At this point, '90s fashion trends making a comeback isn’t news to anyone. At the 2020 Grammys, Dua Lipa wore a slinky Alexander Wang two-piece set that was as ’90s as the blue eyeshadow and diamond choker she paired with it. Later during award season at the Vanity Fair Oscars After Party, Emily Ratajkowski chose a similarly ’90s-style Inamorata co-ord, hers made up of a bandeau bra top and a maxi slip skirt. The rise of brands like Coperni and Dion Lee and the recent uptick in trends from the era, including low-rise trousers and tiny bra tops courtesy of Mugler and chain-mail dresses à la Elizabeth Hurley at Paco Rabanne, have similarly pointed to the resurgence of fashion from the era. But despite what the abundance of ’90s Instagram accounts out there might have you think, the era wasn’t all Prada mini skirt suits and little black dresses by Calvin Klein. Sportswear also had a (bucket) hat in the game — and, with quarantine steering us away from form-fitting silhouettes and strappy heels, it’s no wonder that our wardrobes of late have taken a turn toward the decade’s sportier styles.
I like to think of Princess Diana as the queen — pun intended — of ’90s sportswear. We’ve all seen the photos. Or, at the very least, Hailey Bieber’s recreation of them for Vogue Paris in neon bike shorts, an oversized crewneck, and tube socks paired with chunky sneakers. I’m not one to put down the royal’s more done-up looks — in fact, I’ll be the first to praise Lady Di for showing up to the 1996 Met Gala in a lace Dior slip dress — but her style burned brightest in its off-hours, when sneakers replaced Chanel, and Northwestern sweaters were thrown on in lieu of couture blouses.
So when bike shorts and sneakers rallied onto the scene during the summer of 2016, it was Diana that immediately came to mind, as laying the groundwork for the comeback, despite the fact that the Kardashian-Jenner’s were reported to be at the root of the trend’s resurgence.
Celebrities weren’t the only ones to go back in time. Making the most of the comeback are brands like Sporty & Rich, a label started by Emily Oberg in 2014 that sells oversized crewnecks reminiscent of old-school Champion styles, vintage-inspired sweat shorts, and slouchy T-shirts in faded shades of red, gold, and navy blue. Many a men’s sportswear brand, including UK-based brand Aries and NY-based labels Noah and Aimé Leon Dore, have also looked back to the ’90s, the latter having teamed up with notable athleticwear brand New Balance on a collab so reminiscent of the era that we could see Princess Diana owning every single piece of it if it were around back then. In the collection, you’ll find nylon anoraks, gam-baring track shorts, and colour-block sneakers, all in the primary colors that the ’90s were known for. (That is, when people weren’t wearing all-black Helmut Lang.)
It should be noted that all four of the aforementioned brands often sell out of their limited-edition drops quickly, sometimes in the matter of a few minutes, proving that this isn’t just a trend on Instagram. It has mass appeal, too.
You can’t reminisce about sporty ’90s fashion, though, without paying homage to J.Crew, which during its formative years, when the heritage brand was sold only in a mail-order catalog, was the home of American sportswear, selling color-block button-downs (that’s not unlike this one currently sold by Solid & Striped) and rugby shirts. Most of the catalog shoots look as if they took place on sailboats in Nantucket or Cape Cod. One catalog from 1998 even featured the cast of Cape Cod-set Dawson’s Creek, with Katie Holmes, James van der Beek, Michelle Williams, and Joshua Jackson all hanging out in cable-knit sweaters, sun-bleached sweatshirts, and bucket hats while rowing in a rowboat.
J.Crew has of course changed a lot since the age of the catalog. The brand is currently struggling, having just filed for bankruptcy earlier this month. But the laissez-faire vibe and comfort-first quality of its ’90s merchandise, which it abandoned in the ’00s, lives on. Especially now, with shelter-in-place orders, the trend is proliferating with matching sweatsuits, fancy pajamas, funky socks, house dresses, and more increasing in sales.
As influential faces in fashion start to get a hang of styling for indoors, we’re seeing even more appearances of the ’90s aesthetic on Instagram: Parisienne Camille Charriere in a Diana-esque pair of blue jeans, worn with a baseball cap, a vintage T-shirt, and oversized blazer; German stylist Marie von Behrens sporting New Balance kicks with high socks, track shorts, and a baggy crew neck on the beach; and NY-based model Imani wearing baggy gray sweatpants with chunky sneakers.
After trying (and failing) to shop the latest New Balance x Aimé Leon Dore drop before it sold out recently, it became clear to me: I am not alone in moving toward a ‘90s off-duty direction this quarantine.