Grunge was out and individuality was in — by 1996, women’s fashion began to move away from the grunge look of flannel shirts and ripped jeans that dominated the early 1990s and toward more individualized fashion-forward attire. Women often dressed for the occasion, opting for jeans, leggings or baggy sweaters for lounge wear and more form fitting, structured attire for special occasions. While the silhouette was usually minimal and clean, the trends were diverse and strong.
One 1996 trend incorporated pieces such as pleated plaid skirts or tartan mini kilts; argyle print jumpers; tall socks worn with girlish loafers or Mary Janes; shrunken sweaters; oxford shirts; mini backpacks; and short slip or baby doll dresses. Items were typically mixed and worn together for an updated schoolgirl look that featured shorter hemlines and polished textures. The schoolgirl trend was portrayed in popular movies like Clueless (1995) and The Craft (1996), making it a must-have look on runways such as Calvin Klein and Tommy Hilfiger, and in catalogs and magazines for 1996.
After the grunge trend faded, women began wearing more slim-fitting and tailored clothing in neutrals or high shine fabrics, such as metallics, sequins and silks. Designers like Tom Ford, Versace and Calvin Klein popularized this look with form-fitting skirt suits, slimming spaghetti strap dresses, metallic button-up blouses worn with miniskirts or slim pants, and baby doll dresses worn with strappy chunky sandals, boots or loafers.
American sportswear designers like Tommy Hilfiger and Ralph Lauren, and mainstream American brands like the Gap made American pride a strong trend for 1996. Sweatshirts or sweaters with American flags were popular, as were more fashion-forward looks like red and white bandeau tops with red white and blue baggy shorts, and overalls and track jackets with flag-type insignias, as seen on the Tommy Hilfiger runway.
The Baggier the Better
Though grunge was out, some elements the trend stayed — such as oversized, baggy pants. Styles ranged from denim overalls to carpenter jeans, corduroys, track pants and cargo pants, which were very popular in camouflage print. While the fabric ranged, one thing was certain: Most girls owned a pair of baggy pants in the year 1996.
The Chunky Shoe
Chunky shoes were so popular that the trend lasted throughout most of the ’90s. The most popular styles in 1996 were loafers or oxfords with square toe, a thick sole and chunky heel. Sometimes heavy buckles or chains were added for styling, but the overall look remained the same. Brands like Chinese Laundry and Steve Madden were some of the most popular, as seen in many magazines and American girls’ closets.
References and ResourcesSale into the '90s: Going Back to School with Seventeen Magazine
Marie Claire: The 25 Most Memorable Fashion Moments of the '90s
Sale into the '90s: Seventeen (with Jared Leto on the Cover, July 1996)
Bustle: All the Ways 2015 Trends Will Be Just Like Those of 1996: A Bustle Venn
BuzzFeed: 16 Things Teen Girls Wore in the Winter of 1996