My Favourite Fashion Decade: The '90s

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Nineties fashion wasn’t bothered. It was the first casual decade. In every decade prior, silhouettes were strong. The '20s, '30s, '40s, '50s, '60s, '70s and '80s were shapely and tailored – recall cinched waists, mini skirts, flares and shoulder pads. But the '90s just hung out and hung loose, that was the look. It was shapeless and for the most part, genderless. The '90s was the best decade for fashion because no one’s thought of anything better yet. Instagram is brimming with '90s throwbacks, Urban Outfitters pretty much just sells '90s styles and what’s in now? Sportswear, baggy tees, camouflage trousers, long-sleeved sweatshirts and Converse. As far as style is concerned, it’s still the '90s.
My own style peaked in ‘97, the moment I jumped around to “Backstreet’s back, alright!” in my bedroom wearing white jeans, tan Timberland boots, a white crop top, big plastic yellow hoop earrings and a white Kangol cap. I was only 10, but I knew style would never feel as true again.
In the '90s when kids like me were glued to MTV watching 10 hours of music videos a day, you wanted to look like the people in music videos. I would study these videos in great detail – the dance moves, the accessories, the hair, the styling – and do everything within my means as a 12-year-old to emulate them. Top of my MTV style heroes was Britney Spears in “Baby One More Time” (1998) wearing a yellow crop top, red joggers with just the right number of poppers unpopped at the bottom, two pigtails, small hoop earrings, sparkly eyeshadow and that shimmery brown lipstick shade everyone wore no matter what. My next best heroes were T-Boz from TLC in “Creep” dancing around in an electric-blue silk jogging suit, Mya in “Ghetto Superstar” in a red PVC boob tube, Björk in a bright orange silk dress in “It's Oh So Quiet” and Gwen Stefani in everything, but particularly in that blue fur bikini with matching blue hair worn in two buns and a pre-woke bindi.
Via Giphy
Full of colour and guts, the TV look of the '90s was Cher and Dionne from Clueless (1995) in their tartan mini skirt suits, velvet button-down skirts and stretchy headbands. It was Will Smith and Hilary Banks fighting for the freshest looks in Fresh Prince, Will in all manner of lairy shirts, sideways caps and dungarees, and Hilary in block-coloured trouser suits and a hat collection to rival the Queen Mother.
As a pre-teen, confined to home, school and school discos, '90s style for me was really just American music videos and TV. Of course, there was a whole scene happening above my head, but I didn’t discover it until later in life, looking back at the decade. I got into Nirvana six years after Kurt Cobain died and started wearing blue jeans, long-sleeved sweatshirts with open checked shirts or baggy jumpers over the top and Converse All Stars in his memory. It took me a while to figure out that Kurt’s style was really all about his hair.
Photo: Kevin Mazur Archive 1/WireImage/Getty Images
I watched Larry Clark’s Kids (1996) when I was 24 because I was interviewing Larry for the magazine I worked for. After that, Chloë Sevigny’s blue T-shirt with the white collar and her blonde pixie crop became my new '90s emblem. Kids is set in New York, and the teenagers in it are skaters. Their style of baggy T-shirts, baggy jeans, short-sleeved shirts worn unbuttoned, backwards caps and backpacks has become cult. It was the same stuff Cobain wore – the style of the alternative scene, copied (and still copied) by every teenager who felt that way inclined.
The Britpop version in the mid '90s was the Gallagher brothers wearing Burberry checked shirts, Harrington jackets with the collar popped, parkas and more blue jeans. The older kids, in their late teens or 20s in the '90s, were raving to house anthems like Hardrive’s “Deep Inside” (1993) and Snap!’s “Rhythm Is A Dancer” (1992) wearing bucket hats, dungarees, baggy jeans or camo trousers, yet more crop tops, sequins stuck on their faces and their hair in two buns. Every time I look at photos or footage of rave culture, I wish I’d been born a decade earlier.
Corinne Day's early shots of Kate Moss, her hair hanging either side of her face in two tiny plaits, summed up the much more natural photography style which dominated fashion magazines of the era. Her covers for The Face and i-D, alongside Naomi Campbell wearing halterneck PVC mini dresses and party shoes, were the high-fashion execution of '90s club culture. Another prominent photographer of the time, Wolfgang Tillmans emerged shooting the acid house scene in clubs where pretty boys wore vests and sports jackets.
Sportswear was all the rage with adidas tracksuits, Tommy Hilfger windbreakers and that yellow satin fabric on zip-ups. Athleisure has dominated the style pages in the last five years, but it was really a '90s thing.
What was great about the decade was its inclusivity. Goth, grunge, pop, R&B, skate and rave all lived together in harmony; they all had their corner, they all did their thing. I swear, style then was pretty much the same as style now. The only difference was authenticity.
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