These '90s Heartthrobs Were All Nerds

Photo: Jim Smeal/Getty Images.
What do you remember about the '90s? Do you get misty-eyed thinking about the iconic couples of yesteryear (Johnny Depp and Winona Ryder; Gwyneth Paltrow and Brad Pitt)? Wax nostalgic about the wave of hip-hop music that changed the industry (Notorious B.I.G., Tupac, N.W.A.)? Or, perhaps you just cringe at the hilarity of '90s fashion?

Speaking of that last one, it recently came to my attention that the most iconic actors of the '90s all dressed like total nerds. What goes into the '90s nerd look? Our operating definition includes oversized suits, wrinkly T-shirts, and, most importantly, glasses. Optical ones, tinted ones, small ones, big ones. And you know what? It works.

Their effortless (like, literally no effort) looks for the red carpet are a far cry from the Instagram-ready looks we see today. These days, it's all about perfection and maintaining some Hollywood standard of "hot" — muscles, expensive suits, and maybe a random piece of jewelry. But there's something really endearing about seeing George Clooney in tube socks and Leonardo DiCaprio in tiny purple sunglasses. It makes you realize just how weird and awesome that decade was.

So, let's revisit all the Hollywood heroes we still lust over, and remember them for what they once were — total heartthrob nerds.
1 of 20
Photo Courtesy of Tumblr.
Leonardo DiCaprio
Young Leo. That is all.
2 of 20
Photo Credit: Jim Smeal / Contributor.
Tom Cruise
Just a simple guy in his gray Nike shirt and oversized aviators. What a stud.
3 of 20
Photo Credit: Time & Life Pictures / Contributor.
Robert Downey Jr.
Before rocking that Iron Man red, this bad boy went for neutrals and octagonal specs.
4 of 20
Photo Credit: NBC / Contributor.
Joseph Gordon-Levitt
He played a convincing, lovable nerd in 10 Things I Hate About You — basically, himself.
5 of 20
Photo Credit: Jim Smeal / Contributor.
Brad Pitt
The king of cool nerds needs to never not wear this look. And these glasses. I die.
6 of 20
Photo Courtesy of Twitter.
Ben Affleck
Before he had his vape, Ben had books.
7 of 20
Photo Credit: Ron Galella, Ltd. / Contributor.
Winona Ryder
No, this isn't the Upside Down. Just the '90s.
8 of 20
Credit: Frank Trapper / Contributor
Mario Lopez
This V-neck sweater look is prize-worthy.
9 of 20
Photo via Tumblr.
George Clooney
Major nerd-dad vibes meets ketchup-mustard vibes. And I love it.
10 of 20
Heath Ledger
Only the much-mourned Australian heartthrob could pull off these itty-bitty frames and crunchy curls.
11 of 20
Photo: BEI/REX/Shutterstock.
Jared Leto
Requiem for a Wrinkled Blue Oxford
12 of 20
Photo: Matt Baron/BEI/REX/Shutterstock.
Matt Damon
Matt Damon has always looked like that guy who would help you finish your math homework during homeroom.
13 of 20
Photo Credit: Jim Smeal / Contributor.
Jennifer Aniston
"Hot Rachel" by day; "Four-Eyed Jen" by night.
14 of 20
Photo Credit: Randall Michelson Archive / Contributor.
Ryan Gosling
Before he was Baby Goose, he was just a blond kid in a denim jacket with worn-in shearling.
15 of 20
Photo Credit: Terry O'Neill / Contributor.
Christian Bale
Even superheroes wear chunky turtlenecks and try to use them to hide their embarrassing crew cuts.
16 of 20
Photo Credit: Ron Galella, Ltd. / Contributor.
Arsenio Hall
The comedian and talk-show host isn't afraid of a little denim-on-denim-on-denim action.
17 of 20
Photo Credit: Jeff Kravitz/ Contributor.
Ryan Phillippe
Remember when the bucket hat was a thing?
18 of 20
Photo Credit: SGranitz / Contributor.
Joshua Jackson
Pinkie. Ring.
19 of 20
Photo Credit: Time & Life Pictures / Contributor.
Matthew McConaughey
Alright, alright, alright. I see you in your oversized pageboy cap and perfect tan, McConaughey.
20 of 20
Photo Credit: Gene Shaw / Contributor.
Leonardo DiCaprio (again)
We just had to end full circle.

More from Pop Culture


R29 Original Series