In the early 1990s, several late 1980s fashions remained very stylish among both sexes. However, the popularity of grunge and alternative rock music helped bring the simple, unkempt grunge look to the mainstream by 1992. The anti-conformist approach to fashion led to the popularization of the casual chic look that included T-shirts, jeans, hoodies, and sneakers, a trend which continued into the 2000s. Additionally, fashion trends throughout the decade recycled styles from previous decades, notably the 1950s, 1960s and 1970s.
Due to increased availability of the internet and satellite television outside the United States, plus the reduction of import tariffs under NAFTA, fashion became more globalized and homogeneous in the late 1990s and early 2000s.
One of the most influential group of models during the early 90s was the Big Five, whose fame and social power allegedly surpassed that of many movie stars. The Big Five consisted of supermodels Naomi Campbell, Cindy Crawford, Christy Turlington, Linda Evangelista and Tatjana Patitz. Whether booked as individuals or as an elite group, each supermodel gained worldwide success and had great influence on the fashion industry. Naomi Campbell was the first black woman to grace the cover of French Vogue, Time, and American Vogue's September issue. Cindy Crawford was the highest paid model on the planet in 1995 per Forbes. Christy Turlington was known for being a reliable model who garnered over 500 covers during her career and most notably, signed a contract with Maybelline for an annual fee of $800,000 for twelve days' work. Linda Evangelista was known as the industry's “chameleon” for her ability to suit a multitude of styles. Evangelista also infamously coined the phrase, “We don’t wake up for less than $10,000 a day.” Tatjana Patitz, the last of the Big Five, continues to be regarded as one of the “original supermodels” and even after her retirement, she remains in demand periodically by such designer houses as Jean-Paul Gaultier and Chanel. Later in the decade, Tatjana was replaced in the Big Five by supermodel Claudia Schiffer, who is one of the most successful supermodels in the world, holding the record for the most magazine covers according to The Guinness Book of World Records.
Later in the decade, the rise of Kate Moss shifted the world of fashion when her entrance onto the scene turned the Big Five into the Big Six. Kate Moss became one of the nineties' biggest phenomena when, at 14 years of age, she was discovered at JKF Airport. Her waif-like figure set a new fashion standard that became known as “heroin chic.” This was a pale and ghostly look that called for a stick-thin stature and size zero body. Due to Kate's extremely skinny frame, she was often criticized for allegedly promoting eating disorders as apparently evidenced by her shots for Calvin Klein. Reportedly, posters of Kate Moss were often defaced with graffiti that read “feed me”.
In the US, USSR,South Africa, and Japan popular trends included bold geometric-print clothing in electric blue, orange, fluorescent pink, purple, turquoise and the acid green exercise wear popularized by Lisa Lopes of TLC. Typical patterns included triangles, zigzag lightning bolts, diamonds, lozenges, rectangles, overlapping free-form shapes, simulated explosions inspired by comic book illustrations or pop art, intricate grids, and clusters of thin parallel lines in contrasting colors for example, white, black and yellow on a cyan background. Many women wore denim button-down Western shirts, colored jeans in medium and dark green, red, and purple, metallic Spandex leggings, halterneck crop tops, drainpipe jeans, colored tights, bike shorts, black leather jackets with shoulder pads, baby-doll dresses over bike shorts or capri leggings, and skating dresses. Neon colored tops and leg warmers were popular, together with leopard print skirts shiny satin or rayon blouses, embroidered jeans covered in rhinestones, and black or white shirts, leggings and jackets printed with abstract red, blue, yellow and green geometric patterns. In America, popular accessories included court shoes, cowboy boots, headscarves, slouch socks, Keds, ballet flats, and the penny loafers or boat shoes associated with the preppy look.
By 1996, professional women in Britain, Australia and America wore more relaxed styles and muted colors, such as black floral print dresses, plain kaftan style blouses, Mary Janes, maxi skirts, boots, smart jeans, big floppy hats, culottes, and chunky platform shoes. Trouser suits began to replace skirts, and nude tights and black pantyhose made a comeback.
Young woman wearing a spaghetti strap top, a silver necklace, low ponytail and straight-leg jeans, circa 1999.
From 1998–2000, the unisex casual chic look gained mainstream appeal, with dark stonewash jeans, spaghetti strap crop tops, tracksuits, sweatpants, and other athletic clothing. Denim's popularity was at an all-time high in Europe, with designer denim jackets and matching jeans rocketing in prices. Other common, more affordable brands included Mudd, JNCO, and Evisu, a Japanese denim brand which launched in the 1980s. The most popular trainers were white or black and manufactured by Adidas, Skechers, Hitec and Nike. Running shoes with built in air pumps were popular among both sexes. Leather had largely replaced canvas, and soles were made of foam rather than solid rubber.
The 1970s became a dominant theme for inspiration on men's apparel in 1996. Among these clothing styles were coats with fur- or faux fur-trimmings, jackets with bold shoulders and wide lapels, and boot-cut slacks. This continued into the 2000s (decade). Casual clothes such as trousers, sweaters, and denim jackets were worn with shirts made of satin, PVC, and terry cloth. Both pastel colors and bold patterns were popular and successfully replaced black.
Trinidadian men wearing typical late 90s fashions, 1997.
By the late 1990s, the grunge look became unfashionable. The emergence of the rave subculture had sparked a revival of interest in more stylish clothes, with name brand designers such as Calvin Klein and Ralph Lauren making a comeback. In Europe, jeans were more popular than ever before. From 1997-98 brighter colors came into style, including plum, charcoal, olive, wine, and shades such as "camillia rose", "blazing orange", "whisper pink", "hot coral", and a light-grayish blue called "wind chime".
Much of men's fashion in 1997 was inspired by the 1996 film Swingers, leading to the popularization of the "dressy casual" look. Such apparel included blazers, black or red leather jackets and bowling shirts in either a variety of prints or a solid color, and loose-fitting flat-front khaki chinos or jeans. Around this time it became fashionable to leave shirts untucked.
In Europe, single-breasted three and four button notch lapel suits in grey or navy blue, together with leather jackets based on the same cut as blazers, began to replace the double breasted 1980s power suits. The wide neckties of the early 1990s remained the norm, but the colors became darker and stripes and patterns were less common. In India and China, the Nehru suit and Mao suit declined in popularity in favor of conventional Western business wear.Tweed cloth and houndstoothsportcoats went out of fashion due to their association with older men. Dress shoes (usually in black) included chelsea boots with rounded or square toes, wingtips, and monkstraps.
In America, an increasing number of men began to dress smart-casual and business casual, a trend kickstarted by Bill Gates of Microsoft. At more formal events such as weddings or proms, men often wear boxy three or four button, single-breasted suits with a brightly colored tie and an often matching dress shirt. Another trend was to wear black shirts, black ties, and black suits. Black leather reefer jackets and trenchcoats were also fashionable in the late 1990s.
The dominant youth clothing fad at the beginning of the 1990s was fluorescent clothing in blue, coral, orange, pink, and yellow. Hoop earrings were also a popular accessory for teenage girls and women in the first years of the 1990s. Plaid shirts were also popular. Popular colors for girls included coral, hot pink, bright mint, hot red, and turquoise. In Britain and the US, girls, tweens, teens, and college girls wore the outfit of an oversized tee shirts, sweat shirts with a turtleneck underneath, mid calf dresses with leggings, oversized sweaters especially v-neck sweaters over a turtleneck, slouch socks worn over leggings or sometimes sweatpants and Keds with their hair inusually in bangs with a headband or high ponytail or high side ponytail. It was not uncommon to see mothers dressed right along with their daughters in this outfit. Also girls, tweens, teens, and college girls wore black or white lace trimmed bike shorts with babydoll dresses, belts worn with dresses, Dress shorts worn with tights and ballet flats or sometimes with slouch socks over the tights and Keds, tights with slouch socks and Keds, leggings worn over pantyhose or tights with a pair of flats, sweaters, crew neck T-shirts, ballet flats, Keds, Converse Chuck Taylor All-Stars, boat shoes, shortalls worn in the summer with ballet flats or Keds, and in the winter with a long sleeved tee or turtleneck and tights and flats or Keds, leotards and pantywaist tops worn with jeans or skirts, colored jeans especially in medium and dark green, red, and purple worn rolled up to show off their slouch socks or worn in skinny jeans style with the slouch socks worn over the jeans, long sleeved T-shirts, and athletic shorts such as the Nike Tempo. Boys wore soccer shorts, jean jackets, tartan shirts, tapered acid washjeans, colored jeans in bright and light mint green, red, and purple colors sweatpants, and single, double or triple stripe athletic socks worn with everything from shorts to rolled jeans and khakis. In the Southern Suburbs of Chicago during the late 1980s and early 1990s, Z Cavericci pants and IOU sweatshirts were worn by members of the middle/upper-middle class.
Grunge fashion remained popular among the British skater subculture until the late 1990s as the hard-wearing, loose-fitting clothing was cheap and provided good protection. Members of the subculture were nicknamed grebos or moshers and included those who did not skate.
Women's hair in the early 1990s continued in the big, curly style of the 1980s. High and High sided ponytails continued through most of the decade, especially when playing sports and at the gym. Usually these were worn with a hair tie instead of a scrunchie. Bangs remained big throughout the decade, especially the "mall bangs" poofy style associated with the early 1990s. From 1994 until the early 2000s they got smaller and somewhat flatter and less poofy and laid closer to the forehead.
In the late 1990s, the Bob cut was well-desired, popularized and rejuvenated by Victoria Beckham of the Spice Girls. This late 90s-style bob cut featured a center, side, or zig-zag parting, as opposed to the thick bangs of the early 1990s. The Farrah Fawcett hairstyle made a comeback in 1997, with highlights going hand-in-hand with this revival. Other late 1990s haircuts included "Felicity curls" (popularized by Keri Russell in the hit TV show Felicity), the Fishtail Half-Up, and pigtails, as well as the continuation of mid 1990s hairdos.
Young man in 1995, sporting an earring and a short undercut hairstyle.
In the mid 1990s, men's hairstyle trends went in several different directions. Younger men who were more amenable had adopted the Caesar cut, either natural or dyed. This style was popularized by George Clooney on the hit TV show ER in season two, which premiered in mid 1995. More rebellious young men went for longer, unkempt "grunge" hair, often with a center parting. The curtained hairstyle was at its peak in popularity, and sideburns went out of style. Meanwhile, most professional men over 30 had conservative 1950s style bouffant haircuts or the Caesar cut.
By 1999 it was considered unstylish and unattractive for men and boys to have longer hair. As a result, short hair completely took over. From 1999 onwards, aside from curtained hair (which was popular throughout the decade), spiky hair, bleached hair,crew cuts, and variants of the quiff became popular among younger men. Dark haired men dyed their spikes blonde or added wavy blonde streaks, a trend which continued into the early 2000s (decade). Variants of the surfer hair was popular among rock musicians during that time period. For African-American men, the cornrows (popularized by former NBA player Allen Iverson) and buzz cut were a popular trend that continued into the early 2000s.
Children's and teenager's hairstyles
For teenage boys longer hair was popular in the early to mid-1990s, including collar-length curtained hair, Long, unkempt grunge hair, blond surfer hair popular among some Britpop fans, and dreadlocks. During the mid-1990s, the much-ridiculed bowl cut became a fad among skaters, while hip-hop fans wore a variant of the flattop known as the hi-top fade. In the late 1990s, hair was usually buzzed very short for an athletic look, although a few grunge fans grew their hair long in reaction to this.
For teenage girls and younger children, hair was worn long with heavily teased bangs called "mall bangs" which were long fringes covering the forehead. Alice bands, headbands and scrunchies of various styles and colors (especially red, navy blue polka dot, plaid and neon) were popular with girls throughout the early and mid 1990s, and they frequently wore them with twin pigtails, or high or high side ponytails and bangs. Also hair pulled to the side over one shoulder sometimes in a braid was seen. Many times in combination with bangs. Bangs and ponytail hair style remained popular with girls throughout the 2000s and the 2010s. Bangs are now less poofy and like "mall bangs" and lay closer to the forehead. It is not uncommon to still see scrunchies but many times ponytails are seen are with hair ties and bows instead.
Women's makeup in the early 1990s primarily consisted of dark red lipstick and neutral eyes. Around 1992 the "grunge look" came into style among younger women and the look was based on dark red lipstick and smudged eyeliner and eyeshadow. Both styles of makeup continued into 1994, but went out of style the next year.
The trends in makeup shifted in the mid 1990s. In 1995, nude shades became desirable and women had a broader color palette in brown. Another makeup trend that emerged was matte lipsticks, with deep shades of red and dark wine colors worn as part of night makeup. Blue-frosted eye shadow became fashionable, and was eventually integrated into the Y2K makeup of the late 1990s/early 2000s (decade). Gothic makeup had broken into the mainstream, having been made up of vamp lipstick (or even black lipstick), heavy mascara and eyeliner, often purple-tinted eye shadow (or else very dark blue), and extremely pale foundation. The Gothic makeup remained relevant in the later years of the decade.
By 1999, glittery, sparkling makeup had come into style. This was called "Y2K makeup", consisting of facial glitter and lip gloss. Blue-frosted eye shadow remained a staple of late 1990s makeup, although silver was ideal look. Dark eyeliner was considered bodacious. Pale, shiny lips became desirable, as lip gloss largely replaced lipstick. An alternative for those who did not like metallics were purples and browns. Goth makeup and Y2K makeup continued into the early 2000s.
A selection of images related to the period.
Converse All Stars, popular in the early 1990s
Grunge clothing, popular from 1991–1996. (Kurt Cobain, 1992)