90s fashion trends were dominated by two seemingly opposing aesthetics – high-fashion models and thrift shop chic. The polarised mix of glamour and grunge was representative of the radical changes society was facing. From poll tax riots to widespread unemployment and the Gulf War late 20th-century Britain was, at times, a grey place to live.
Yet this decade also gave rise to underground movements that continue to be influential today. From alternative music to distinctly 90s fashion trends, the rebellious, youthful atmosphere of the decade has made a lasting impact on the arts. In 2016 we’ve seen catwalks from Saint Laurent to Christopher Kane take their cue from 1990s fashion, be it through ripped jeans, oversized checks or vibrant tie-dye prints.
No couple better encapsulates 90s grunge than doomed lovers Kurt Cobain and Courtney Love. From his oversized chunky knit cardigans to her babydoll slips and bleached hair, they transformed everyday, low-budget clothing into iconic 90s outfits. And from Seattle it spread outwards to Hollywood with actors like Johnny Depp and River Phoenix sporting unkempt hair and flannel shirts, albeit more expensive ones.
Today, Kurt remains an inspiration in music and fashion – Hedi Slimane recently sent his blonde models down the Saint Laurent menswear catwalk in ripped jeans, checked shirts and battered sneakers. Recreate the look with multiple layers and lots of dry shampoo, or give it a contemporary update with a Burberry Brit shirt and biker jeans.
Alexander Wang has taken his lead from Seattle’s 90s fashion too, with stonewashed denim and high-rise cuts that exemplify the laid-back rebellion grunge stood for.
Originating from Manchester – no surprises there – this was a more colourful scene. Facing a grey socio-political outlook, the British youth embraced rainbow bright colours and bass-heavy house music. Bands like The Stone Roses and Happy Mondays made waves on the underground scene, giving 90s fashion in Britain a distinctly psychedelic hue. Part retro, part rave and part sports casual, this new look was characterised by tie-dye, baggy shapes and, eccentrically enough, fishing hats.
These days, designers are cherry-picking the defining moments from this movement. Look to House of Holland for acid shades and playful detailing to bring this 1990s fashion into the 21st century.
Back across the pond the emergence of hip-hop and rap music was making airwaves, from the Tupac Biggie feud to the genre’s high-production videos. Hip-hop artists like Dr. Dre, Jay-Z and Tupac paid close attention to their image, choosing preppy sports-luxe labels like Ralph Lauren and Calvin Klein to emphasise their wealth.
However, as their popularity grew, many artists began to take a more hands-on approach to 90s fashion trends and created their own streetwear. By the end of the decade, Jay-Z and Damon Dash had launched Rocawear and Sean Combs had successfully produced his own clothing lines, Sean John and Enyce.
Throughout SS16, athleisure wear has been at the forefront of fashion, with Yohji Yamamoto’s diffusion line Y-3 creating sculptural, athletic pieces. Think yoga pants paired with duster coats and retro trainers worn with sleek jersey dresses.
It would be a disservice to the decade’s most popular sitcom to look at 90s fashion trends without mentioning New York’s most popular Jewish princess, Rachel Green. The Friends character’s eponymous haircut, cropped tops and floral dresses are as 90s as Jarvis Cocker. Rag & Bone takes inspiration from Green, with models sporting slim-fitting turtlenecks and high-waisted jeans.
A young Marc Jacobs thought along similar lines when creating designs for the fashion house Perry Ellis – his floaty granny dresses and heavy plaid prints were met with a disgusted reaction when they were sent down the catwalk in 1992, but the infamous collection has since become one of his defining moments. Still drawing on his original inspiration, Jacobs’ SS16 offering counts embroidered denim skirts and platform sneakers among its throwback designs.
Few films epitomise 1990s fashion from start to finish as well as Clueless. Starring Alicia Silverstone as Beverly Hills rich kid Cher Horowitz, it works its way through a dizzying array of preppy co-ords, grungy dungarees and low-slung baggy jeans. While it might have been a product of its time, it has come to influence the fashion world. Sonia Rykiel and Carven are two examples where brightly hued two-pieces and buttoned miniskirts bear a striking resemblance to the contents of Horowitz’ famous walk-in wardrobe.