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The 90’s were a time of varying aesthetic sensibilities. From the Spice Girls to Nirvana to Biggie, a singular, definitive taste and look of this decade is difficult to pin down.
Dominating trends veered toward minimalist and relaxed fashions, contrasting with the flashy, structured style of the 80’s. Additionally, there was a general resistance to cultural conformity, as shown by the newfound mainstream popularity of genres like grunge. Many trends crossed into different genres of music and aesthetics, taking inspiration from each other, as well as past movements. However, many had their own distinct looks. Many girls at the time were seen wearing crop tops, like Madonna and Gwen Stefani did at red carpet events. Musical artist Melanie Brown, aka Scary Spice, was known for wearing animal print and faux fur with satin dresses. This inspired countless women to add these items to their closet. Additionally, when looking at the 90’s it is important to recognize the powerful women in the alternative scene that helped create these trends and keep them alive.
This was one of the most popular styles during the 90’s. While punk was making a bold statement, grunge wasn’t created to make such a statement. Soundgarden, Nirvana and Pearl Jam were key figures in creating the grunge style. Nirvana frontman Kurt Cobain was seen wearing Converse, graphic tees, and Aviator sunglasses. Many artists in the grunge genre sported oversized clothes, flannel shirts, and hefty boots. The effortless appearance made the style more appealing to the masses. Men who participated in the aesthetic usually wore graphic tees, flannels, cardigans, army jackets, cargo pants, or even leather jackets. A similar aesthetic was worn by women, with the addition of mom jeans or any wide leg denim.
Industrial was another common trend inspired by musicians such as Nine Inch Nails and Marilyn Manson. The genre was described as “flashy but dark.” The aesthetic is inspired by a totalitarian regime to project a sense of authority. The singers were usually caught wearing a majority of black, acid denim wash jeans, leather, buckles and platform boots. If one truly wants to lean into the style, perhaps a gas mask or goggles were worn. And, of course, we cannot forget about the tons of rivets.
Black metal was going through a revival during the 90’s. Black metal bands like Immortal and Cradle of Filth often wore corpse face paint, along with all black outfits and bold eyeliner. Studs and other accessories were usually worn with black clothing and black painted nails. Some garments include upside down crosses and even pins!
Nu-metal was a blend of rock and metal with a pinch of hip-hop. Artists such as Korn, Limp Bizkit, and Kid Rock pioneered this style. Korn sometimes wore tracksuits, often black or sometimes purple, which had made a comeback. Many in the scene wore Adidas tracksuits, hats, wallet chains, spiked hair, and braids. Another fashion staple were JNCO jeans. People wore spiked hair or braids, and the more colors you had, the better. You got bonus points if you were a man with a goatee.
Riot Grrrl was the feminist response to the male-dominated rock scene of the 90’s, led by bands like Sleater-Kinney, Bikini Kill, Le Tigre, Babes in Toyland, and more. The movement had a complicated relationship to fashion, as fashion was (and still is) often rooted in patriarchal domination and sexist beauty standards. Thus, prominent Riot Grrrl figures were concerned with subversive and unapologetic forms of dress that confronted such institutions. Punk and grunge informed one aspect of the aesthetic, but other traits set it apart, such as bold sloganism written on artists’ bodies. The sporting of stereotypical “girly” things, like sequins, pink, Disney princesses, and hearts, worked as a reclamation of girlhood. Meanwhile, figures like Kat Bjelland and Courtney Love invented and popularized an aesthetic that played on traditional feminine fashions; they wore teared up babydoll dresses, knee high socks paired with leather boots, and donned barrettes in their hair with dark, heavy eyeliner on their face. The style is meant to be ironic– as female rock musicians were brash and unashamed on stage, shouting feminist lyrics, they wore clothing that typically represented well-behaved, “good girls.” Overall, Riot Grrrl was concerned with both breaking the limits of femininity and dispelling the view of it as shameful or inferior.
90’s Alternative Female Artists
PJ Harvey was extremely experimental; her fashion was another component of her art. She often powdered her eyes with electric blue shadow and colored her lips in bright red lipstick while wearing either a sparkly dress or a monochrome outfit. Harvey was known as a fashion chameleon, as she changed her style day by day depending on her mood. When looking back at PJ Harvey’s style, one can be reminded to dress however they want; to be bold and creative yet unapologetically oneself.
Fiona Apple was another 90’s fashion icon. Apple’s style looked effortless and she became the definition of “that cool girl” many wanted to be like. She embodied the 90’s look, wearing spaghetti straps, low rise flared jeans, and having long wild hair. Apple stomped to the beat of her own drum.
Alanis Morissette, among many other women, was an “anti-it-girl.” She preferred the oversized baggy look compared to skin tight clothes. Her outfits always looked put together and ready to do anything- Go to the store, walk the red carpet, or put on a show! Morissette’s looks were extremely versatile and laid back, which is why her style worked so well. Not only was she super chill, but her style spoke for itself.
Björk was another 90’s icon, and is truly an individualist. If you don’t know Björk for her awesome music, then you may remember her for wearing the iconic white swan dress to the red carpet. Björk would wear the most beautiful dresses made of silk or ruffles. She wore lots of big, structured pieces that were filled with colors. Her outfits were both adorable and jaw-dropping, and her hair was often playful in space buns or pigtails in the early 90’s. Björk is an adventurer both in music and in fashion. She is creative and electric, remembering her among other alt-female artists is crucial!
Spearheaded by rivals Oasis and Blur, as well as bands like Pulp, Suede, and the Verve, Britpop reached its peak in the mid-90’s as a genre that emphasized a brighter version of rock. It sought to represent everyday, working-class people, and overall, was proudly British. Its aesthetic is understated but distinct; sporty, preppy, and mod-revivalist. Its classic uniform consisted of cuffed jeans, parkas, bucket hats, track jackets, polos, blue Adidas Gazelles, and Stone Island crewnecks. Britpop directly opposed the popular grunge music scene in the U.S., as well as the introspective, muddled shoegaze in the U.K., in favor of a much more optimistic sound.
The hip-hop genre transformed oversized jackets and baggy jeans into everyday wear. TLC and Spice Girls were seen wearing combat boots, wide leg pants, and even sportswear during their performances. LL Cool J, Biggie, and Tupac wore Timberland boots, bucket hats, tracksuits, and baggy cargo pants. Will Smith and the Fugees frequently wore denim dungarees. To accessorize, artist Aaliyah wore paisley bandanas and LL Cool J wore Kangol hats.
1990’s section written by Emma Deroian, Katarina Nikolic and Julia Slevin.
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