The 1990s saw a revival of minimalist fashion, breaking away from the big hair and shoulder pads that dominated the 1980s. Casual, chic outfits defined by baggy T-shirts, slip dresses, and sportswear influenced 1990s fashion trends significantly.
Throughout the 1990s, fashion evolved. Early 1990s fashion featured bright colors and athletic wear reminiscent of the 1980s, while late 1990s fashion featured sophisticated slip dresses and preppy prints. The music and film industries influenced the decade's popular trends, such as grunge looks, denim overalls, mini skirts, and cropped cardigans. Trends from the 1990s continue to have an impact on fashion today, with athleisure and streetwear remaining popular.
Fashion Icons of the 1990s
Across industries, 1990s fashion icons helped shape some of the decade's most popular trends.
Celebrities: Throughout the 1990s, famous actors and athletes became influential style icons. Unlike most '90s fashion icons, Jennifer Lopez opted for elaborate and colorful beaded dresses, adding glam to the decade's fashion. While basketball player Dennis Rodman sported low, baggy jeans and body piercings, actors Freddie Prinze Jr. and Brad Pitt sported chic, preppy '90s ensembles complete with Oxford shirts and thin sunglasses. Lisa Bonet, who was inspired by both men's and women's fashion, mixed and matched various statement pieces in each outfit.
Musicians: The music industry also influenced 1990s fashion, as hip-hop culture popularized oversized jackets and baggy jeans. After popularizing crop tops, low-rise jeans, and athleisure, singer Aaliyah became known for her effortless and minimalist style. Other female singers and groups, such as TLC and The Spice Girls, were inspired by streetwear and wore combat boots, wide-leg pants, and sportswear on stage. Rappers like LL Cool J, Biggie Smalls, and Tupac wore Timberland boots, bucket hats, tracksuits, and baggy cargo pants, while grunge artists like Kurt Cobain and Mark Arm wore Converse sneakers, graphic T-shirts, and Aviator sunglasses.
Supermodels: Top models in the fashion industry have graced the covers of magazines distributed worldwide. As supermodels such as Yasmeen Ghauri, Devon Aoki, Cindy Crawford, Linda Evangelista, Tatjana Patitz, Noami Campell, Kate Moss, and Christy Turlington showcased '90s fashion on runways, TV screens, and editorial shoots, 1990s fashion became a global phenomenon.
The 1990s subcultures
While there were consistent themes under the umbrella of '90s fashion, there were also key 1990s subcultures that each had their own distinct look. The three main subcultures of 1990s fashion are listed below.
Grunge: A signature outfit of the '90s grunge style was dark flannel shirts and ripped jeans. This casual, laid-back look became a mainstream part of '90s fashion as bands like Nirvana and Pearl Jam gained popularity. Doc Martens and combat boots were also popular in the grunge scene.
Preppy: Hip-hop culture inspired the preppy subculture of '90s fashion. Oversized shirts, high-waisted jeans, and Sperry boat shoes were staples of '90s preppy culture. Plaid mini skirts with a tank top and matching blazer were also a classic '90s preppy look seen in films and MTV music videos like Britney Spears' "Baby One More Time."
Punk: Inspired by skatewear, the punk fashion trend of the 1990s featured bold patterns, bright spiky hair, and black leather jackets. Ripped jeans and choker necklaces became signature pieces worn throughout the 1990s punk era.
Fashion Trends in the 1990s
The fashion trends of the decade included glam and grunge looks, as well as casual streetwear-inspired outfits and chic, high-fashion looks. The following are some popular accessories and garments associated with '90s fashion:
Slipper dress: This simple spaghetti strap dress embodied the minimalist approach that dominated fashion in the 1990s. The mini silk slip dress was also instrumental in defining the underwear-as-outerwear trend, which was popularized by actresses such as Jennifer Aniston and Gwyneth Paltrow on the red carpet.
Chain belts: Chain belts are a type of belt made of linked metal that was inspired by hip-hop. Unlike a traditional buckle belt, which fits through the belt loops of a pair of pants, a chain-link belt typically loops around the mid-waist or hips and hangs down, sometimes wrapping around the body more than once. Chain belts first appeared on the runway in couture shows for ready-to-wear collections in the 1990s.
Sportswear: Athletic wear, such as oversized jerseys, cropped T-shirts, and tracksuits, became popular in the 1990s. On stage, performers frequently wore baggy sports jerseys, while other celebrities made sportswear fashionable. Princess Diana, for example, frequently wore fitted biker shorts with an oversized sweatshirt and white sneakers. This relaxed, workout look became a symbol of '90s casual wear.
Scrunchies: Scrunchies, worn as a hair accessory or bracelet, were a popular addition to casual, everyday wear in the 1990s. Scrunchies were frequently used to add a splash of color to an outfit while also securing a high ponytail or half-up, half-down hairstyle.
Graphic tees: In the 1990s, both women's and men's clothing featured oversized graphic tees. Baggy T-shirts with colorful and patterned designs were a casual way to look fashionable. A typical grunge outfit consisted of a band T-shirt, jeans, and a beanie hat.
Overalls: Denim overalls with one strap down were popular on popular '90s sitcoms like The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air, Friends, and Full House. During the 1990s, this casual outfit became another signature trend. Depending on the look, actors wore a bold, patterned long-sleeve shirt or a simple white turtleneck under the overalls.