“...and of course, a choker.”
March 18, 2018 10:05 AM   Subscribe

When my student asked, “Which one is Gen X?” I wanted to respond, “The one your classmates are dressed as. Floral dresses with baggy sweaters, beanies, and work boots? That was us.” I didn’t say that. Because we wore those clothes precisely to avoid becoming an easily legible demographic. Reflections on the 90’s fashion revival, from Racked.
posted by Grandysaur (58 comments total) 47 users marked this as a favorite
 
And now in middle age, Gen X women literally haven’t achieved the progress the previous generation did.

Ouch.

This ties in with the old white man I saw earlier today in a documentary talking about how he'd been born at the absolute best time: post-WWII, when you could pretty much have the American dream if you worked at it (he failed to mention Vietnam, but it probably didn't affect him so he didn't have to think about it). Gen X was kind of born at the absolute worst time.
posted by elsietheeel at 10:11 AM on March 18, 2018 [15 favorites]


I don't think a "revival" has a chance in hell when it comes up against yoga pants.
posted by Brocktoon at 10:16 AM on March 18, 2018 [8 favorites]


My favourite '90s throwback will always be Rashida Jones's performance of Flip and Rewind.
posted by Talez at 10:29 AM on March 18, 2018 [8 favorites]


Confession time: I did not know scrunchies had gone away until I heard they had come back.

I dressed so badly in the '90s, by which I mean I was on trend. Part of it was a rejection of high-maintenance fashion, both out of carelessness and the kind of internalized misogyny that told me I was better for doing it, but part of it was what I didn't dare admit to myself -- I was scared of being looked at. The first time I wore a pretty teenage sleeveless shirt outside, I got WHOO! SUCKY shouted at me from a truck. This occurred in the length of time it took for me to fetch the Sunday paper and go back inside. I was twelve.

Velvet broomstick skirts and army jackets were warm, comfortable and (I thought) disqualifying in some way that I never quite explained. A lot of '90s fashions seemed to be a deliberate, Daria-like denial of engagement with the viewer. I remember putting silver spray in my hair for a gleaming all-over gray, which seemed adorable at fifteen. The grown women around me gave me a Look which I have now come to understand.

I wish I had shown off my youth while I had it, but I understand why I did not.
posted by Countess Elena at 10:31 AM on March 18, 2018 [77 favorites]


I heart this article so much.

And Countess Elena's comment above made me realize that so much of 90s fashion was both growing into my sexuality and femininity with flower dresses and goth makeup, while at the same time hiding my body shape with big stompy boots and shapeless plaid shirts.

The other day I was thinking about how the definition and look of middle age is so different now (40 is the new 25?) and how even the older gen x who are nearing retirement look much more youthful than their counterparts did decades before. My grandparents seemed so old to me in the 1980s and yet they were only(!) in their 50s at the time. The 50-year olds I interact with these days have so much more life in them.
posted by A hidden well at 10:45 AM on March 18, 2018 [24 favorites]


90's fashion was, for me, a combo of generic jeans-and-band-tee, skater chic (shortsleeve shirt of over longsleeve shirt, points for irony / non-sequitur), rave outfits (huge pants, Bubble Yum hat) and failed experiments. Never did the flannel grunge thing. I was also not a skater - that crew hated me.

On the topic of Gen X and the 90s - Matador is re-releasing Exile In Guyville on vinyl.
posted by grumpybear69 at 10:57 AM on March 18, 2018 [3 favorites]




What an excellent article - really thoughtful about the semiotics of these trends in fashion

There was no eBay or Etsy, only secondhand stores where ’70s bell bottoms, ’50s circle skirts, and ’80s sweaters might be jumbled together with World War II-era uniforms.

Yes, so much. This nails my teen wardrobe to a T - I haunted our local thrift shop almost daily. My favorite outfit was a 1950s men's short-sleeve button down shirt with a vertical stripe pattern, very much oversized, paired with fatigue pants that I had altered to make them narrow at the ankle, and the coup de grace, my aunt's 1960s charm bracelet with rhinestone kittycat, telephone, heart, and other super girly stuff dangling from it. I also cherrypicked elements of 60s surfer/tiki style, "mod" wear, rugged-outdoor-sporty stuff, and the ubiquitous jeans and flannels, and chunky boots.

This article is brilliant in identifying that this was not just fashion, nostalgia, youth fads. In fact I recall that we were really rather intentional in using the thrift-store, antique-store, older-relative's closet kind of venue to build our styles, aware of both the fact that it was all we could afford, and of the knowledge that in a very real sense we were being left to pick over the detritus of the 20th century and try to make something interesting of it, because sure as hell we were not going to be invested in enough to generate something entirely new. What that meant was a kind of creativity in the recombination of disparate elements that it would be hard to recapture by buying the look already put together.

I wish I had shown off my youth while I had it, but I understand why I did not.

I have thought of this so often while witnessing the profound re-feminiziation of fashion. When I had the conventionally "best" body of my life in my teens and 20s, I covered it up in flannels and fatigues, in bulky (sometimes overdyed) jeans, in shaker-knit sweaters and long drapey florals and velvet dresses. In one sense I feel as though I missed out on a part of young adulthood that would have offered elements of fun and playfulness with sexuality. In another, though, I am somewhat glad the dominant paradigm of fashion when I was growing up didn't push me toward the degree of expectations of near-continuous physical exposure and display that young girls and women today have to contend with. I dressed in an unflattering, unsexualized way, and it was perfectly all right. Even cool. Because we all did.
posted by Miko at 12:25 PM on March 18, 2018 [51 favorites]


I lived in flannel in high school and I'm doing so in my 30s and I don't feel sad that I wasn't dressing more femme because that never would have suited me. But I also remember that not all of the fashion of the 90s was so forgiving--I still haven't forgotten all those crop tops and how awful I was made to feel at not having the body type to wear them even when I was 15.
posted by Sequence at 12:35 PM on March 18, 2018 [7 favorites]


Regarding very early raver fashion in particular, but some of this likely applies to grunge, too.

The very early rave aesthetic was a lot more denim or even velvet overalls, baggy pants and shirts, stripey shirts and even earthtones and grunge-ish and skater-ish. It wasn't dayglo, skin tight and mostly plastic like you see at major EDM festivals and raves today. If anything it was more of a late 60s mod+hippie+madchester kind of thing. Tie dyes were still pretty common, too.

The baggy, often asexual and not very sexy aesthetic was pretty deliberate in the early rave scene. There just wasn't a whole lot of hooking up and "meat market" club/disco style culture in underground raves, and the underground stuff definitely wanted to get away from that to focus on music, dancing and art.

This is in addition to and above and beyond the AIDS/HIV fears of the day and the general toning down of casual sex. This is also in addition to or combined with the rejection of corporate/branded clothes and all the weird consumerist tribalism of the 80s and well into the 90s. And this was in addition to being poor and being forced to shop at thrift stores.

In hindsight it's as if a lot of us knew we were treading strange new territories and already playing with fire with the music, drugs and ecstatic marathon dancing. That we knew that throwing a bunch of interpersonal, intimate and sexual energy into this dynamic and volatile mix would... make things comparatively worse with regards to the greater community goals of a really deeply grooving overall party and dance floor.

Not that we were prudes, or naive, but it's like we wanted to keep things fairly innocent and pure. And part of this was how we dressed and presented. It was also evident in the politics of the dance, how we faced each other and the room, and not the DJ stage, and how partner dancing is incredibly rare in techno/house/rave culture dance.

I certainly didn't have the language or tools to talk about it like this back then, but we were pretty much trying to party and build this sort of community agape or platonic/friendly love orgies centered on dance and music.

The baggy, dumpy clothes and wide pants are also great for dancing and big pockets full of hidden things and had a function. A lot of raves were held in dirty warehouses or brownfields, too, not professionally cleaned festival grounds. I remember ruining t-shirts and clothes because I'd come home filthy from having to climb over/under fences, or sitting around smoking in some filthy corner of a warehouse. I've had t-shirts and shoes utterly ruined at raves because a warehouse or other location rained dirty, filthy sweat mixed with dirt and dust from above, sometimes even with real rain from a leaky roof.

And a lot of this holds true for my experiences with grunge and punk. Weird dirty venues, adventure, being broke as fuck.
posted by loquacious at 12:40 PM on March 18, 2018 [27 favorites]


And Countess Elena's comment above made me realize that so much of 90s fashion was both growing into my sexuality and femininity with flower dresses and goth makeup, while at the same time hiding my body shape with big stompy boots and shapeless plaid shirts.

Oh man, I used to wear a pair of khaki green jeans that were size 22 with a purple, red and white plaid shirt, usually with a dark purple beret. I was never a size 22. I was just thinking how I had no sense of style as a young adult, but perhaps I did after all :D
posted by Calzephyr at 12:41 PM on March 18, 2018 [2 favorites]


oh boy, yesterday was my 50th birthday (woooo)

I was definitely already doing a version of this in the late 80s, in college, that sort of hippy chick/Annie Hall thing with long full skirts and oversized tweed blazer. everything baggy and there I was this skinny young thing. lol.

in the 90s I loved that long swoopy flowered dress with combat boots thing. now I look back (from my older, wiser, thicker vantage) and I'm like "why didnt I show that off?" but Countess Elena nailed it. it felt so much safer, so incognito or something, to hide behind those bulky clothes and stompy boots.
posted by supermedusa at 12:48 PM on March 18, 2018 [9 favorites]


big pockets full of hidden things and had a function

As a female, I never had to carry a purse. There were pockets galore and for anything bigger, your backpack (german or Russian army surplus, often). I actually never really did carry a purse until the last 10 years when I started to need a more professional look...just never developed the habit. I had a messenger bag as a bridge for a long, long time.
posted by Miko at 1:00 PM on March 18, 2018 [10 favorites]


I dressed in an unflattering, unsexualized way, and it was perfectly all right. Even cool. Because we all did.

I'm currently grappling with this in trying to find what will eventually become my public style and breaking free of some bad/dowdy thrift store tastes and habits. And I'm definitely gravitating towards this and have always gravitated towards it. And I'm definitely struggling with, well, not going full grandma/corp/creative goth or something.

Because a lot of modern clothes (even for my age range) are really pretty skin tight and/or revealing and/or obviously undersized or undercut for "cute and pretty" right now, as opposed to the 80s and 90s when a boxy blazer or longer skirt or wider pants was a lot more common.

And it's been a learning process to hear critique, or to learn to accept or reject suggestions or criticisms even from good friends. Some of the sartorial comments I've had have been super helpful and some of them have been "ouch, really? but I like that."

It's additionally complicated with the trans thing, but there's also a rather unfair privilege in age and not being even remotely "conventionally feminine and attractive to unwanted male attention" which has it's own weird set of problems and presentation.

And, well, like a lot of cis women in my demo and age range I'm probably going to end up with mainly androgynous-casual-comfortable with some color. As much as I want that kind of long-skirted swoopy mostly black-as-a-color goth look, it's also not super practical with what I actually do with my life, which right now is riding my bike and hiking around a lot.

And, well, a whole lot of my layers and outdoor clothes are almost there already anyway.
posted by loquacious at 1:00 PM on March 18, 2018 [8 favorites]


I'm not even over Hall & Oates being the biggest revival thing yet, but my hair is now approaching 90s style, to which my haircutter told me that the 90s are on their way back.

Note that JNCO just went out of business like a month ago.
posted by rhizome at 1:03 PM on March 18, 2018 [4 favorites]


This ties in with the old white man I saw earlier today in a documentary talking about how he'd been born at the absolute best time: post-WWII

Well to be fair, this same guy admitted to leaving his entire family to join a cult in India. (If we saw the same doc) - So I'd question the full statement's rationality.

Like many here at MF, I was born as a Gen X and I've enjoyed witnessing probably the most dynamic moment of change and empowerment for the whole planet - The Internet. Nearly every community and sexual identification has representation of some sort now. I'm glad I enjoyed a childhood without the Internet (thank the lord, sorry kids), but seeing it develop during my time in college, and growing into adulthood at the same time as browsers and phones have progressed, has been amazing.

That said, boy grunge culture was awful. The band names were dumb metaphors for sperm and everyone wanted to be a passive aggressive lumberjack. I did enjoy women wearing full slips and combat boots as outerwear, however. And the women who dressed that way (yes, chokers included) were always dangerous ass kickers, too. Let's not forget that. I thought the female aspects of the culture were very empowering.
posted by Peter H at 1:05 PM on March 18, 2018 [12 favorites]


Generation X was truly screwed in a lot of ways, but at least my own sector of the generation (Xennials? I was born in 1978) were SO FORTUNATE when it came to fashion. It was one of those periods where fashion came up organically from youth subcultures - often subcultures that were actually dominated by young women, or at least in which young women were at least somewhat empowered. So of course those fashions were comfortable and not very sexualized and could be cobbled together pretty inexpensively from the racks of your local Savers. They also really emphasized individuality. At least where I was, there wasn't so much pressure to be a goth OR a punk OR a hippie OR a riot grrl. You could wear a purple velour skirth with huge doc martens and a tie-dye t-shirt and that was a pretty good look.
posted by lunasol at 1:07 PM on March 18, 2018 [17 favorites]


I'm glad thrift stores are back, 'cause I never stopped going. My sensibilities in fashion and decor inevitably go back to late-'90s and early-'00s teen mags that glorified that mix-and-match, i.e., if I never see the words "chunky" or "funky" in fashion writing again, it'll be too soon. I had no money, but my mother would take me to the thrift store up the hill and I could afford a few things for a few bucks each: a vintage logo messenger bag, '70s disco shirts, jewel-toned cargo pants, a pleather jacket that was only just starting to flake, great literature. My interior-decor sensibility, from years of browsing thrift stores and the garage sales of my Catholic neighbors, is multicultural, syncretic, supernatural, cross-generational eclecticism, like Howl Jenkins Pendragon's bedroom meets Dia de Los Muertos altars, Lafayette Reynolds' altars on True Blood, the dozens of dishes of tapas and banchan, Penelope Garcia's desk on Criminal Minds, The Magicians' living room... It's sparkly and full of patterns and texture, but it's not expensive—when my house was burglarized, the perpetrators found very little that had any obvious resale value whatsoever. It's about pattern recognition, signal in noise—you have to know what you're looking at to get why I have it on my shelf, but it looks cool even if you're uninitiated. I have lots of things, but I haven't invested significant money in most of them. I invest the most money in the things that actually matter, i.e., the tools I use for work and creative pursuits.

Where I grew up, everyone's parents had what someone on here once described as things they're "saving for special," something like that—cookie tins from some special anniversary, rare designer-logo items like a soap box (I had a Chanel No. 5 one whose scent I used to inhale), little perfume samplers (e.g., the tiny ck Be sample I kept on the shelf), bags or boxes from rare purchases from a designer label. None of it's worth a damn thing, but it makes people feel special, connected in some way to what's nice, and we take that mindset with us into adulthood, I think. I had to quit saving so many boxes of this sort after a while, but I still have some—though these days I save things I'm actually nostalgic about, as opposed to the Coca-Cola nonsense our parents were nostalgic about, e.g., MoonPie tins, the illustrated box from an anime mug, a Kraftig case, an aluminum My Little Pony cake pan, a metal sign with scratched lettering liberated from my alma mater... When they say my generation (High Millennials, or young Gen-Xers) doesn't care about physical objects, I would say that's not true—what's true is that we don't spend a lot of money on them, and we reject things we wouldn't use or have no connection to, like the china set my estranged grandmother was upset she couldn't foist upon me. (See also: the turning point when it became unthinkable to earnestly purchase or pass on eggplant decor to one's children.)

If I could choose one Twitter account that captures my nostalgic for late-'90s, early-'00s teen mags, it would be this one. I'm not sure whether she's done it for a while, but she used to post photos of vintage teen mags on Sundays, and it illuminated for me these dimly lit parts of my brain from those early days that have informed my sensibilities ever since. Why did I like John Cusack in the first place? Why did I want sparkly Lucite rings? Where did I learn to turn a phrase like that? Why did I subscribe to dELiA*s and snowboarding and skate catalogs? Where did I first hear of Liz Phair? Oh, Seventeen magazine... I didn't realize it at the time, never would've put it into those words until 2 decades later, but that was where I first got a dose of feminism, even in the retrograde format of teen magazines. Hadley Freeman's Life Moves Pretty Fast gets at this from the movie angle, too—the late-80s movies we grew up with were feminist in ways we didn't even realize that directly informed the feminism of the '90s. Anyway, I digress in several directions, but I liked this piece. Like, maybe we're still not earning what we should be in general, but we grew up with DIY as a way of life. So eh.
posted by limeonaire at 1:14 PM on March 18, 2018 [10 favorites]


It's the sensible shoes comment that gets me. I remember the first time I wore my clunky men's boots with a gothy patchwork skirt that joined all the floral patches together with black lace and a baggy sweater. I felt like I should be wearing dressy shoes because skirt, but I didn't have any dressy shoes and my boots were more comfortable anyway. It was a small DGAF moment but it was great. And I've worn men's shoes ever since. Granted, this is mostly necessity as my feet never seemed to get the message that they were meant to stop growing, they just slowed down a little. I am currently putting off getting new shoes because I hate shopping, but my size 11s regularly hurt my toes and I need to upgrade to size 12.

Anyway, I have no regrets about dressing the way I did. I wish I still could, I wish my few clothes that I have left from that time still fit me. Sadly I am approximately ten times the size I was then so that won't be happening. I just hope the more generously-cut jeans and pants come back soon because I am tired of having to look like a sausage.
posted by Athanassiel at 1:22 PM on March 18, 2018 [8 favorites]


So does this mean women's cargo pants will make a comeback? because that would be cool.
Not so cool: the guy's ants barely hanging off their ass. It took a decade to get rid of that silly style, and in the upcoming years of marches and riots, I don't think pants that'll fall off easily are a good idea.
posted by happyroach at 1:24 PM on March 18, 2018 [2 favorites]


I thought 90s fashion as regurgitated through H&M was about wearing the ugliest dowdiest shit you could find as a way of bragging about your pretty face and perfect body that is even making this flour sack look good. To my recollection the clothes available to me as a teen in the late 90s and early 2000s required a flat stomach (So I couldn’t wear it) so all of this talk about how forgiving it all was is foreign to me. Maybe fashion just changed that fast from the early 90s to the late 90s.
posted by bleep at 1:29 PM on March 18, 2018 [5 favorites]


Well to be fair, this same guy admitted to leaving his entire family to join a cult in India. (If we saw the same doc) - So I'd question the full statement's rationality.

Yeah but at least he became a swami and the cult's lawyer!

In Outliers, Malcolm Gladwell found something similar to what the guy in the documentary was saying, so who knows?

All I know is that when my Boomer parents were 28 they bought a house and when I was 28 I still lived in that house with them.
posted by elsietheeel at 1:37 PM on March 18, 2018 [12 favorites]


In 1997, I thought wearing brown doc martens with white crew sox and jean shorts paired with a plaid shirt and braided belt was acceptable. I was 17. I mostly dress like a land's end fashion model these days, but still, I miss those times.
posted by Fizz at 1:49 PM on March 18, 2018 [1 favorite]


I, too, am a middle aged Gen X woman from the 1990s. I have seen what is being designed and sold as the '90s' in stores and I admit my initial reaction was that it's way too soon. Then I remember being 13 in the early 80s, discovering one of my mom's skirts from 1965. I treated it like an artifact or rare antique that had materialized from another era somehow untouched by time (because it had been kept nicely on a hanger somewhere in the back of my mom's closet - poor mom). And then, all of my subsequent vintage finds still in near perfect condition in the 80s (pieces mainly from the late 50s /early 60s) were, by the 1990s, actually getting a bit worn. But, by then, vintage was also way more normalized and less costume-y.

A uniform of little dresses with big boots, or T-shirts with flannels and flared pants had evolved. At the time it really felt like everyone was just throwing things together without any concern for rules or logic in the most original ways, but the silhouette was pretty clear, and is what betrays the "90s", I think. Big fat combat boots, for instance. Or any big, chunky, sometimes platformed shoes in general. For me the big, fat, serious (angry?) boot was year round. Even while waitressing long shifts in hot sweaty nightclubs. But this was true for every person there, man or woman, waitress or otherwise. And the boots were indestructible. They look, right now, almost new. I wore them for twelve years. I bought them in the late 1980s. They look new.

I remember wondering how the 90s would look in 20 years (fashion-wise; I always wonder this!) and not being able to fathom it. The look had too many factions all of which seemed so personally and randomly customized. And wasn't it fairly recently that the idea that fashion had not changed in the last thirty years floating around? I know that I agreed with this idea (and still mostly do). But now I see things have evolved, maybe more slowly than they did in the past. The '90s vintage' that would be found in the back of my closet is still in the front. In active rotation. But 40% of it wasn't from the 90s, anyway. And I'm fifty. I don't dress like a twenty-something who doesn't care if she freezes anymore (or, who isn't worried that the only way to use the the bathroom is to take off the entire article of clothing - because one piece dresses with built in shorts are better somehow). But, yes, I don't dress like my mother or grandmother did at my age, either.

(And, unlike the author, my mother really did not enjoy my use of her 50s/60s in the way I styled myself. She understood I wasn't actually trying to emulate those eras, but the punk aspect, the 'tearing down', the deconstructing, the decay, the implied mockery of it all worried and probably insulted her a little bit. I never asked her about the way things were back then, either. Not until later. Perhaps that was part of the problem).
posted by marimeko at 1:49 PM on March 18, 2018 [7 favorites]


I think I was the 90s verison of "normcore" - I didn't so much pay attention to "fashion" so much as I just wanted to not be naked. I was a weird sort of mix of preppie and boho; more preppie at work, more boho at home. I did a lot of thrift store stuff because I was broke as all hell.....Not much has changed; I can dress down more in my current job, so my standard uniform these days at all times tends to be jeans, shirt, and either a long cardigan or long vest. Often with a big scarf thrown around my shoulders.

Although I am more prone to wearing "sensible shoes" with dressy clothes these days because my back can't do a heel any more.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 2:18 PM on March 18, 2018


Maybe fashion just changed that fast from the early 90s to the late 90s.

I'd say it did. A lot of things pop-culturally seemed to shift right around 1996. And a lot of what we're calling "90s" dressing here goes at least back to 1986, at least in my circles.
posted by Miko at 2:25 PM on March 18, 2018 [6 favorites]


limeonaire's link to Teen Prez/@rhombuses on twitter led to hackerscurator.com ... which is amazing! Click "SoftWear" for descriptions of costumes!
posted by thefool at 2:32 PM on March 18, 2018 [1 favorite]


Anyways, let's talk about Missy Elliot.
posted by alex_skazat at 4:08 PM on March 18, 2018 [5 favorites]


The comments above made me remember my first true DGAF moment, round about 1994. Pink poodle skirt from a play I had been in a year or two prior, Payless-brand Doc Marten lookalikes (which were a stretch at $8), and a grey and blue plaid flannel shirt (with pearl buttons!) that I stole from my dad. Bobbysoxer grunge, I guess?
posted by okayokayigive at 4:44 PM on March 18, 2018 [4 favorites]


If you're interested in early 90s hip-hop fashion like Cross Colors and Karl Kani, there's an excellent documentary streaming on Netflix called Fresh Dressed that I have watched more times than I can count (of course it expands beyond the early 90s, but it does get pretty in depth in that era).
posted by elsietheeel at 4:54 PM on March 18, 2018 [8 favorites]


Chiming in to agree that late 90s fashion was very different from early 90s fashion. And late 90s fashion wasn't particularly forgiving for the non-skinny; no fashion ever has been, but some are worse than others.

I am still pissed off about skinny jeans, which are hanging around way too long. This from a person who, on the rare occasions she finds jeans that work, promptly buys as many pairs as she can afford to help tide through the inevitable nice-jeans drought. Also I wish for the sake of my fat ankles that flares would make another reappearance. They don't need to be full on bell-bottoms, just something that doesn't cut off my circulation.
posted by Athanassiel at 5:24 PM on March 18, 2018 [6 favorites]


The band names were dumb metaphors for sperm

At the time, I just vaguely assumed that “Pearl Jam” came from jamming on Pearl drums. I was well into my adulthood before I learned the truth. I could never get into them anyway; I was glad to see the back of the nasal monotone of the ‘90s white male vocalist. I was listening to Oingo Boingo and David Bowie. Thank God there were no Youtube comments sections then, or I too would have proclaimed I was born in the wrong generation. It was that kind of time — you didn’t know what you were doing there or why.
posted by Countess Elena at 6:10 PM on March 18, 2018


The band names were dumb metaphors for sperm

Huh. As soon as you think about it they are all obvious, but I had never noticed until this comment. Wow. (I was mostly into less subtle music like the Circle Jerks, not that that is any excuse for not noticing something so obvious.)

In another, though, I am somewhat glad the dominant paradigm of fashion when I was growing up didn't push me toward the degree of expectations of near-continuous physical exposure and display that young girls and women today have to contend with. I dressed in an unflattering, unsexualized way, and it was perfectly all right. Even cool. Because we all did.

With the huge caveat that I am a guy, I remember women's fashion in the early 90's being more mixed between covered up and exposed. Sack dresses and clunky boots, yes, but also body suits and lace cut outs. Nothing like the ubiquity of the belly shirts of the late 1990s/early 2000's, but where I was living it was definitely a part of it.
posted by Dip Flash at 6:30 PM on March 18, 2018


Loved everything about this article. And what a fantastic title! I loved my choker so very much, I thought I was the coolest ever.
posted by honey badger at 7:00 PM on March 18, 2018


I still have two pairs of Doc Marten boots from the 90's - a green pair with silver laces and a knee high black pair. I am so ready to wear those black boots with short skirts again.

It's so weird to me that L'Oreal is selling hair dyes in pastels, purples, and fire engine red. Just today, I found out that you can buy Manic Panic at Target. At Target!

Also today, I cried as I threw out my most beloved clothes from the 90's, that I wore well into the 00's and just recently lost enough weight to fit into again, that were destroyed when my basement flooded. If only I had cleaned out my closet sooner, then I would have brought them upstairs, and... I don't know if I'm most upset at the emotional attachment or the thought of having to buy new clothes that fit now when I had perfectly good clothes downstairs. Maybe both, because I saved those clothes when they no longer fit because they felt so representative of me and besides the time and money sink of buying new clothes, it's going to be so much harder now to find clothes that tell my story. Which I think is a pretty 90's way of looking at it.
posted by Ruki at 7:27 PM on March 18, 2018 [1 favorite]


The youth of today will never understand having your parents say "you're not wearing that out are you? Won't you be too HOT?" as you left the house to go clubbing in oversized men's suit pants, boots and a mohair sweater. OK, a shrunken mohair sweater that exposed 3" of belly but still, yes I was way too fucking hot.
posted by fshgrl at 7:37 PM on March 18, 2018 [8 favorites]


I “designed” my own prom outfit in 1988 and to this day it was my shining sartorial moment:

-“Bolero” length tuxedo jacket (women’s, men’s, who knows, I got it at Rags in Cambridge)
- Hand made fuchsia satin poodle-style skirt with HUGE crinoline
- White tux shirt with huge fake diamond brooch
- Fishnets
- Black Docs
- White gloves
- No date

I was so proud of that outfit. Sigh.

(I went solo in a group that included John Hodgman so now I brag, but MAN we all looked just so fucking 80s amazing, I loved us.)
posted by tristeza at 8:12 PM on March 18, 2018 [18 favorites]


Oh wow, I just remembered my leather lace-up Robin Hood boots. Like these though obviously not a museum piece. I used to wear them with the aforementioned gothy black-lace-and-patchwork skirt. They had almost no cushioning at all, maybe that's why my arches fell. Such fashion!
posted by Athanassiel at 9:33 PM on March 18, 2018 [1 favorite]


I was in primary/elementary school in the 90s and was reflecting as I hung out my flannel shirt to dry (bought recently) - this was the stuff I thought was SO COOL because the big kids wore it- t-shirt and flannel, jeans, chunky shoes/boots. (Were converse a thing in the 90s?)

Bring back the flare jeans.
posted by freethefeet at 3:36 AM on March 19, 2018


I'm glad thrift stores are back, 'cause I never stopped going

They can never be in the same way though, sadly, because of the ubiquity of the internet. Thrift stores have raised their prices enormously, so you can’t really have the kind of quality-stuff-for-pennies you could in the 90s.
posted by corb at 6:19 AM on March 19, 2018 [3 favorites]


(Xennials? I was born in 1978)

I'm glad I'm not the only one from that era (born in 1976, bicentennial babies FTW) who struggles with generational affiliation. I've settled on GenX since I'm now within the accepted timeframe, but I could swear that in 1992 1976 was definitely not considered part of that cohort.
posted by grumpybear69 at 7:19 AM on March 19, 2018 [8 favorites]


If you want to recreate '90s male style, just buy everything in XL if you normally buy a S or M, and XXXXXXXXL if you normally buy an XL. Then maybe layer it if it is cold outside. Have 30" legs? Buy 36" length jeans.

I like post 2000s fashions because it means buying clothes that actually fit you.
posted by The_Vegetables at 7:26 AM on March 19, 2018


I like post 2000s fashions because it means buying clothes that actually fit you.

Those ubiquitous Sub Pop shirts? They didn't sell any smaller than a (huge) medium, and people were slightly smaller and skinnier then.
posted by The_Vegetables at 7:28 AM on March 19, 2018 [1 favorite]


Were converse a thing in the 90s?

Shit yeah. And about the only such thing that I ever got right in the '90s, fashion-wise. I even remember getting compliments, which (sartorially-speaking) has happened maybe three or four times in my entire life.
posted by CheesesOfBrazil at 7:35 AM on March 19, 2018


Heh... this article had perfect timing. While not the same political ramifications, I suppose the fashion sensibility all does come back, more or less. To this day, my sister loves to ridicule me about one of my favorite outfits in high school: an enormous cardigan sweater and turtleneck, paired with a pair of vintage, plaid wool shorts from the 1960s (found in my grandparents' attic), cream-colored tights, and chunky saddle shoes. Everything I wore in the 90s was a weird mishmash of things three sizes too big and things found in various family attics. And yet, just this morning, my 10-year-old headed to school wearing hand-me-down striped shorts over tights with a hole in the knee. I guess some things don't change.
posted by hessie at 7:36 AM on March 19, 2018 [5 favorites]


Were converse a thing in the 90s?

I wore Converse constantly in high school, mid-80s, and a lot of guys wore them to the prom with their tux.
posted by Miko at 8:35 AM on March 19, 2018


Mr. Superna and his groomsmen wore Converse with their tuxes at our late 90's wedding.
posted by superna at 10:03 AM on March 19, 2018


Note that JNCO just went out of business like a month ago.

Man, I miss my JNCOs. They were made out of some deep grass green brushed denim that was as soft as velvet but still as tough as canvas. The waist actually fit naturally at a normal height, and the legs were definitely wide but not elephant-leg wide. Like a Levi's relaxed fit straight leg, just more relaxed and wider.

The cuffs were, of course, unhemmed and raw edged, because of course they had to cover most of your shoes just right, especially the heels.

And, omg, the pockets. I swear the front pockets went down nearly to the knees. The back pack pockets weren't ridiculously deep like Kikwear pants, but still big enough to hold a 40 oz of beer or a 1 liter bottle of water, with room for a wallet. There was also a really deep coin/watch pocket, a pen/tool pocket down the leg and hidden sub-pockets in the front pockets and below the pen pocket.

It took nearly ten years of at least weekly wear to wear them out, but eventually the crotch wore out from my thunderthighs and dancing, and they blew out at some desert party and I spent the rest of the weekend trying to keep 'em closed with safety pins.
posted by loquacious at 10:56 AM on March 19, 2018 [1 favorite]


I was 20 in 1989, and by then, even though I was in school, I had a job, so I kept it basic: Knee-length and long pencil skirts for work, ballet-style flats and penny loafers, polos and a few women's cut t-shirts, Levi's, Sebagos, plain wool or cashmere sweaters I picked up at the thrift store. I dress like that much of the time now, except I love skinny jeans. I'm short enough that regular jeans cuts make me look stumpy, and flared/bell bottoms are right out. I also didn't do the Karl Kani or Cross Colours thing, again, because the clothes were so baggy, I'd drown in them.

I was a big Delia's fan, though I guess that's more late 90s/early 00s, right? I got my "concert clothes" from there, like band shirts and kicky sneakers and a couple of ankle-length skirts with psychedelic patterns on them. My fave early 90s purchase is my black girly t-shirt with a pink print of Bowie as Ziggy on it, his full smiling face. I still wear it. I got it from a Salvation Army around the time I first moved to NYC for 99 cents!

If you see a picture of me from the 90s onward, the giveaways to my age are my glasses frames and my hair cut. I have naturally curly hair, and from the 80s to early 90s, I'd just lightly blow-dry my hair upside down and squish in some mousse.

I didn't do the "babydoll dress with fishnets and Doc Martens" thing because I already looked 12, I didn't want to look any more childlike than my face and height purported me to be, though I did have 2 pairs of Docs after college. I also didn't wear the elephant leg flowy jumpsuits I saw in the Express windows at the time. The idea that I'd have to unzip and be half-starkers to use the bathroom made me pass them by.
posted by droplet at 2:47 PM on March 19, 2018


Fellow sisters of Mefi: if you want to wear flare jeans, wear them! It is so true that "It's not what you wear, but how you wear it." If you feel comfortable & confident in flare jeans, wear them! This is something I've wholeheartedly embraced in my 40's, to simply wear what makes me feel good. When I feel good, I am hella confident as well as kinder.
posted by honey badger at 5:02 PM on March 19, 2018 [3 favorites]


I was staunchly against bootcut jeans and/or flares up until I put a pair on in 2000 and I haven't worn anything else since (except for when I have to wear skinny jeans due to tucking into boots). I refuse.
posted by elsietheeel at 5:22 PM on March 19, 2018 [1 favorite]


Were converse a thing in the 90s?

Oh yeah. And you could mix and match different colors because the 90's. And they were still made in the USA at that point so you could be a dick about that if you wanted.

And yes, I wore a pair to the prom.
posted by davros42 at 5:36 PM on March 19, 2018 [1 favorite]


Those ubiquitous Sub Pop shirts? They didn't sell any smaller than a (huge) medium, and people were slightly smaller and skinnier then.

LOL. People weren't "slightly smaller." I'm the same height I was in the 90's and their "huge" medium was way too short and too tight. The sleeves were ridiculously short for anyone over 6' tall.

Brands/designers/stores like to pretend that people who don't fit into their narrow range of sizes (weight/height) don't exist. Nothing new there.
posted by zarq at 9:10 AM on March 20, 2018 [2 favorites]


There just wasn't a whole lot of hooking up and "meat market" club/disco style culture in underground raves, and the underground stuff definitely wanted to get away from that to focus on music, dancing and art.

This is so true. The DJs would also pride themselves on playing really amazing obscure stuff. It is weird to think how, back in 1996, I was hoping against hope that electronic music would break into the mainstream, and now I'm kind of sad that it did, because look at what it became.
posted by grumpybear69 at 10:00 AM on March 20, 2018 [2 favorites]


To me thrift stores will never be like they were in the early 90s because we'll never have the same entire decade of deaths caused by the AIDS crisis. We're not likely to see so many people with that level of carefully curated taste die so suddenly, and have their estates sold off in bulk because the families want nothing to do with them.

I remember mocking my mother because of her class-based hangups about even being in a thrift store, but now I wince even more at how I never understood the pain that had to happen before they reached a level of quality that would make them appealing to me.
posted by rum-soaked space hobo at 3:48 PM on March 20, 2018 [2 favorites]


I always considered my fashion a performance piece in the 90s. I would put on cartoonish makeup and fifties dresses and then pile on chains and spikes and boots as a way to kind of mock the notion of the nuclear family. I also glued plastic animals all over a torn wedding dress, or layer several vintage slips over a big pair of cut off camo fatigues, and STILL love me an old man cardigan. My grandma dressed pretty modern but I was lucky to find a real weird stash of dayglo 60s polyester that cost me some friends with my garish brightness.
I'm on the last end, and maybe the cusp (who knows!?) of gen x and millenial depending on who you ask, I currently can't relate to what used to be my cool older friends and lean towards friendships and partners quite a bit younger because I no longer respect a lot of what gen x kids used to embrace, even ironically because it's no question insensitive. I can't mess with tiki style because colonialism just isn't *camp* to me.
posted by complaina at 3:51 PM on March 20, 2018 [1 favorite]


I no longer respect a lot of what gen x kids used to embrace, even ironically because it's no question insensitive.

I agree with this. There's a lot I wouldn't wear now that I wore then (even if I were young now).

I'm not sure the AIDS crisis was directly responsible for populating thrift stores. A lot of people died, of course, and I don't intend to be dismissive of those lives that were lost too soon, but the numbers for the US were not in the millions and I would not imaging they were ever enough to be the source of clothing keeping countless thrift stores full nationwide. And many of those who died then just dressed in regular contemporary clothes like most other people, or were poor and didn't have a ton of clothes anyway, so they weren't necessarily leaving estates of curated taste. My favorite thrift store was mostly full of items left by older men and women who died at an advanced age and left closets of workwear and formalwear from the 40s through 70s, not by people who had already been collecting and concentrating vintage wear. Antique stores and attic-cleanout garage sales could bring you farther back than that. The concentrating-and-collecting started to happen by around 1990 but it was slow to take off. The number of 'vintage stores' today boggles my mind; they were a rarity.
posted by Miko at 4:13 PM on March 20, 2018 [1 favorite]


I suppose thrift stores in San Francisco were a separate scenario, now that I think about it.
posted by rum-soaked space hobo at 12:58 AM on March 21, 2018


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