Fashion in the '90s was largely defined by three primary influences. Many of the over-sized and brightly colored styles of the '80s carried over into the subsequent decade and remained on-trend for its first four or five years. However, the excess of the '80s was finally banished by the '90s two other defining aesthetics: minimalism and grunge. In retrospect, the decade was exceptionally provocative. Nearly every trend featured at least some sexually charged if not exploitative imagery.
Short, Tight Skirts
Short, thin, tight skirts were one of the few looks that stayed on-trend when the '80s aesthetic gave way to minimalism. They were often made of Lycra or a fabric blend that contained spandex. The material was thin and clung to a woman's posterior and hips. These skirts led to the popularization of thong panties. Since the skirts left so little to the imagination, panty lines had to be erased. Worn in the '80s to balance the voluminous shoulder pads, the skirts also fit in well with the sleek aesthetic made prominent by designers like Calvin Klein. Herve Leger became famous for his short "bandage" dresses and skirts, made of colored strips of material that resembled rolled bandages.
Plaid Schoolgirl Skirts
Inspired by the plaid so prominent in the grunge aesthetic, pleated plaid skirts, like school uniform skirts, ascended in popularity. The look reached iconic status in Britney Spears' 1999 debut music video "...Baby One More Time." However, the skirts became wardrobe staples for teens and women in their early 20s and were the skirts of choice for characters in successful films like "Clueless" and "Empire Records." The key to the look was to wear the skirt with a top that in no way resembled a uniform blouse. For example, in "Empire Records," Liv Tyler's character often sported her plaid skirt, with over-sized, midriff-baring sweaters. Retailers often produced the skirts in decidedly non-uniform colors like fuchsia and turquoise.
Short Skirts, Layered or Suspended
Layering was especially central to the grunge look, and girls often paired their short skirts with leggings, opaque tights or bicycle shorts. In the early '90s, many girls wore short tiered skirts over Lycra or spandex bicycle shorts. Though the decade included an ever-present menswear-inspired trend, even that aesthetic was influenced by the overt presence of women's sexuality. Women wore skirts and slacks with suspenders, in a nod to men's haberdashery, but the look was often accompanied by an exposed midriff or revealing neckline. It wasn't unusual for all three of these components--the bike shorts, short skirt and suspenders--to come together in one look.
Skirtsuits remained popular in the '90s, though minimalists streamlined them. Toward the end of the decade, they began to shrink, as well. Blazer lengths shortened and hemlines raised. The mini-skirtsuit was ubiquitous on the successful television program "Ally McBeal," which featured several professional female characters who routinely wore the style to work. The look was duplicated less in the real world but was nevertheless present.