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The 1990s was a really a special decade. As the 20th century came to an end, people started thinking and fantasising more about what the future will be like. In some ways, we could say that many of the cultural trends of today culminated between 1990 and 1999.
The most noticeable change came with music, films, and TV shows. And, of course, it was only expected to see musicians, actors, and other artists set new fashion trends. New standards were set, eventually changing the game for decades to come.
Even to this day, in the 2020s, we can still see and feel the massive change that happened during the 1990s.
Let’s dig right into it, then!
- #1 Grunge
- #2 Tracksuits
- #3 Goth
- #4 Punk
- #5 Hip-hop and rap
- #6 Rave
- #7 Saved by the Bell (Preppy)
- #8 Industrial rock and metal
- #9 Shell suits
- #10 Jerseys
- #11 Double denim and double velvet
- #12 Dungarees
- #13 Classic hard rock and metal
- #14 Graphic t-shirts and hoodies
- #15 Tights and leggings
- #16 Formalwear
- #17 Freestyle
As the sleazy ultra-commercial rock and metal of the 1980s was slowly getting drained, the “quiet kids” started getting more attention. Instead of fast-paced rhythms, soaring guitar leads, and screaming vocals, we got a laid back grunge movement with more mellow riffs and meaningful lyrics.
Of course, new fashion trends followed the style.
The spandex shorts and hairspray were replaced with regular jeans and messier long hair.
Other traits include flannel shirts and just plain old regular t-shirts beneath them. As for the footwear, you could often see the grunge boys wearing high-top sneakers. To put it simply, the regular everyday low-key rock guy outfit became trendy in the early 1990s.
And here comes the main part. One of the most notable fashionable changes of the 1990s were those (in)famous tracksuits. The trend remains legendary even to this day.
In modern popular culture, it’s often associated with the so-called “Gopnik” movement in Eastern Europe, “casuals” in Western Europe football culture, or East Coast Hip Hop in the US.
Back in the 1990s, tracksuits were all over the place. The popularity grew significantly with the rise of EDM music.
Another important fashion group that emerged from the 1990s were goths. It was all developed from the classic 1980s New Wave movement. Therefore, the predominant colour was black.
Many goths began applying eyeliner and makeup, all followed by long black hair.
Up next, we had black jeans, in some cases skinny jeans, along with black strapped boots or Doc Martens. It was also not rare to see them wearing long leather coats. The best examples of such fashion are the late Peter Steele of Type O Negative, as well as Marilyn Manson, a largely controversial figure during the decade.
What’s really interesting is the fact that we saw some brief ’70s and ’80s revivals throughout the 1990s. Aside from the grunge movement that also mingled with this particular decade, punk rockers were also on the rise. And this includes all the classic elements, like the ripped jeans and over-the-top hairstyles.
Of course, we also had the influence of hardcore punk, something that eventually led to the classic skater fashion.
#5 Hip-hop and rap
The ’90s are also remembered for the mass widespread of rap and hip-hop music. As the genre’s commercial success grew, so did the popularity of rap culture outfits. Aside from the tracksuits, there was also an abundance of baggy clothes, with some of the wide-leg jeans barely holding on the hips.
This was all paired up and mashed with bucket hats, bomber jackets, and occasional golden chains. Essentially, it was a mash of the ghetto culture with other more luxurious elements.
Most of the rap and hip-hop fashion and looks later found their place in modern metal music. Which is not really a surprise as these two movements blended into so-called “nu metal.”
The rise of techno music and all of its sub-categories sparked the development of rave culture. In the early 90s this involved a lot of colourful baggy tees, sweatshirts and pants.
In the UK this evolved from the “Madchester” scene of of acid house and alt rock into rave as we knew it. And oh boy did it blow up, check out some of the vibes and styles at Fantazia at Castle Donnington (1992):
While the early 90s was about letting loose, by mid to late 90s Ibiza was huge too. These guys brought in more of the stylish clothes back on the scene, bringing back Ralph Lauren and Calvin Klein into the spotlight. Contrary to the baggy clothes of grunge and hip-hop music, here we had tighter jeans, bright colors, and shades.
#7 Saved by the Bell (Preppy)
Some refer to this particular fashion movement as “modern preppy.”
But since “Saved by the Bell” was so popular back in the ’90s, and was filled with these outfits, we can easily name the style after the show. In this case, men’s clothing included stuff like khakis, button-up shirts, navy blazers, sweaters, and even nautical-styled striped t-shirts.
Essentially, this “clean” movement was the complete opposite of punk rock, both mentality and fashion-wise.
#8 Industrial rock and metal
The rise of industrial rock and metal music also made an impact on fashion. Mostly close to goth stuff, industrial rockers had a few different elements, including steampunk-inspired pieces and some additions of metallic-colored fashion accessories.
Boots were also not uncommon, and the overall look was a little sharper compared to regular goths and we began seeing shorter haircuts. German metallers Rammstein come to mind as they’ve set the standards both musically and aesthetically.
#9 Shell suits
Since tracksuits became so popular, it was only expected to see things develop further in this direction. Therefore, we witnessed unusual shell suits.
This is a two-piece formation, with top and bottom made of synthetic materials. Initially, it got some attention back in the late 1980s as sort of a “sporty” fashion, but it later grew bigger and got associated with various musical movements as well.
Although giving out some cheesy vibes with the overall looks and often bright colours, it’s not uncommon to see these outfits even in the 2020s. They’re somewhat adjusted to modern times.
While not directly associated with any particular musical movement, jerseys were pretty popular among rappers. Of course, this fashion element saw widespread acceptance. This was not really a surprise since baggy clothes were becoming increasingly popular.
After all, is there anything more comfortable than a loose short-sleeved baseball jersey made of lightweight fabric? It was only obvious to see famous musicians and other celebrities doing photoshoots in these.
#11 Double denim and double velvet
While the trend was considered to be cheesy in the 2000s, a double denim combo was pretty big in the early to mid-1990s. Putting denim on denim or velvet on velvet was just a big thing back then.
Whether it was regular jeans paired with denim jackets or loose baggy pants with a matched top, this was one fairly popular combo. It was pretty common to see this outfit both with male and female celebrities at the time.
For those who don’t know, dungarees are slightly different to overalls. Originally intended as the practical working-class outfit, it eventually found its way in everyday fashion. Famous both as male and female fashion elements, these were usually very durable. In fact, the material after which they’re named is similar to denim, only noticeably tougher.
Yeah, it seems like an unusual turn of events to see working clothes as part of modern fashion. But it seems like anything was possible in the 1990s.
#13 Classic hard rock and metal
Despite the rise of grunge, classic hard rock and heavy metal music were still there. However, it also changed, especially with bands like Guns N’ Roses and Pantera. Compared to the 1980s, the outfits were a little more laid back. We could see them wearing ripped jeans, leather jackets, and bandanas.
Hairstyles changed to just regular long hair, although some musicians even switched over to buzzcuts. In some way, we could say that the ’90s hard rock and metal fashion was midway between grunge and the 1980s glam metal.
Of course, there were also the obligatory band t-shirts. What’s more, cargo shorts grew increasingly popular throughout the decades, along with Doc Martens boots. We can also safely say that Beavis and Butthead had their own impact on the ’90s metalhead fashion.
#14 Graphic t-shirts and hoodies
Any type of graphic t-shirts was pretty popular back in the day. Although usually associated with band or musician artwork, almost anything that seemed stylish at the time could be found on t-shirts and hoodies. Even cartoon characters or just random writings.
#15 Tights and leggings
Although the 1990s were in a way the opposite to the 1980s, some of the trends remained throughout the decade. Although not that big in the ’90s, tights made of synthetic material were also present in men’s fashion, most notably in the first half of the decade. As time went by, the clothes eventually became more baggy and loose.
One of the main traits of the 1990s was the widespread anti-conformist attitude. Nonetheless, formal clothing styles also saw their reinvention during the decade. As Bill Gates was the richest man on the planet, it was only expected to see people follow his example.
What’s really interesting is that he brought in some informalities into the otherwise stuck-up and, dare we say, otherwise dull business wear.
While we were still able to see conventional elements like ties and notch lapels, the colors of formal clothes became darker and more uniformed. Striped and patterned suits eventually went out of fashion.
Trenchcoats and reefer jackets also saw a significant rise in popularity during the 1990s, especially later in 1999 when “The Matrix” came out.
In the end, the 1990s were the times where all the previous bounds and norms were erased. So it wasn’t that unusual to see over-the-top outfits with all different styles mashed into one. Formal wear mashed with tracksuits or jerseys? Why not? After all, the 1990s culture was all about pushing the boundaries and expressing yourself.