1996 Fashion Trends: Girl Power, Witch-Goth and Calvin Klein

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1996 fashion trends of 3 different styles of women's outfits

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Greetings! Welcome to 1996. Bill Clinton is POTUS, (we’ll hear more about that in 1998…eek). Pokemon is just beginning, and everyone’s rooting for Ross and Rachel. 

On the TV …

It’s a great year for light entertainment, with classic shows such as ‘Hey Arnold!’, ‘Sabrina the Teenage Witch’, and ‘Spin City’ bursting onto the small screen. 

On the big screen …

The cinemas are packed out with “disaster movies” like ‘Independence Day’ and ‘Twister’ (they really started something there). It’s also a stellar year for comedy classics like ‘Happy Gilmore’, ‘The Cable Guy’, ‘Space Jam’, and ‘Mars Attacks!’. Drama and romance are out for the masses too, with ‘Romeo and Juliet’, ‘Jerry Maguire’, and ‘The English Patient’ stealing hearts. 

In music …

1996 is grooving, bopping, and peace-signing to one of the most iconic pop groups of all time…The Spice Girls. That’s right, our collective childhood theme song ‘Wannabe’ is released. We’ve also got ‘Virtual Insanity’ by Jamiroquai, ‘Breakfast at Tiffany’s’ by Deep Blue Something (total 1 hit wonder), and ‘No Diggity’ by Blackstreet to groove to at our 1996 keggers.  

But, what shall we wear to our 1996-themed party? There’s a lot to choose from, so here are our favorite fashion looks and moments from 1996. 

Claire Danes’ Angel Wings and Leo’s Hawaiian shirt in ‘Romeo and Juliet’

Baz Luhrmann’s ‘Romeo and Juliet’ was excellent (coming from a Shakespeare geek!). Not only did it present The Bard in an approachable, accessible way, but it gave us Leonardo DiCaprio in chainmail. However, it was Leo’s blue and red Hawaiian shirt, cigarette, and floppy hair that etched its way into our memories. Yes, the Hawaiian shirt was all the rage in the 90s, and not just for Dads on vacation. 

Claire Danes as a perfect Juliet made young 90s girls long for their own set of wings as she floated in a simple white pleated dress and feathered angel wings. Claire was the picture of sweetness with a simple half-up-half-down do, flushed cheeks, and silver necklace. Oh, and Leo, in chainmail, gazing at her through a fish tank. Be still, my heart. 

Try it: 

  • Pick Romeo/Leo and Juliet/Claire for your 90s party and recreate the iconic knight-and-angel look if you can get your hands on armor and wings
  • Otherwise, take inspiration for daily life by pairing a fitted white blouse with a high-waisted pleated skirt, soft makeup, and white feather earrings
  • Find a blue and red short-sleeved Hawaiian shirt and tuck it into blue jeans, with the top buttons undone. Smoke-out your eyes with deep brown kohl and press red rouge onto your lips for that lush, Romeo-after-a-crying-session sultriness 

Witchy-Goth schoolgirls in ‘The Craft’

‘The Craft’ used to scare the bejeezus out of me when I was a kid. The teen horror movie (witches, seances, snakes, all kinds of sinister activities) was a fashion treasure trove. 

There were pleated mini skirts worn with sheer black tops and layered cross necklaces. There were slip dresses layered with long-sleeved tops, with tiny blue-lense sunglasses. The hair was thick, bouncy, and sometimes clipped with those 90s-centric tortoiseshell claw clips, and the makeup was matte and brown. Whew. A lot to unpack. 

Try it: 

  • Pair a fitted cardigan with a high-waisted, pleated skirt with stockings and ankle boots. For a less “schoolgirl” aesthetic, swap the pleated skirt for a bias-cut midi skirt with layered chain belts 
  • Pair over-the-knee socks with brogues, a shift dress, and longline blazer. Accessorize with small, colored sunglasses and necklaces of various lengths 
  • Smudge black kohl thickly over the top lash line and lid, but keep the lower lashline clean to avoid the panda-eye look

Read: Take Your Pick of These 90s Sunglasses

Gwyneth Paltrow in Calvin Klein at the Oscars

Gwyneth Paltrow’s look at the 1996 Academy Awards was more 90s than the 90s itself. It beautifully demonstrates the clean, minimal, waif-like, cool-girl style of the decade. Natural beauties like Kate Moss and Gwynny sauntered in pale, sheeny slip dresses, no bras, untouched hair, and natural makeup. 

Gwyneth Paltrow wore Calvin Klein (hence the clean minimalism), a pearl-colored, fully-beaded slip gown with spaghetti straps, V-neckline, and gauzy shawl. Her hair had a slight side-part but was otherwise unstyled (but stunning), and her lips were 90s-brown. Oh, and she had Brad Pitt on her arm, with tiny sunglasses and floppy blonde locks. Gwyneth’s look was one-third great styling, one-third a great makeup artist, and one-third excellent genetics. 

Try it: 

  • To be honest, if you’ve got a wedding coming up (as the bride, I mean) this look is a perfect reference for women with minimal, beachy-glam styling 
  • For every day, pair a beaded spaghetti-strap tank with high-waisted, wide-leg jeans and pumps 
  • Layer a white or cream satin slip dress (they’re everywhere these days!) with a denim jacket, flat sandals, and bed-head hair for Gwyneth-meets-Jennifer (Aniston) style 

Platforms, girl power, and color a la The Spice Girls 

The Spice Girls burst onto the scene in 1996 with fun, color, friendship, and an attitude for young girls to look up to. They weren’t sexualized, nor were they sweet or demure, they were outrageous and knew how to have a bloody good time. The Spice Girls’ style can be enjoyed on a daily basis, not just for 90s costume parties. All it takes is a little deconstruction. 

 

Try it: 

  • Take a dash of Scary Spice with some bright yellow denim or cord trousers with a boot cut
  • Add a pinch of Posh Spice with a black cropped bandeau and leather jacket
  • Pop your hair into an ultra-high ponytail a-la Sporty 
  • Buff pale blue frosted shadow onto your eyelids like Baby, and slick a shiny red gloss onto the lips like Ginger 
  • Add a pair of jewel-toned platforms, an armband, and for goodness’ sake, have fun

Read: 3 Ways to Wear Spice Girls Approved Platform Shoes

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