Fashion in the 1990s

1990s Spice Girls

Fashion in the early 1990s is sometimes too hilarious for words. But I graduated high school in 1996. It makes me smile to see 90s styles that I thought would never come back in a million years return to the streets today.

Who remembers pegging Skidz pants bought from Merry Go Round? We had to wear Air Jordans, too. Our t-shirts were big and our shorts were extra long. The tapered pants were a big deal. If they weren’t tapered, then you had to taper them yourself with a fold and a couple flips.

Boys and girls both wore baseball caps in many different ways. Mullets were stylish for a couple years and every sweater had a turtleneck under it.

But then grunge happened. Suddenly every thrift store in town couldn’t keep a flannel shirt in stock to save their backs. Teens were digging through dad’s box of old clothes to get their hands on some authentic hole-ridden jeans to wear over top of their long john stockings. Barbers nearly went out of business because no one under 17 got their hair cut any more (OK, we may be exaggerating just a little.)

Also in the early nineties fashions worn by hop hop artists were becoming increasingly mainstream. And because of the growing popularity of hip hop music among the suburban community, urban styles were seen everywhere, not just in the big city. By the late 1990s hip hop style was arguably the most popular among young people.

Starting in the mid-90s, industrial and military styles crept into mainstream fashion. People were finding any way to make a fashion accessory out of a piece of machinery. Camouflage pants were ironically worn by anti-war protesters.

By the late 90s, rave culture swept through and people were looking for clothes that were more glamorous again. The grungy styles of the early nineties were old hat. Looking rich was cool again. Name brand designers were back in a big way.

Interestingly enough, late 90s clothing styles are not too drastically different than they are today. In the 1990s, musicians had a much greater influence on what young people wore than designers. All a kid in Kansas had to do was turn on MTV for the latest east and west coast styles of the moment.

If you want to read more about a certain year, click on the plus sign next to the year below.

Fashion in 1990

In 1990, recession-weary shoppers chose to spend money on clothes that would stay in style as long as possible. That meant that the wild shapes and colors of recent years needed to be toned down.

The jacket remained the key to daytime dress. A trend setter in the jacket trend was Chanel, who introduced loose versions of the famous Chanel jacket slit vertically at the hem. Some were bright colors like hot pink, tangerine and white. Other leaders were Giorgio Armani, and Calvin Klein.

1990 Fashion: Vogue Magazine Cover

1990 Fashion: Vogue Magazine Cover

The biggest difference in 1990 fashion was an explosion of color, with alarming arrays of bright yellow, orange, red, purple and green. Neon bright colors could be obvious as the primary color of a pair of pants — or they could be subtle as the color of a pair of shoestrings.

Brocade, embroidered satins and laces were important, but the most popular style of eveningwear was the slender black dress, worn quite short with black stockings and high-heeled shoes.

In the winter of 1990 the short, swingy coat was worn in full force. Women loved how racy the coat looked over short skirts. Casual styles, such as anoraks and parkas were prominently seen in cold-weather climates.

A revival of the interest in made-to-order clothing occurred in 1990 when women realized that it wasn’t more expensive than ready-to-wear clothing. This surprised many fashion analysts and drew other designers to New York City, following the success of Arnold Scaasi.

Fashion in 1991

By 1991, the well-known and well-established designers were in their 50′s and 60′s. Geoffrey Beene, regarded by many as the most prestigious designer in New York City, has been the head of his own fashion company for 28 years. James Galanos, whose headquarters is in Los Angeles, has been a fashion leader for 40 years.

Oscar de la Renta Plaid (1991)

Oscar de la Renta Plaid (1991)

Designers everywhere focused on the jacket as the key to contemporary dressing. Denim jackets and leather biker’s styles appealed to younger people. For the sophisticated woman, there were long, gently curved jackets from major de signers, such as Giorgio Armani and Karl Lagerfeld of Chanel, as well as less expensive versions without
designer labels.

I wore a long, green, army style Eddie Bauer jacket.

A standard way for women to dress for the office was to wear one of these longer jackets over a skirt that stopped short of the knees. But all kinds of combinations were possible, such as jackets with trousers, leggings, or tights. Jackets with shorts also gained acceptance in some areas for more formal daytime wear, as women wore shorts to offices during the hot summer weather.

For women whose lives did not require formal dressing, including most students, T-shirts, sweat shirts, sweat pants, and jeans were the rule. Calvin Klein, Donna Karan, and other major designers introduced special jeans collections to appeal to these women and to
those who dressed informally during the weekend.

The special weekend-wear category was not limited to basic blue jeans. Designers offered white and black jeans, stone washed, and beige styles. Cutoffs and jackets to match appeared in stores, as did overalls and skirts, both short and long.

Skirt length moved into fashion consciousness again. Since 1988, short skirts were considered the standard, though many women wore their hems at midcalf. Designers everywhere in the fashion world introduced some longer styles into their collections. The consensus among fashion leaders was that long and short hemlines could coexist. Many designers claimed that they already did.

Plaids made a strong fall fashion entry, spurred by Oscar de la Renta’s suits, coats, and even furs worked in plaid patterns. They were shown at his Paris debut in March. De la Renta was the first American designer to join the French ready-to-wear shows.

Fashion leadership still remained in the hands of ready-to-wear designers in 1991. But the couture, or made-to-order branch of the fashion industry, based in Paris, showed renewed vigor. Designers such as Lagerfeld at Chanel, with his denim and motorcycle jackets, and Claude Montana, who introduced space age looks at the House of Lanvin, revitalized couture fashion during the year. But all the couture houses also had ready-to-wear collections that were less expensive than made-to-order clothes.

Fashion in 1993

In 1993, there was a brief flurry of interest in bell-bottom pants and platform shoes. But most fashions presented by the world’s leading designers fizzled and failed to affect the ready-to-wear market.

For example, top designers had successfully reintroduced the long skirt in 1991, but in 1993 a significant segment of the fashion-conscious public rejected the long skirt. Stored reported that calf and ankle-length skirt sold well, but women simply weren’t wearing them. Women frequently chose short skirts or pants instead.

1993 Fashion: Sept. Vogue Magazine Cover

1993 Fashion: Sept. Vogue Magazine Cover

It was in 1993 that the fashion world began to lose touch with what women actually wanted to wear. The extravagance and polish of fashion shows approached the best Broadway production. Some designers introduced styles as diverse as ancient Greece and Victorian England, but these clothes were unsuited to the electronic age.

Designers turned to top models such as Kate Moss, Claudia Schiffer and Christy Turlington, but observers noted that the top models look great in anything, but “normal” women wearing the same style found it difficult to achieve the same effect.

A surprising success in Fall 1993 was the long, black, fitted winter coat.

Teenagers everywhere were seen growing long hair and wearing tattered flannel shirts a la Pearl Jam and Nirvana. Even the preppiest kids were sporting the new “grunge” look. Parents everywhere shook their heads in disbelief, thinking they had successfully shook the sloppy 1970s style.

The ball cap was a popular accessory in 1993. The bill was typically bent modestly and the bill rested above the hairline.

Big, fat cotton t-shirts had completely replaced the skinny, tight blended t-shirts. In 1993, 80s t-shirts were not ironic, just out of style.

Green canvas, military style jackets were commonly seen, and Nike Air Jordans were the tennis shoe of choice.

Fashion in 1994

In early 1994, the “grunge” style had completely taken over the American fashion world. A style derived from clothes worn by Seattle rock musicians, grunge was an assortment of jackets, vests, sweaters, skirts, scarves, and footwear that resembled hiking boots.

1994 Fashion: Kurt Cobain and the grunge style

1994 Fashion: Kurt Cobain and the grunge style

Marc Jacobs developed a grunge collection. Gianni Versace did too, but women found themselves hard pressed to pay designer prices for what they thought resembled second-hand clothes. While grunge remained popular with the younger crowd in 1994, women over 30 were unimpressed.

By the end of 1994, women were wearing high heels and dresses made of satin, metallic or other high shine fabrics. Feathers and fringe, beads and sequins adorned clothes that hugged the body. 1972 glam was back!

Comfort persisted in the clothes women wore in their downtime. Tights made of spandex, t-shirts and loose sweaters dominated the weekend.

Women still found the suit to be the most useful way to dress for the increasingly faster-paced modern world. Giorgio Armani figured out ways to tailor clothes that both men and women loved.

As Yves Saint Lauren found out, using real fur was an invitation for passionate protests from animal rights activists. During his first visit to the U.S. in 12 years, he was greeted by angry picketers who took issue with the fox trim on his jackets that were on display at a New York City Saks Fifth Avenue store.

Fashion in 1995

Men and women did not blindly follow fashion designers in 1995. Sure, they still dressed up for weddings and special events, but for the most part everyone wore casual clothes. T-shirts were seen everywhere.

Women ignored the supposed hemline of the times and interchanged short and long skirts when they felt like it. Women were less interested in provocative clothing, trading in sheer fabrics and tall heels for comfort and freedom. Some women looking to enhance their curves, however, were quite fond of the push-up bra.

1995 Fashion Magazine Cover (May)

1995 Fashion Magazine Cover (May)

The American fashion buying public had all but lost interest in high fashion. Designers spent millions on lavish shows, parading supermodels around in fashions that no common woman would be able to afford, let alone wear. To the average woman, fashion shows became something of an amusing novelty and not really something to be taken seriously.

Expensive labels gave way to practical ones like The Gap. Many cost-cutting women were getting their clothing from Wal-Mart, K-Mart and Caldor. They would often “cross shop”, meaning they would get one or two pieces in an upscale shop, then supplement it with a cheaper pair of jeans or a sweater.

Almost every designer that made a profit focused on lower-priced styles. Geoffrey Beene made lower-priced styles for men and women that were sold in 135 shopping malls.

The “dress for success” style that dominated previous decades practically disappeared in 1995. Increasingly, companies were offering “casual Fridays” in which employees were allowed to wear jeans to work.

And although sportswear had been around for 50 years, designers like Calvin Klein, Donna Karan and Ralph Lauren were still finding ways to put a new twist on an old plot.

Fashion in 1997

Popular fashions in 1997 included casual dress at the office and a return to the styles of the 1970s.

Men, women, children — almost everyone took to wearing baseball caps in 1997. Bending the bill was necessary, but it was also common to see people wearing them backwards, or even sideways (in an ironic sort of way).

1997 Fashion: Vogue Jan. Magazine Cover

1997 Fashion: Vogue Jan. Magazine Cover

Monochromatic shirt and tie combinations kept men’s clothing subtle. But close-fitting knit tops, flared pant legs and tall platform shoes reminded us of an era two decades prior.

The fashion industry was shocked by the senseless murder of Giovanni Versace on July 15.

Interest in fashion, which had peaked in the 1980s, had been waning for several years. To restore that interest, designers created styles to fit an increasingly relaxed era.

For women in the workplace, the pants suit replaced, once and for all, the traditional jacket/skirt combo.

Sportswear like casual jackets, t-shirts, sweatshirts and tennis shoes (ie: sneakers, trainers) were acceptable for many occasions.

Even for formal settings, elaborate dresses were inappropriate. Women chose the “little black dress”, with or without subtle embroidery. Luxury was expressed quietly, with precious fibers like silk and cashmere.

Surprisingly, fur was making a comeback, despite constant anti-fur protesting. But it wasn’t the full length coat of yore, the fur was used more for trim, handbags and casual uses.

More 1990s Fashion

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Badgley Mischka: Fashion Designer Facts, History & Pictures

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Christian Louboutin: Fashion Designer Facts, History & Pictures

Christian Louboutin has become the premier shoe designer in the 21st Century. No red carpet is complete without a pair of Louboutin stilettos on it.

Pictures of 1990s Women’s Fashion

Pictures of 1990s Men’s Fashion

Keep learning.

1970s Fashion  1980s Fashion

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Last modified: Oct 24, 2013 | Written by Paul Phipps