WORDS BY STEPHEN YU
It was Oscar Wilde who said ‘Fashion is a form of ugliness so intolerable that we have to alter it every six months’. Years of maximalist fashion design have given us the Balenciaga Triple S sneaker, revolutionized Gucci and put logos on everything from smartphone cases to luggage. Having reached peak saturation, the cyclical nature of fashion dictates that the prevailing aesthetic is in dire need of alteration. Enter 90s minimalism, a throwback aesthetic that’s poised to take over your Instagram feed in the near future, not that you’d recognize it.
Hiding behind the colourful screengrabs of Cher from ‘Clueless’, or the artsy photographs of grunge icon Kurt Cobain that litter fashion moodboards of that era, you’ll find the almost generic looking imagery from catwalks and ad campaigns of 90s minimalism fashion. Standing in stark contrast to the excessive 80s glamour that came before it this minimalist was defined by its restraint in design, focusing on simple well-cut androgynous clothing with a reduced colour palette. The garments, a collection of elevated essentials was designed to be the unfussy uniform of the new breed of working women, something that modern Philophiles can identify with. Its pioneers were brands like Margiela, Jil Sander, Helmut Lang and Calvin Klein.
Now, the aesthetic has been referenced on the catwalks of Bottega Veneta, Prada, Kwaiden Editions and Loewe. It seems the soulful simplicity and unassuming sex appeal of 90s minimalism has returned and is being reinterpreted through a modern lens to serve as the perfect antidote to the fashion world’s current maximalist movement.
So if you’re looking to minimize your wardrobe, swap your Alessandro Michele modern day Gucci for Tom Ford-era Gucci, and take a walk back through the 90s with us as we run through the 10 essential items you need to master the 90s minimalism trend.
The Oversized Boxy Suit
Big lapels, loud patterns, bright colors and embroidered details are a big tailoring no no. Stick to more austere suiting shapes that focus on immaculate pattern cutting with simple lines. Remember 90s minimalism was rooted in creating easy wearing clothing for the new class of modern professional women, and we seriously doubt that the Gucci tailoring of today would’ve gone down well at conservative 90’s Goldman Sachs. As with all things minimalist, less is more, so look for clean details like single zippers and buttons or hidden closures.
The Classic Tank Top
Nothing captures the essence of the nineties more than the Calvin Klein adverts of the era. Kate Moss wearing a tank top in a pair of stonewashed jeans was an iconic 90s fashion moment. With his reengineered tank top, Klein ushered in a new period of sexuality defined by highlighting the subtly seductive natural lines of the female body rather than accentuating curves with voluminous cuts. As Moss made us all too aware, this androgynous staple proved that female sexuality doesn’t have to be in your face and redefined the role of underwear in fashion forever. Opt for wide straps, sporty shapes and ribbed knits over spaghetti strapped and silky to really nail the trend.
The Tube Dress
Although Calvin Klein’s slinky slip dress came to define a decade of American dominated minimalism, it’s recent resurgence outside of this 90s trend means its equally demure sister – the tube dress – gets our pick of the two. Just as with the slip dress, the softer and more closely cut to the body the better, and look for a dropped neckline that frames your collarbone for the ultimate nineties aesthetic. But remember, this 1990s style trend is never overtly sexy. Think less Bella Hadid Versace runway, more Jennifer Aniston red carpet.
The Matrix Sunglasses
You’d have to have been hiding under a big Keanu Reeve shaped rock to not realize the impact cult nineties movie ‘The Matrix’ has had on eyewear as of late. Anything with oval shaped lenses, a rimless design and thin metallic frames is trend approved. Alternatively, we borrow again from Bessette-Kennedy by opting for something slightly larger with acetate frames.
The ‘It’s a Baguette’ Bag
We’ll admit that there’s nothing minimal about Fendi, but this maximalist icon created a minimalist must-have in the nineties – the baguette bag. Along with Prada’s nylon version, and the Louis Vuitton Pochette that followed it, this Carrie Bradshaw favorite is typified by its tiny shoulder strap and its penchant for nestling inside your armpit. While nineties renditions were mostly box shaped, its more contemporary cousins come in a variety of shapes with many different closures. But watch out, with men getting just as into fashion as women these days, we can’t guarantee some man won’t take your baguette from you, along with your Manolo Blahniks.
1990s style minimalism was a period of experimentation and innovation in textiles whether that was Miuccia Prada pioneering the use of nylon in high-fashion, or Helmut Lang’s application of plastic coatings to fabrics. Adjacent to this, it was also a time of experimentation in form too. While the leather jackets of the eighties were predominantly thick padded military and motorcycle styles, in the nineties they became more lightweight and clean cut in the shape of boxy blazer silhouettes. Channel your inner Winona and pair yours with an LBD or jeans.
If you’re noticing a trend, with this trend, it’s that less is more. This movement was a reaction against the excesses of the 80s, so don’t be tempted to accessorize with too much bling. Put your big chains, signets and oversized earrings in your safe where they belong and go for something more delicate like a sophisticated choker. Who knows, you might look just as good as Kate Moss did at her 21st birthday party.
Mid-Calf Length Leather Skirt
Carolyn Bessette-Kennedy is the undeniable goddess of all things 90s minimalism and if there’s one skirt silhouette she favored above all others, it was the mid-calf length skirt. Some of Bessette-Kennedy’s most iconic looks see this piece thrown together with square toed boots and knitwear, and due to the fact that we covet anyone who worked at Calvin Klein in its heyday, we’re totally biting her style. Why not make yours leather for some added 90s edginess.
Take a look at your favorite piece of knitwear right now and we’ll bet it’s oversized, chunky and uber comfy. The knitwear of the minimalist nineties, this is not. The woolen pieces of this 1990s style movement were just as clingy as their cotton counterparts, so trade thick wools for lightweight cashmere and silk blends, replace shaggy-haired textures for understated ribbed patterning, and choose sheer cardigans and knitted polo shirts in soft neutrals a la Gwyneth Paltrow in ‘Great Expectations’. It’ll do more for your sex life then ‘The Goop Lab’ will.
Forget slides and Havaiana’s, it’s Steve Madden’s platformed flip-flops that were the sandal of choice for this iconic 90s fashion trend. Swap thick foam and rubber straps for premium all leather construction for a high-fashion spin on this classic nineties trend. Julia Stiles in a ‘10 Things I Hate About You’ reboot featuring art direction by Mary Kate and Ashley is your template.
The Square Toed Mules
After a decade of all things winkle picker and toe deforming pointy, we’re doing the unthinkable and welcoming back all things square toed. While its Martine Rose we have to thank for the return of square-toed loafers, the kind your 16 year old prepubescent boyfriend used to wear to get into Hooters, it’s Daniel Lee of Bottega Veneta who we owe for the triumphant comeback of their chicer sister - the square toed mule. Forget dad sneakers, now it’s all about mum’s mules. We like ours with transparent PVC strapping for added minimal detailing. Slingback kitten heels and strappy sandals get our stamp of approval too.