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Last Updated on August 25, 2021
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
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