Fashion collectively went big in the 1980s — big hair, big shoulder pads, big on designer labels — so naturally, the early ’90s reacted with a “less is more” aesthetic. It wasn’t all Seattle garage-band grunge, however: Amid the plaid flannel shirts and Dr. Martens were other minimalist trends that nudged people into a more casual look that persists today.
Not Anti-Fashion, but Non-Fashion
While ’80s punk rockers were fashion rebels, ’90s grunge rockers were more fashion resistant. The plaid flannel shirts, threadbare jeans and boots said “thrift store” rather than attempting any philosophical or political statement. Dr. Martens lace-up boots became all-purpose footwear, whether with jeans, dresses — baby-doll short or ankle length — or shorts. It was an easygoing mix that said the wearers had better things to worry about than what to wear. In a related trend, teens adopted vintage ’70s looks, including peace symbols, earth tones of brown and green, bell-bottom jeans and skimpy T-shirts — and why not, since the grunge look had much in common with the ’70s.
At the Office, Black Was the New Black
Thirty-somethings went minimalist in the early ’90s too. Chain stores including the Gap and Banana Republic sold what became a workplace uniform for men and women: black slacks or jeans or khakis, and a white button-down shirt or tee. Dressier wear was — surprise — black or white. In more formal offices, women wore trouser suits or skirt suits with longer blazers, again in the ubiquitous black. Casual Fridays first made an appearance.
Era of the Supermodels
While a good many people gave up on fashion for a few years, designers still tried to entice them with looks from supermodels Linda Evangelista, Naomi Campbell and “heroin chic” darling Kate Moss. But instead of fashion’s usual trickle-down effect, street styles filtered upward: In 1993, Marc Jacobs for Perry Ellis showed a grunge collection — boots, plaids and all — that resulted in his being fired. Before anyone coined the term “high-low,” actress Sharon Stone wore a black Gap T-shirt with a Valentino trumpet skirt to the Oscars in 1996 as the less-glam-is-more-real look continued.
A "Golden Era" for Hip-Hop
Many people may have ignored fashion in the early ’90s, but for the hip-hop scene, “1992 marked a stylish crossroads,” according to “The New York Times.” Polo jackets or sweaters, big gold medallions and big sunglasses, high-top fade haircuts and designer sneakers were bright spots in the fashion landscape. Another urban phenomenon, the Rave scene, added a kaleidoscope of color. And in a mini-trend that continues today, baseball caps began to be worn everywhere, by almost everyone.
References and ResourcesMental Floss: 11 Fashions the Kids Were Wearing Back in 1993
Slate: Never Mind the Gap
Marie Claire: 100 of the Most Memorable Looks from Everyone's Fave '90s Supers
The New York Times: The Year of Dressing Dangerously
Fashion Era: 1990s Fashion History -- The Mood of the Millennium
Marie Claire: The 25 Most Memorable Fashion Moments of the '90s
New York Daily News: That's Whack! '90s Fashions We Don't Want Back
International Business Times: Why Does Everyone Wear Baseball Caps?