The yin yang, a circle made up of two tadpole-shaped curves chasing each other, is the symbol for Chinese philosophy of Taoism. It stands for the balancing of opposites, and neither the yin nor the yang can exist without the other.
If I close my eyes and look backward in time, to around 1997, I see yin yangs as part of a montage of earnest images, including Lisa Frank illustrations in radioactive neon colors, jagged “best friend” heart necklaces, plastic peace-sign necklaces, and Skechers. In hindsight, my cohort and I seemed weirdly fixated on both the hippie iconography of our baby-boomer parents’ youth, and some kind of space-age future, with silver sneakers that lit up.
Lately, if I open my eyes and look around my current settings, I see yin yangs again. Not only do I see them, I want them — even more than I want to avoid looking like I’ve just emerged from a head shop. That’s why I impulse-bought a pair of yin-yang stud earrings this weekend. Now, I’m poking around the internet, looking for a cropped white T-shirt with a big yin yang on the front. A wool yin-yang clutch (above) from London designer Milena Silvano is sold out, but — great news — is getting restocked in May. But there’s plenty more to be had: Suddenly, this hippie icon turned Y2K motif is back is fashion again.
Micro-trends can usually be explained by trendy people, so I consulted one: Mina Alyeshmerni, who lives in Brooklyn and owns the online boutique Maimoun, where she carries pieces by Maryam Nassir Zadeh, Baserange, and Mondo Mondo, among other designers. Alyeshmerni also uses a yin yang on her website, as a decal on the browser tab. “I tend to take things more personally than I wish, so using the symbol has been serving as this visual reminder that spaces of positivity and spaces of negativity can live together a bit more rhythmically than we think,” she says. “It’s a little comedic to me that growing up” — in the ’90s — “I didn’t quite know what this symbol meant. It was just so omnipresent.”
Same goes for Nick Poe, the creative manager of Sky Ting Yoga who’s adorned the New York studio’s gear with yin yangs. “I grew up in the ’90s and the symbol reminds me of St. Marks Place. You’d go there and girls would get their ears or belly button pierced and get yin-yang jewelry,” he says. “It got kind of played out. But it really is too beautiful a symbol to be played out. We’re using it earnestly.”
So the yin yang has returned again, this time courtesy of people in their 30s who were too young to take it very seriously the first time around. But you need not wear the yin yang in earnest: The internet is full of T-shirts with alien heads replacing the yin-yang dots, or yin yangs made out of cuddling cats. However you do it, wear one — on a T-shirt, on some socks, on earrings — and you will likely emit some positive, peaceful vibes. Or you’ll seem like you’re on a nostalgia trip. Or maybe it’s a balance between the two.
Technically, I didn’t buy these; mine came from a local shop and had celestial drawings on the package. But these are a true dupe and are sterling silver, not generic metal, so the material won’t irritate skin.
These all-silver studs are a pared-down take on an already fairly pared-down symbol. Good for anyone looking for a subtle yin yang.
Baggu, always good with a print, has also put out an homage to the yin yang.
And for anyone ready to lean into head-shop iconography: Baggu has a three-pack of zip pouches with not just yin yangs, but smiley faces and peace signs.
For those who like to keep things simple, this is the plainest yin-yang tee to be found.
And for a galactic twist: The black yang is actually a print of the Milky Way galaxy.
These nylon shorts are reminiscent of vintage boxing shorts.
From far away, these look like polka dots. Up close, it’s a Taoist reminder of the balanced universe.
One of my favorite yin yang accessories out there, this hat (it comes in blue as well) has a bit of a New York street-vendor vibe, but instead of blasting “Brooklyn,” you just get some peaceful, loving graphic design.
A two-in-one: a yin yang with a side smiley.