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History of Fashion in the 1990s

Updated October 13, 2020
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History of Fashion in the 1990s essay

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Decade to decade, fashion has changed and circled back over and over again, but perhaps some of the most memorable fashion movements have stemmed from styles born in the 90s. From 80’s shoulder pads and blazers, emerged 90’s flannel shirts and denim jackets.

Casual fashion shifted from bright and poppy to sleek and chic, revolutionizing and changing modern fashion for the coming years. Even as the decades flash by, elements of 90s fashion can be found in present-day trends and 90s icons are recognized as vogue legends. From the grunge movement to modern preppy couture, the fashion of the twentieth century remain to be some of the most iconic looks of fashion history.

In the mid-1980’s, Seattle, Washington began a movement that would popularize and spread to the rest of the United States in the 1990’s. This trend became known as the grunge movement, influenced largely by the music of the decade. Grunge was introduced to the luxury platform by Marc Jacobs, who worked as a creative director for Perry Ellis and created a line inspired by grunge.

The line showcased iconic pieces of grunge fashion including flannel shirts, Dr. Martens combat boots, plaid skirts, and beanies. Some grunge icons of the 90’s include Nirvana’s lead singer Kurt Cobain (whose hit song, Smells Like Teen Spirit, became a grunge anthem), model Drew Barrymore, actor Johnny Depp, and actress Winona Ryder.

Early 1990s fashion drew influence from the hip hop scene, with bands like Bones Thugs-n-Harmony and Boyz II Men taking the reins and flipping the aesthetic upside down. Along with the music, many blockbusters and TV shows also showcased the hip hop trend, such as, Poetic Justice and The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air.

This 90s trend originated from African American and Latinx inner city youth, taking inspiration from bright tracksuits, bomber jackets, snapback hats, and sneakers. This movement was essentially the birth of athleisure wear due to the amount of sportswear brands attaching themselves to the hip hop scene; among these brands were names such as Adidas, Puma, Nike, and Pro-Keds.

While some of the population turned to the angst-filled rebellion, the others showed off their khakis and slip dresses to fit into the modern preps. Popularized by shows such as Saved by the Bell and movies such as Clueless, this fashion trend appeared in the mid-1990s. This look took after Ivy League student styles, showcasing more upper-class couture; a stark contrast to the baggy shirts and dark clothes that grunge brought in.

This type of fashion also coincided with the glamour wear of the 90s. For women, fashion shifted to become more feminine and form-fitting, allowing fitted suits and pencil skirts to find their way back into trend. Men took to wearing high-fashion logos branded on their clothing and smart-casual suits.

In the late 1990’s, fashion also began to become more diverse in style and design. Influences from East Asian and Southeast Asian cultures were more prominent in the fashion of the late twentieth century. For example, Japanese designer Issey Miyake created a dress that lacked the form-fitting structure the mid-90’s had popularized, instead opting for a dress that when laid flat held a rectangular shape– a technique taken from East Asian traditions. Patterns and fabrics from Southeast Asia also emerged into mainstream fashion, as prints such as paisley and khadi and batik fabrics made their way into Western culture.

As the 1990’s came to a close and the 2000’s took the reins, fashion changed, but even now, almost two decades later, we can still find traces of 90’s fashion coming into play. In today’s society, there are a range of style selections from earlier decades that are making their way back. This includes Doc Martens, Adidas Superstars, snapbacks, and school-girl skirts. Some styles never even left, such as the traces of Asian culture that we cultivate and appreciate. From the grunge movement to modern preppy couture, the 90’s are forever in trend.

History of Fashion in the 1990s essay

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