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Last Updated on May 4, 2022
When thinking back to 90s fashion, I couldn’t help but notice one thing – all of our (mine and yours) iconic, favourite looks and trends had one thing in common: they were dresses!
That’s right, folks, 90s fashion heavily relied on dresses, which made it more feminine, in a lot of ways, but without sacrificing comfort. A lot of our current faves are either inspired by 90s dresses, or straight-up ripped from Kate Moss’ cold dead hands. Well, not literally.
From A to
Z V, here are some of our favourite dresses from the 90s. And some of the ones I think are better left there, but perhaps unflattering photos from my youth are making me biased.
The dress of my youth and yours, the dungaree dress can make you look a bit like an oversized toddler. It doesn’t do much for your figure, but it’s super cute, especially on teens. It’s also the easiest outfit imaginable – throw it on over literally any t-shirt, and you’ve got an instant look.
The dungaree dress is exceptional year-round: just change the fabric! Corduroy ones are great for winter, spring calls for a blue denim one, and a flimsy cotton or linen one is perfect for summer.
The t-shirt dress is a woman’s best kept secret. And that’s because we all know that it’s really just an excuse to leave the house in the shirt you slept in last night. And that’s why it’s genius! Dresses, in general, are magic, because they require the least amount of effort possible, while also somehow leaving the impression that you’re trying to be fancy.
Well, the t-shirt dress takes that to the next level. The best part is that it’s super easy to make one that’s really authentically 90s: take an oversized, preferably men’s shirt (think a Nirvana shirt), and either wear it as it is, or belt it to make it more flattering. You just need to make sure it covers your bum.
The slip dress is the quintessential 90s garment – no, seriously, if you’re going to a 90s-themed party, this is your gal. A fave of the glitzy and glamorous stars (Kate Moss and Liz Hurley are just two of the iconic slip dress-wearing divas), the slip dress could not be more simple.
It’s a flimsy, straight piece of fabric with thin straps, so no complicated design here; truthfully, the dress is made by the woman wearing it, and she’s usually rail-thin.
We will sing the praises of the tea dress until the end of time, because it’s just so cute and versatile. I can’t even give you one reference for the tea dress, because everyone wore them, from your mom to Courtney Love.
Tea dresses are great for throwing on a pair of sandals and carrying a baguette around and looking vaguely Parisian, putting Docs on and rocking out, wearing it with heels to meet your boyfriend’s parents – the possibilities are endless!
Friend of every baby goth in the 90s, velvet dresses are THE ultimate way to bring drama to an outfit. Of course, how you style it will make the difference between chic Morticia Addams and looking like Scarlett O’Hara’s repurposed curtains.
If you need inspo, just look at 90s Winona Ryder, Christina Ricci, and other baby goths – these gals know what’s going on.
Another 90s staple, the floral dress is the ultimate day dress – slip dress or tea dresses, worn over tight, white t-shirts or by themselves, the dark floral dresses of the 90s were basically the grunge uniform.
A floral dress is a great way to feel feminine, but in an adult way. Not too frilly, not too and not too sombre, a floral dress is a girly garment that is appropriate for all occasions and one of the few things from the 90s that are actually timeless. No one’s going to clock you for your “outdated” floral dress. In fact, it may become even cooler over time, because it’s vintage!
Denim is truly the fabric our lives are made of, and depending on how you pair it, it may also feature in our nightmares – just think about that iconic Britney and Justin double-denim look; it still makes me shudder. But if there’s one thing that made clear, is that anything can be made out of denim, and that includes dresses.
Denim is cool because depending on type and wash, it can be made into any style dress: slip dress, maxi dress, smock dress, skater dress – anything you want, basically. Might be a little too warm for summer, but you can wear it year-round.
Now, truth be told, perhaps the 90s were not the best representation of formal wear, but we’ve still got some hits that we can’t forget, including a never-ending parade of slip dresses (yes, those again), some taffeta nightmares, and that crop-top/tulle skirt prom look from 10 Things I Hate About You that we aaaallllll wanted to recreate. Hell, some of us (me) still do.
One thing the 90s got right in terms of formal wear is that they were all about the midi and maxi skirts, especially when compared to the 00s, when the definition of “formal” was sadly altered and voided completely.
Dress with sleeves
A lot of 90s dresses are all about being strappy, but sleeves also showed up, and when they did, they did it in a big way – or rather, in a voluminous way. You thought bell bottoms were bad? Remember bell sleeves?
I sure do, and every single day I dunked my sleeves in soup, in the sink, in the loo…but they look so pretty, so I can’t say no to them this time around, either.
I’m sure you can tell from the name, but if you’re unfamiliar with this style because you’re a literal baby (yes, being born AFTER the year 2000 makes you a baby), the Ankara dress reflects African tradition, culture, and influence in its style.
It’s extremely colourful and beautiful, loud, patterned, fun, and just what you want in a sea of boring, basic Beckys dressed in ~neutrals~. Eff that. The silhouette varies, and you can certainly make this bodycon, but where it really shines is when it’s got some volume in the skirt, taking it from beautiful to spectacular.
We all like a tight dress every once in a while, right?
Before Kim Kardashian, there was Lil’ Kim, and Liz Hurley, and Pamela Anderson, and Anna Nicole Smith, and every other bodacious lady who’s ever worn a tight, short, low-cut dress. If you’re too young to know who any of these people are, get off my lawn.
That’s why, when speaking of the tight dress, we need to pay homage to these foremothers of sexiness, because good god, the Kardashian clan did not invent boobs and asses.
The 90s and 00s were the decades of the micro-mini, so they knew what was up when it came to short dresses.
Most short skirts and dresses in the 90s were very much “tube” style, so straight and tight, and cell phones were barely a thing, so at least there wasn’t much upskirting going on.
There’s nothing better than a sundress, especially if it’s floral, and there is no better inspo for that than 90s summer dresses. There’s a very carefree quality about them – simple, thin, and floaty, they are but flimsy pieces of fabric you use to protect you from the sun. And from the prying eyes of the public, I guess.
While wearing black is very 90s, indeed, we’d advise against it for summer; there’s just no point in roasting. You can be punk and badass wearing white, too. And much less sweaty.
Ravers are their own separate breed, and I don’t say that with disdain. Quite the opposite, really – the style is very clearly defined, so it makes it way easier to emulate.
As you can imagine, a rave dress will be super colourful – the more garish, the better. Glitter and sequins are also welcome, as is anything that will shine, reflect, or stand out under the lights in the club.
That should be easy, as it is currently impossible to find clothes that don’t have sequins on them. I’ve got 7, and I’m a grown woman.
Of course, neon is the queen of rave, so if you can find something that’s a complete eyesore, but that will glow in the dark or otherwise stand out under blacklight, you, my friend, are serving Raver Realness, as my friend, RuPaul, would say.
What does an R&B dress even look like? While there is no set definition or picture I can reference for you, there are a ton of elements to follow, here, so pay attention. It’s mostly aspects of black culture and fashion that you’re going to notice, so googling pics of TLC cca. 1994, Aaliyah, Mya, Lil’ Kim, or some other absolute icons will give you some good leads.
Tight and short dresses were definitely in, and actually any fabric that was tight and clingy, like leather or other shiny materials. The dresses were usually strapless, or showing generous cleavage: gotta show the assets if you’ve got them.
Patterns & print dress
The 90s never met a pattern they didn’t like, and you can see that in the dress choices of the time – good, bad, and ugly. From tie-dye, to paisley, to florals, to plaid, to questionable geometric prints, there is no shortage of visual interest in the 90s dress.
When it’s party time, you are, perhaps, less concerned with what you’re wearing, and more concerned with the absolute bangers playing, or with how much free wine you can chug. For those of us who are older than 21 and for whom booze has lost its shiny novelty appeal, it’s back to what’s really important: the dress we’ll be wearing.
If you want to stay true to 90s fashion, party dresses mean one thing: sequins, sparkle, and glitter. This is the time when more is more, and the answer to all things is yes: should I wear my sequinned dress? With the sparkly bag? And the beaded bolero? And my glittery eyeshadow? And body glitter? YES.
Polka dot dress
We’re in luck, the polka dot dress is BACK! Everyone’s prom dress cca. 1999-2004 is suddenly back in fashion, or trying to be. Polka dot patterns can feel juvenile, but they can actually be very feminine, in an elegant, adult kind of way.
Polka dot tea dresses and sun dresses are big right now, and they’re the ideal one-step outfit. Throw it on, slip into some slides, add a basket bag, and you’re good to go.
Who says punk can’t be girly? The likes of Gwen Stefani have shown us that punk and femininity can go wonderfully together, and that you can make any dress punk. Choose one in a plaid pattern, or that’s pleated, or that has rips, cut-outs, patches, and metalwork applied – from zips, to safety pins, to studs.
You don’t have to stick to black, either; red is a quintessentially punk colour, or you can go for something subtle and understated, like neons…
Plus size dress
Are you surprised to find out that actually, dresses are some of the most flattering clothes on plus-size women? Yes, it’s true that the slip dress is mostly for the waifs out there, but there’s more to life than slip dresses.
Tea dresses, dungaree dresses, skater dresses, midi dresses, maxi dresses – they’re all good and very flattering choices. Ideal fabrics depend on weather, of course, but I’m partial to velvet, personally, as well as anything floaty.
Told ya plaid is where it’s at – for the rebel punk child in you, a plaid dress is the call-back no one asked for. But find it in your heart to push the cringe aside and give the plaid dress a second chance.
Styled right, you can look like that one outfit Sarah Jessica Parker wore; or like you’ve been swallowed by a kilt.
A polo dress is exactly what it says on the tin, and it’s so 90s, it hurts. You know those polo shirts your dad used to wear? (My dad still does). He probably paired them with Bermuda shorts and dad sandals. Well, imagine a very very (very very) long shirt like that – and you’ve got the polo dress.
It’s the perfect combo between girly and preppy, and it’s so not my cup of tea. And while I personally think no one should be drinking this particular kind of tea, I won’t hold it against you if you want to take a sip.
What’s more 90s than a teeny tiny mini dress? Google literally any picture of Alicia Silverstone, and you’ll see what I mean. And hey, if you’ve got the gams, why not?
The best way to wear a mini like that is to pair with something oversized, rough, and masculine, to offset the hyper femininity and sexiness – a men’s denim jacket will work like a dream, as will Docs.
A gal’s gotta love a maxi dress, because it hides a multitude of sins. Like cuts, and scrapes, and bruises from when you fall over. Or the hair on your legs that’s been growing since 2001, with no attempt at shaving since. It’s literally like pulling a big sack or a curtain over your head and BOOM – you’ve got an outfit. It’s practically essential during summer.
And that’s exactly why it’s in my best dresses list; that, and the fact that it’s super easy to give it a 90s vibe if you choose a tie-dye dress and throw on a denim jacket or vest over it.
Thankfully, long dresses aren’t only for formal occasions, and though I love a good gown, that isn’t what this is about. Long dresses can come in any style you want, really, so it’s not like you’re limited.
Slip dresses, skater dresses, halter-neck dresses, strappy dresses, long-sleeve dresses…in fact, they can be very 90s in that tiered, ruffle-y, peasant-y, prairie dress kind of way.
This is one of those things we’re collectively trying to forget, but that’s coming back to haunt us; the knit dress was a thing, but it’s a good lesson when you want to teach the youths that some things should be left in the 90s, where they BELONG.
Now, I didn’t mean to hurt your feelings, if you like or have knit dresses; I just mean you’ve got bad taste.
I probably don’t even need to say much about it, because pretty much everyone knows what the grunge dress looks like, right? Just take a look at literally any pic of Courtney Love.
Alternatively, if the dress is:
- Black or dark
- Short or midi
- Paired with a choker and/or Docs
…then congratulations, you’ve got a Grunge Dress BINGO!
Technically, anything can be an evening dress, but here we’re talking about special-occasion, event dresses. And in the 90s, that means a LOT of sparkle.
If you ever wanted a grown-up excuse to wear sequins, the 90s evening dress is your golden ticket. Alternatively, you can’t go wrong with black velvet (no, not the song, although it’s true for that, too).
Easter dresses are definitely not something that’s exclusively 90s, but let’s talk about what a 90s Easter dress would look like: pastel coloured, with a lot of frills and ruffles, probably about knee-length for modesty, and most definitely floral patterned.
Sure, it’s totally over the top, in its own way, and might be very “church lady chic”, but it can also be totally stylish in a vintage kind of way.
There are a lot of iconic fashion moments hailing from the 90s, so strap in, boys and girls, there’s a lot to cover.
First up, you guessed it – the slip dress. Specifically, the silvery slip dress Kate Moss is known for. Then, we’ve got the little black dress, iconic on the likes of Winona Ryder or Courtney Cox. Madonna made history in that shiny, pink, Marilyn Monroe dress.
And that black Versace dress Elizabeth Hurley wore? The one with the splits up the sides? Need I say more?
Those gals weren’t starving themselves for nothing – they were doing it for fashion; namely, the bodycon dress. Listen, we’re a bit more enlightened in terms of beauty standards and the dangers of eating disorders now, and while the bodycon dress is still popular, we’re also understanding of the fact that any body shape can look bangin’ in a tight dress.
Whether that’s a 90s slip dress, or a stretchy spandex number, the bodycon dress is one of those classics that is always in style.
I mean…this one speaks for itself, right? You look at what it’s called, and you know it’s going to be colourful, blingy, beautiful, and super fun! The Bollywood dress can be the classic sari, but it also leaves room for fashionable interpretations on this traditional garment.
One thing’s for sure – you gotta be able to dance in this thing, cause Bollywood films are all about the absolute bangers, so be sure to wear comfortable shoes!
It’s hard to define a casual dress, because it’s not just one style, is it? A casual dress is any dress that is meant for wearing during the day, and that’s not particularly fussy in material or design.
For our purposes, a casual dress can be the dungaree dress, a floral dress, a tea dress, or your boyfriend’s t-shirt. Just don’t make it out of that sweatshirt material, that’s gross.
Sometimes shorter in length, and a tiny bit less formal, but still a decidedly elegant dress, the cocktail dress is the answer to the time just after work, but before dinner, and any formalities that may be happening during this time – you know, during cocktail hour, which should not be confused with Happy Hour; we’re all familiar with that one, aren’t we?
This is, perhaps, THE era of the cocktail dress, especially the little black dress. With so many supermodels running around in slinky dresses, it’s hard not to define the 90s by the presence of this chic garment on the fashion scene.
OKAY, we’ve talked about A LOT of dresses – for every taste, occasion, and interest, coming straight out of the 90s. Which of these are good? What’s the bad? What about ugly? What is your favourite 90s style dress?