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Last Updated on February 12, 2022
African American fashion has a rich history and many looks that are used for runway and mainstream style inspiration time and again (oftentimes without sufficient reference, or simply white-washed, unfortunately).
Black fashion defined the 90s with hip hop culture, girl bands, songstresses, much-needed primetime TV shows about black families, and thriving street style.
We’ve picked our favorite African American fashion trends of the 90s that have influenced global fashion, with tips for how to style them.
- Layered intricate prints and bold colors
- Block-color professional power suits
- African colors and textiles
- Oversized tracksuits and baggy denim with Timberlands and gold
- Neons, brights, and clashing hues
- HBCU fashion
- Women Of Color Who Ruled The Fashion Scene
- Popular Brands
- Hilary Banks’ hats
- Street styles
- One of my favourite African American actresses
Layered intricate prints and bold colors
Celebrity Inspiration: Iconic black TV characters such as ‘Moesha’ and the Mowry twins from ‘Sister Sister’ showed the world how to layer patterns and prints. Think plaid over florals over denim, or tartan under that sunflower print, layered with African-print accessories. Think intricately-embroidered waistcoats over rich-hued sweaters and tees, or tie-dye over camo.
- Take time to search through your wardrobe and pull out anything printed, patterned or bright. Experiment with combinations you wouldn’t otherwise think of, and see what you can find
- Pick a base such as a plain black midi skirt or blue jeans and a white top, and layer printed waistcoats, sweaters, and accessories from there
Block-color professional power suits
Celebrity Inspiration: The 90s loved a good power suit, especially in block jewel tones, with a short pencil skirt and boxy, shoulder-padded blazer. Power suits were a facet of African American fashion, seen in TV shows like ‘Living Single’, and ‘The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air’. Hilary Banks rocked fitted jackets with gilded buttons, mini skirts, and heels with matching bowler hats and the chicest handbags.
- Trawl the thrift-stores for high-quality wool suit jackets or blazers in rich colors, and use your sewing skills (if you have them) to nip and tuck where needed to achieve the perfect fit on the shoulder and waist
- Pair your blazer with a simple black high-waisted wide-leg trouser or pencil skirt
- Layer a silk cowl-neck tank with a wrap mini or midi skirt, sheer tights, and boxy long-line blazer
African colors and textiles
Celebrity Inspiration: 90s icons like Salt n Pepa, Will Smith, and Queen Latifah wore Afrocentric clothing. This included Kufi hats, head wraps, wax prints, and African colors such as red, gold, green and black. This brought African culture to Hollywood and our TV screens. Vibrant prints and woven textiles were worn layered with denim, leather, and white cotton in true 90s eclectic style.
- Take a moment to research the colors, fabrics, and patterns of your culture and ethnic heritage. You may be surprised at what you find! Incorporate these into your daily style even if it’s a piece of jewelry or a patch of printed fabric sewed into your jeans
- Celebrate African style by picking crisp, bright colors and rich patterns
- Check out incredible African designers such as Sara Diouf and Rich Mnisi
Oversized tracksuits and baggy denim with Timberlands and gold
Celebrity Inspiration: Tracksuits were seen all across the board of 90s popular fashion, especially black urban fashion. Brands such as FUBU, Cross Colours, Pelle Pelle, and Tommy Hilfiger were worn by hip hop stars like LL Cool J and Run DMC, often with chunky gold jewelry, Timberlands, and bucket hats or baseball caps. Baggy denim in the form of ultra-low jeans, overalls, and jackets was worn by TLC and Snoop Dogg, paired with plaid or oversized basketball singlets and tees.
- Be strategic with your baggy items so that you feel comfortable with the proportions you create. For example, accentuate the waist by wearing baggy jeans with a fitted bodysuit. Or, hero the legs with black skinnies and an oversized, ultra-baggy tracksuit jacket or denim jacket
- Don’t be afraid to show some skin by wearing a bandeau bra under baggy overalls or with jeans, or by layering baggy tracksuit pants with a low-slung V-neck tee or tank
Neons, brights, and clashing hues
Celebrity Inspiration: Will from the ‘Fresh Prince of Bel-Air’ was the absolute prince (wink wink!) of 90s black fashion that fused Afrocentric patterns, sportswear, and hip-hop style. It was this bright, fun, and celebratory style that made Will such a beloved character (as well as his epic dance moves, unmatched humor, and heart of gold).
This style included block-colored jackets, African prints, neon hues, baggy denim overalls, baseball caps, low-slung basketball singlets, plaid, and the odd turtleneck (we could go on and on).
- The key to this look is to go with your gut and layer the colors and patterns that make you feel great, unique, and playful
- Layer your favorite go-to jeans with a neon shirt and a patterned waistcoat, with high-top chucks or chunky Timberlands
Celebrity Inspiration: HBCUs (Historically Black Colleges and Universities) were celebrated in popular culture throughout the 90s. For example, Queen Latifah’s character from ‘Living Single’ Khadijah James often wore HBCU jerseys and tees, such as Morris Brown University, Howard College, and the African American College Alliance.
One of the most stunning references to HBCUs in recent pop culture was Beyonce’s costume during her groundbreaking Coachella set in 2018 that celebrated HBCUs and black American culture throughout.
- If you aren’t a person of color and you didn’t attend an HBCU, this isn’t the style for you, but you can take influence by repping your own college or university
Women Of Color Who Ruled The Fashion Scene
Looking for some 90s style icons? Here are some women of color that ruled the 90s fashion scene. Check them out for some great fashion and beauty inspiration to copy!
With a gorgeous face and long legs, it’s no surprise Naomi Campbell is one of the most famous models ever. Naomi came into her fame in the 90s and was a muse for all designers. She strutted down runways and partied with celebrities all whilst looking ethereal.
- Though Naomi has modeled a range of styles throughout the years, you can’t go wrong with a mini skirt when trying to replicate her style! Show off your legs with some platform heels too.
- Naomi is known for rocking long, straight hair that’s parted down the center. This hairstyle is similar to the classic blowout style of the 90s.
- Some of Naomi’s well-known looks are from Chanel shows, so focus on boucle tweed fabrics and mini dresses for that 90s Chanel look.
Diana Ross is a superstar, we’ll be surprised if you don’t recognize her name! This musical star made a comeback in 1991 with The Force Behind Power. With this comeback came a lot of fashion looks too!
- To get Diana Ross’s look, opt for long feminine dresses that are tailored to the body. Don’t be afraid of showing your figure and embracing your feminine prowess. Bold colors like orange and red are a must too!
- You should also let your hair down! Embrace a long curly hairstyle to capture the essence of this singer’s style.
Moesha was a sitcom about a fashionable teenager going through school and juggling romances and friendships too. The lead was played by 90s sweetheart Brandy, who was already a style icon in her own right. This is an essential sitcom to watch, so stream it now to enjoy some laughs, heartfelt moments, and some serious fashion inspiration too.
- Moesha dresses better than the average teenager, giving viewers an aspirational style. To capture her look, refine your outfits with accessories, jewelry, and heeled shoes.
- You can also recreate Moesha’s chic braided hairstyles, these are essential to recreating her style!
- The style in this show featured bright colors and prints mixed with 90s minimal pieces, creating a new take on 90s culture.
If you’re into music, Erykah Badu should already be on your radar. This R&B artist always expressed herself through the medium of clothes and style, so you can always look at her for some unique style inspiration.
- Eryka Badu once told a journalist “I am my own audience”. This mentality is perfect when dressing for yourself. Ignore what others think and select the clothes you want to wear.
- To get Erykah’s look, opt for shades of green, brown, black, and white. This artist liked an earthy color palette with hints of blue from denim pieces.
- Big hats are a must! Go as big as possible, then go bigger again!
This girl group encapsulates 90s style. TLC dressed in feminine outfits with hip-hop influences, proving a fusion of both styles is possible. If you want to look cute and flirty, look at these girls for some major tips!
- Cropped tops and bare midriffs are common silhouettes for these girls! PAir cropped vests with baggy pants for an evening outfit.
- These girls also played with block color, each member of the group wore a different hue for a loud color palette look.
- Dungarees with t-shirts underneath are also a great look from TLC. Curl your hair and let it be free for a full TLC outfit.
Wondering what African American brands were popular in the 90s? Keep reading to find out what was on-trend in the decade!
One popular black-owned fashion label from the 1990s is Phat Farm. This brand created high-end designs influenced by the up-and-coming hip-hop culture. Phat Farm was particularly known for their denim products, proving that denim doesn’t need to be clean-cut like Calvin Klein or Levis.
FUBU is another popular fashion brand from the era. This store was one of the first to focus on African American youth as a target market and this brand was named FUBU (For Us, By Us) for this very reason. The brand was established by Daymond John and it snowballed into an international success. The clothes were influenced by the hip-hop scene and eventually, they were worn by all successful artists on the scene too!
Super straight hair
This style was super trendy, it took hours of brushing, a perm or another straightening method and it could take a toll on one’s hair. Since it required breathing time in between, it was ideal for a special occasion.
Box braids are created by dividing the hair and often adding colorful strands to the braids to make them longer. This hairstyle became trendy all over, in big part thanks to its presence in movie hits like Clueless. Dionne’s braids were beyond cool!
The basis for this hairstyle is the same as the box braids but made extra thin. It often requires the dexterous hand of a specialized hairdresser because of its complexity.
Short pixie cut
Absolutely anyone sported a pixie cut at one point or another either during the 90s or during the 00s. You could see it on Dido, Lil Kim, and many other celebrities.
High ponytail with braids/curls
This was a great way to make the box braids last longer. You basically put the hair in a ponytail and if you had box braids, made the most of the growth. Or, if you didn’t have braids, you could simply braid your ponytail afterward.
Bantu Knots resemble little space buns but they are evenly spaced all over the head. This style is better for short hair so the buns are naturally small.
A sock bun is one huge bun usually sitting atop the head or where a high ponytail usually sits. To make it fluffier many people avoided brushing the hair and let their natural curls make up the bun itself, tying the base tightly.
Hilary Banks’ hats
From episode one of The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air, Hilary Banks made it very clear that her signature clothing item was going to be her very fashionable hats. Over the course of the series, she would wear hats with flowers, a hat that resembled a bathing cap, amazing hats with veils, and more.
But her most seen style was a decorated bowler hat that either matched the rest of her outfit or complemented it in some way. Case in point, her memorable blue outfit for the weather woman interview!
White t-shirt under dresses
There are few styles as iconic as wearing a white t-shirt under a day dress. Absolutely everyone wore this, particularly paired with Doc Martens style boots. A great addition was to layer pants under a short dress and swap the boots for dainty and colorful strap sandals with a block heel.
Baggy pants and crop tops
Baggy pants were the most desired pants of the decade. Many celebrities wore them tied up with extra long fabric belts that were left hanging over the side. The favorite pairing was a tank top with an extra-large shirt thrown over. Bonus points if it sported a tribal print!
One of my favourite African American actresses
The 90s were a busy time for Angela. She made her debut in Kindergarten Cop, with Arnold Schwarzenegger, and she also played Tina Turner in What’s Love Got to Do With It, winning a Golden Globe for it. One of my favorite movies of hers is Vampire in Brooklyn together with Eddie Murphy, a retelling along the lines of Dracula set in… yup, Brooklyn!
Later that decade she would star in How Stella Got Her Groove Back. At the time, this film didn’t get the proper recognition it deserved but over the years it has turned into an important fashion film for its outstanding costumes!