The older I get, the more nostalgic I seem to feel when thinking about my '90s childhood. An afternoon spent watching Are You Afraid of the Dark? on a blow-up couch while eating some sort of fruit snack roll-up thing? I'd like to go back now, please. But, while there's no magic potion that can help me travel to a time before bills, commitments, jobs, etc., there is one thing us fully formed adults can still enjoy freely: Kid fashion.
Prior to becoming an adult, I assumed I'd have to ditch all my fun clothing and accessories at a certain point. After all, I'd never seen my mom wear butterfly clips or quirky graphic tees, and fashion rules declaring what was "polished" and "professional" were everywhere until a few shorts years ago. These days, however, I know that trends have no age limit, and anyone can wear anything — especially now, when so many styles I enjoyed as a six-year-old have seemingly been revamped and enlarged to suit my much-older self.
From playful jewelry to puff-sleeves, there's a long list of childhood favorites that now come in adult form. (And, if you're still missing the good ol' day, Are You Afraid of the Dark? is bingeable on Paramount+.)
Vending Machine Rings
Remember begging your mom for a quarter just so you could plop it into a machine, twist a handle, and get…a really cheap ring that will probably turn your finger green? Well, someone took that idea and ran with it for 2021. Not only are big, resin bubble rings having a moment, colorful, geometric, jeweled designs have been popping up, too — only this time around, they're made from quality materials, making them a bit more costly than $0.25.
Shop now: Alison Lou Heart-Shaped Pink Sapphire Cocktail Ring; $1,485
So much of my jewelry as a youngster was made to stretch, and included tons of colorful beads that came in classic shapes and patterns. While my adult self would never say no to diamonds or a sleek gold chain, I'm also happy to report that beaded designs are back, which are perfect for casual days or times when your outfit needs a little pop.
Shop now: Roxanne Assoulin Cool Calm Collected Necklace; $135
Remember when I thought graphics would be long gone by my mid-20s? Well, it turns out that's so not the case. Aside from slogan sweatshirts going strong with the schoolcore look, many brands have started thinking beyond the average florals and polka-dots, decorating dresses, skirts, tops, and pants with animals, food, and specific objects. It's refreshing, and perfect for that carefree summer vibe.
Shop now: Rachel Antonoff Antonia Top; $175
Buckle Shoes and Sandals
Part of me will always look at Mary-Jane shoes styled with socks and think about my collection of dolls, but despite nicknaming the trend "babydoll shoes," this footwear option is perfectly fine to wear well into your 30s, 40s, and 50s. They're the flat that complements dainty dresses, and a chunky sole can help amp up your everyday pair of jeans. It's time to work a versatile pair of buckle shoes (and sandals — especially of the jelly variety!) into your go-to rotation, alongside those slip-on sneakers and ankle boots.
Shop now: Proenza Schouler Lug Sole Mary Janes; $795
I literally spent years wondering when and why I made the switch from nightgowns to pajama sets (or, let's be honest, sweats and oversized T-shirts I've owned since high-school). But, one positive of staying home all year is that loungewear became fancier — and nightgowns and "nap dresses" made a comeback. It's the one-and-done look that works for both bed and activities outside the home, helping to make walking the dog a little more glamorous.
Shop now: Hill House Home The Caroline Nap Dress; $100
Ok, so overalls aren't really new for 2021 — they admittedly made their way back into my wardrobe around 2016, and I'm immensely grateful for it. After all, why should toddlers be the only ones to benefit from this throw-on-and-go look? Of course, you don't have to pair yours with a
onesie bodysuit; a baggy tee and sandals work for relaxed, weekend days, while a balloon-sleeved something and boots will help to make this piece seem somewhat dressy.
Shop now: Long Denim Dungarees; $80
I'm not sure if most of my sunglasses as a child were just leftover party favors, but the colorful, plastic designs certainly had that vibe. The rest were tinted and very Y2K, inspired by my ultimate style icons, Mary-Kate and Ashley Olsen. Thankfully, with so many old trends resurfacing, I can re-experience this bold, whimsical fashion choice from my youth, alternating between shockingly bright pairs and some classic, adult-y aviators.
Shop now: Crap Eyewear The Supa Phreek; $79
Not everyone will be on board with this one, but I don't care. I personally love swapping out my boring old tube socks for pairs that include ruffles and/or sparkles. It's the easiest trick for giving a simple outfit a more fashion-forward spin, and definitely helps spice up my white sneakers and the aforementioned Mary-Janes.
Shop now: Free People Zig Zag Crochet Anklet Socks; $14
Puff Sleeves and Ruffles
In recent years, my style has slowly become more joyful and statement-making — two qualities I definitely enjoyed as a child. I would beg to wear outrageous, sequined, poufy designs for every single occasion, even if it was just a trip to the store. Thankfully, balloon sleeves and ruffles are currently favorites among the fashion crowd, and these tiny details are everywhere — even on breezy blanket dresses — adding an element of fun to any look.
Shop now: WRAY Rosemary Dress; $264
It's true: I definitely leaned into the girly-girl aesthetic from a young age, and so much of my clothing and accessories featured bows. These days, while I do still enjoy that sweet detail, I prefer it to be more subtle, in the form of a shoulder tie or in place of a button. It's something small that helps to take a basic tank or sweater up a notch without being over-the-top.
Shop now: Zara Jewel Bow-Button Cardigan; $50
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