A radio program director once told me that the music we come of age with is imprinted on us in a unique way and we never connect with the music of another era that intensely.
I think that’s true for the fashion we come of age with too. So when I started seeing signs of the 90s popping up everywhere, I just figured I was especially sensitive to — and hopeful for — the inevitable reassurance of the decade that taught me how to dress.
I rationalized the persistent plaid on the runways. I brushed off the flannels and boots in street fashion photos and paparazzi pics. I even watched matte lips come back. (That brought back memories — I spent years wearing the drugstore version of Chanel’s iconic reddish black Vamp on my lips and nails.)
And then this happened — and I knew for sure that the 90s were back.
I don’t know what prompted all this — 90s nostalgia, the 20th anniversary reissue of Nirvana’s In Utero or the natural pushback against a decade of heels and skinny jeans — but when a trend trickles down to the mall stores this fast, it has legs.
There were lots of influences in play in 90s fashion, of course — I’m thinking minimalism, the tomboy look (remember all those girls in overalls and guys’ jeans?) and hip-hop culture. But in my mind, grunge influenced the decade more than any other look.
I was still in elementary school when Marc Jacobs sent his grunge collection down the runway for Perry Ellis but the that ran in Vogue are burned into my consciousness and shaped how I dressed for years.
The girls looked tough and strong. The look was gritty and urban and a little dark, but also quite practical. It was also one of the few fashion concepts that trickled down to my Midwestern hometown — probably because the blue collar aesthetic made sense was in the ethos and and the warm layering pieces were already in our closets.
If you wore the look the first time around, you can pull out some of your old favorites — they’ll look great mixed into your fall and winter wardrobe.
Flannel shirts are classic and the cheap ones look just as good as pricey designer versions. Combat boots are back, but instead of wearing them with baggy jeans and dresses like we did back in the day, try them with a tunic and leggings, tights and a skirt, with draped pants or over skinny jeans.
Patterned slip dresses like the one shown below still look fresh, but be careful with baby doll dresses and vintage sack dresses — they can look like a costume, especially if you wear them with knee socks, stacked heels or other 90s-style accessories. If you still want to try it, make the dress current with a sweater coat and boots or alter the shape with a belt, scarf and statement earrings.
If you want to add a little 90s spirit to your wardrobe, snap up a pair of tailored plaid pants or a killer skirt or dress. You can dress them down with boots and a worn-in T now and dress them up with classic pieces later.
Even discount retailers are offering amazing outerwear in khaki green that go beyond the usual army jacket shape — I’m obsessed with this pilot jacket from H&M — and anyone can wear matte lips and nails in plummy dark shades.
To kick grunge up a notch and make it modern, mix plaids with dark moody florals and play with texture; soft and comfy flannel and thermal layers take on new life when paired with delicate lace or tough leather.
And don’t be afraid to wear the heavy boots, parka or the slouchy knit hat if they’re warm and practical — this isn’t a look you’ll have to suffer for.
What’s your favorite 90s look?