls on these hoops are precious.
Forget a polka-dot bikini—give me all the butterflies, please.
Extra or just enough? You decide.
These handmade silk hairpins are one of a kind.
This butterfly body-con dress is too beautiful to pass up.
Butterfly rings are the easiest way to test-drive this trend.
Just when I thought I couldn’t love second-skin tops more, I found this cloud-and-butterfly version.
What’s better than a neutral body-con dress? One with an open back and butterflies.
It doesn’t get more unique than a handmade, 100% silk butterfly tank.
The best thing about this slip dress is that its simple print and cut can be worn for seasons to come.
Just when you thought mini bags couldn’t get better, this one comes in a beaded butterfly version.
Don’t want to go overboard? This subtle print on this dress is perfect.
I dream of this butterfly-print bustier.
From far away, you’d never guess this button-front dress is covered in snakes and butterflies.
There’s no doubt in my minds that Carrie Bradshaw would wear these.
No, you haven’t been transported back in time—this ruched butterfly-print drawstring dress is peak aughts.
Butterflies can be serious. Case in point: this embellished black blazer.
Worried that butterflies won’t stand the test of time? These neutral sandals will be in style for years to come.