The 1990s featured a variety of eclectic styles, combining looks from a number of previous trends. Styles from the 1960s and 1970s blended with casual, neutral clothing made of flannel and denim fabrics. Most clothing styles were casual and comfortable, influenced by popular culture trends, such as grunge bands, television shows and Generation X. The latter half of the decade featured styles, including goth, punk rock and hip-hop while the grunge and retro hippie looks fell out of favor.
Many of the popular designers of the 1980s faded in popularity as others gained attention in the ’90s. Clothing designed by Tommy Hilfiger and Ralph Lauren were part of the decade’s most popular trends. Calvin Klein sales were boosted by erotic commercials, and in addition to the company’s original men’s underwear line, the brand expanded to include women’s casual wear, business attire, accessories, home furnishings and perfume. Athletic apparel, such as t-shirts, basketball shorts and baseball caps, became mainstream, and people were seen performing everyday tasks in clothing designed by Adidas and Nike.
The early part of the decade featured a few styles left over from the 1980s, such as jean jackets, spandex bike shorts, leggings and denim shirts. By the middle of the decade, grunge, retro and hippie styles were blended to create eclectic outfits. Flannel shirts were worn over baby-doll dresses with opaque tights. Fleece jackets transitioned from sportswear to everyday outer-wear. Jeans were baggy and belted at the waist, and paired with form-fitting leotards and tight, cropped shirts. Revealing the stomach and mid-riff was one of the most popular styles of the decade. The skort, a combination of shorts and skirt, was also popular in the 1990s. Made of a variety of fabrics, the piece was essentially a pair of culottes or baggy shorts with a panel of fabric across the front, giving the appearance of a skirt when viewed from the front.
Though women’s fashions in the 1990s were traditionally unfeminine, underwear focused on curves and bust-lines. The Wonder Bra became popular in the 1990s in America, though it had been worn by Canadian women for most of the century. Victoria’s Secret and other lingerie designers capitalized on the trend of enhancing the natural bust-line, creating Victoria’s Secret Miracle Bra and other versions of push-up bras. The bra increased the size of the breasts by one cup, as well as lifted the breasts to create cleavage. During the latter part of the decade, women began wearing thong underwear, often with pants worn low enough on the hips to reveal the upper-back portion of the undergarment.
Accessories were scaled down from the previous decade, but there were a few must-have items on the runways and the streets. Chunky shoes and combat boots were paired with everything, from jeans to dresses. The designer brand Doc Marten was copied by several lower-end brands, making the clunky, orthopedic style accessible to everyone. Jewelry was understated and sometimes made of yarn or string, like the colorful friendship bracelets worn in bunches by many. As the decade drew to a close, the goth style gained popularity, with accessories including leather straps that snapped around the wrists and neck, as well as metal-studded bracelets and necklaces.
References and ResourcesApparel Search: 1990's Time Period in Fashion History
Lonestar College Kingwood: "1990-1999 American Cultural History"; P. Whitley, B. Bradley, B. Sutton and S. Goodwin; 2011