The Season of the 90s

Why are we so nostalgic for a decade that really wasn’t too long ago?


You may recall that the last time the 90s happened it was, in fact, the 90s. Three major things were happening: grunge, Bill Clinton’s presidency, and supermodels.

Grunge was born out of punk-fed, Seattle-raised kids who grew up and started their own bands. Perhaps you’ve heard of Kurt Cobain? But like anything originally intended for a community rebelling against mainstream society, the idea of “grunge” caught wind and soon it became a fashion statement.

Then there were The Supermodels. The originals. Think Naomi Campbell, Linda Evangelista, Claudia Schiffer and the like. Where grunge lifted a middle finger to the world by way of ripped jeans and dirty hair, The Supermodels opened up the other four digits and high-fived one another down decidedly far-less morose runways than today, all while wearing plaid shirts tied around their waists per Cobain’s non-intentional mandate. But they also (by way of designers like Jil Sander, Helmut Lang, and Prada) sported another trend: minimalism.

What Christy Turlington was to fashion at the time, Bill Clinton was to the economy. You didn’t ask for a history lesson and I’m not drunk enough to give one, so the short version is that the stock market was up and the country had money to spend. Designer names became a thing among regular households — Calvin Klein and Fendi were no longer just for America’s elite. Remember the Fendi Baguette? Looking back on ’97, it seemed like absolutely everyone had one.

And now, albeit reworked and updated for the modern silhouette, anything anyone had in ’97 is back in fashion once again. We saw crop tops pop up two seasons ago, then last fall Slimane’s Saint Laurent didn’t so much nod to the 90s as it did full on thrash to it. Calvin Klein and Narciso Rodriguez can always be counted on for Kate Moss heroin-chic nostalgia (you were worried I wasn’t going to mention her, weren’t you?) and most notably-90s this season were Theyskens’ Theory, Alexander Wang, Rag & Bone and Thakoon. In fact, I’d argue that nearly every show had at least one item that could have made a case for the decade in discussion.

Listing designers who colored-in the trend will hardly help answer a question, however, that’s been lingering in my head since the first tell-tale sign of spaghetti straps and plaid: what is it about the the 90s that fashion so vehemently intends on making stick? Weren’t we into the 80s for a while? And 60s Mod? There was, more recently, a brief flirtation with the 1920s, though some may argue that the Fitzgerald-era shifted dresses and plum lips were just a mere foreshadowing to our 90s obsession.

Perhaps it all harkens back to the three definers I mentioned earlier: grunge, Bill C, supermodels. We’re clearly still nostalgic for a sense of controlled rebellion (a punk-themed Met Ball, anyone?), and though not all of us had checkbooks during the Clinton administration, it’s hard not to reflect on those years as fiscally golden. Moss’s heroin chic couldn’t have felt chic had it not been a luxury to look three-steps beyond disheveled. On the other hand, Naomi and Co. were so other-worldly that one didn’t even try to compare to their leggy and voluptuous Amazonian stature. Women viewed models as icons, not reality, and the separation — whether you disagree there should be one or not — allowed for a celebration of 6’3″ legs rather than 5’3″ self-loathing.

It was a simpler time.

Or maybe, as all current generations tend to do of the previous ones, we’ve waxed nostalgic on the 90s to the point of romance.

I recall sitting at the Jen Kao show now almost an entire month ago, watching as denim-clad daughters of the revolution marched in groovy-heeled platforms with their long, hippie hair, when just like that — the models switched into black and those very heels suddenly went from 1970 to 90210, reminding me just how old everything new actually is.

Leave your thoughts on the redux below.

Images courtesy of and

Feeling nostalgic? Read about the ten things you need to know post-graduation and the evolution of fashion journalism. Not sure what to call our generation in fashion? Neither do we, so let’s discuss here

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  • Ania K

    Love your texts and background information. I don’t care if you need to get drunk to give history lessons, I want more 😉

  • ashleymaciejewski

    I would be curious to know what Marc Jacobs has to say about “new” grunge as he was the facilitator of the 90s version ala Perry Ellis. Well…him and Kurt Cobain.

  • Anderson George

    The 90s return as a novelty this season and I also do the same question: Why? Perhaps because fashion is always looking at other similar times to the present time, but always with that nostalgic look and who knew that one day we could look for the 90 so romantic? I also see that one of the main factors that influence this recovery was the simplicity that was fashionable in the 90s. Nothing better than this purism adapt our current era where fashion is demanding something simpler and commercial, always shouting: Less is more!

  • Angela

    It’s all very Melissa Joan Hart.

  • sCe

    Not a huge fan of the grunge look but totally appreciate the 90’s and love a good plaid… love Rag&Bone’s destroyed denims.

  • Gabriela Yosefina

    Although the minimalism trend is closely linked to the 1990s, I think the initial move has started way back then, and so has the punk culture. At certain point, I look at the ’90s trend like an unforgiving child, having abandoned its roots despite the fact that its current movement is heavily influenced by those in the past.

    Am I being too nostalgic or what?

  • Shawnee Rajala

    I grew up in the 90s, therefore wasn’t actually old enough to appreciate my style. Although at the time it was just what I wore…nothing more. I guess I’m currently loving some of the 90s styles because of that. Now I get to clap my hands three times to my denim cutoffs, flannel shirts wrapped around my waist, and snapbacks. Also the timing is perfection because who has the time to put on heels & piles of accessories & matching everything during college? not me. loving minimalism & this.

  • My love goes to Narcisso Rodriguez’s collection! Funny thing is, I grew up in the 80’s, so I could really appreciate the comeback, but I have no friggin’ idea about what the 90’s style is, so I’m glad to discover! The ‘grunge’ looks I have seen in the blogs are so far from the truth that I’m starting to have serious doubts about the whole thing.

    Mafalda ❤

  • I think we’ll always be nostalgic for a previous time, not always when it comes to fashion. We here in the Comments section would always go for anything 90’s in our closet.

    Your Friend, Jess

  • Stephanie

    I would have never thought that overalls and plaid shirts tied around your waist would have come back. Oh, and creepers. I love the plaid, combat boots and ripped denim, but not feeling any of the rest. Can we rewind back to the 70´s please?

  • All this “90’s Comeback” thing makes me feel old but I don’t feel like it was such a long time ago. But I’m thrilled that things I like to wear cropped tops, plaid and ripped jeans are trendy again 🙂

  • paolasofia

    great article!

  • P.Anthony

    Not to be forgotten (or maybe we should pray they are) are the “harem pants” which ultimately always be MC Hammer Pants regardless of what fancy fabric you make them from.

  • Suzy_Q

    Well the 90s were at most 20 years ago…and in our retro-philic society, that’s grounds for nostalgia. I’d agree it was a simpler time though. But your comment about the economy being better back in the 90s, thereby allowing everyone (not just the economic elite) access to designer goods: well one could say the inverse is happening now. People have the same-if-not-heightened level of access to luxury fashion with the internet and the recession. And instead of buying all the trends (which are thriving, btw – like Hello Isabel Marant Beckett suede wedge sneakers), they’re investing in “luxe classics”. I mean luxury groups are thriving right now, posting serious turnovers and profits even when the global economic state isn’t necessarily at its prettiest.

    • Amelia Diamond

      Suzy_Q: This is such a great comment, and I love your phrase “retro-philic.” The psyche behind why we buy is always a fascinating one, especially when relating it to economics and politics. (For example, I once remember reading that camouflage tends to trend during times of war — almost subconsciously though, out of solidarity or reversely, irony. That could be COMPLETELY false and my memory could be faulty but either way it’s an interesting theory.)

      I think where the 90s opened doors to designer names as household entities, the internet allowed for those names to spread wide and remain a part of everyone’s vocab — and then gave people the option to go in either direction (spending on trends, per the universally sold-out Marant sneaker wedges, or the classics, like this season’s Narciso, for example).

      Thanks for jogging my brain!

      • Kirsten

        Similar to that of camouflage, during times of economic depression bright coloured lipstick sales have always increased. I guess it’s a relatively cheap luxury!

  • I don’t think I cared too much whether my jeans, that denim jacket I wore every day or my plaid shirts/T-shirts were made for men or women … in the 90s.

    They just were. I also borrowed and lent clothes heavily, with my besties, of course. That was important in the 90s 🙂
    Meanwhile, I’ve stopped wearing plaid, but not occasional men’s garment (wool cardigan! outdoor cargo trousers!) or the ubiquitous jeans (unripped for me, thank you), so maybe I haven’t moved on at all?

    (oh, I have … nowadays, all those things have to be made of organic materials – I wonder what Curt would say – oh and: 90s were U2 time to me, not Nirvana … Yeah, I know)

  • MF

    Well, people consider 90s not that far just because they’re getting old. I remember when I was in college near 2002 and the 80s were so in. This is 2013, right? lol
    I agree with Suzy_Q.
    90s is not something they came with just now… it’s been 2 seasons or more, nothing new at all.

  • Shazziz

    TOO SOON!!! TOO SOON!!! Keep your one level wedges. Ugh!

  • The 90’s was such a great era. Love all of the style influence!

  • Lo

    I love that denim on denim is back. So easy, comfortable, and chic

  • Wilted Orchids

    I really love the 90’s fashion. It seems to me like many pieces from that era were unisex, which I love. Stella McCartney’s show was super 90’s.


  • Andrew B

    If I recall, grunge fashion was prominent in the 90’s until Anna Wintour threatened designers with the prospect of not being included in Vogue if they did not scrap their grunge looks.
    Perhaps all of the designers are trying to enjoy the option while the trend lasts.

  • I love Acne but those platform geisha type shoes are just killing me. Its just so unattractive for the toes!! I must had that I have a huge feet complex so maybe it’s just hitting me harder than others.
    But omg, Rag&Bone and Alexander Wang. Such pretty pink colors!

  • Lucy

    The 90s are back in because those of us that grew up tying anything around our waist that we can get our hands on, wearing flat jellies/birkenstocks around the block and rocking spaghetti strap tanks and crop tops, are all in our 20s and 30s now. At this crazy point in our lives who DOESN’T want to reminisce about being a care-free 90s child.
    PS: Whoever makes those flat leather espadrilles in you most recent insta should consider doing a lime-green-jelly version. They would make $$$$$!!!! Is anything more man-repelling than that!?

  • During the nineties, my 20/30 something body was flawless, and employment opportunities were everywhere. For that I loved that decade. However, the clothes did nothing for my “short” physique and I so much more prefer the “anything goes” more democratic approach of the current decade
    50 Shades of Unemployment blog

  • Lynn

    In my best Janine Garofalo voice “The 90’s were goooooood”

  • Lauren Bizzle

    Precisely why I started a blog 5 years ago devoted to the comeback of “grunge” in its neo state.

  • iamkareno

    love this post. I found this blog through teen vogue and had to read this topic because I have been wearing plaid so often lately and I wasn’t sure how this trend started being popular again. such an entertaining way of telling a story 🙂 Check out my fashion youtube channel if you ever get the chance.

  • ardeo

    Is it me or are we making the 90’s the new 50’s with all this nostalgia floating around? I know the 90’s were a great and “simple” time for us as kids (Giga pets, scruchies and light up shoes anyone??), but I though fashion was supposed to be creative and innovative, not just a repeat of times long gone (and not that simple for the rest of the world)…..

  • Marc Ferraz

    Your posts are magnificent! I’m a full on new follower and reader! hugs and kisses!!

  • RomyPaige

    This article is by far one of my favourites of all time. Beautifully written. It really pieces together the picture of the 90’s, an era I was too young to experience. Maybe that is why the 90’s have become so hipster… because the 90’s babies see how idealised the era has become.

  • Mayzie Hopkins

    I feel like there is a lot to be celebrated about the 90s, but it is becoming slightly tedious after years of it. Those who grew up in the 90s felt nostalgic about the time when they were children, pre internet, pre instagram. Yet, those who spent only a few years in the decade (like me), aren’t remembering it as well, so we romanticise it. Still, the fashion was pretty amazing. Something that has stood the test of time and doesn’t seem to be going away. I mean, chokers.

    This is me trying to re-create Lindsay Weir’s (Freaks and Geeks) look: