’90s Fashion: The Great Equalizer

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Love that the '90s fashion is back - Beverly Hills 90120I love that the ‘90s are back.

It’s not just because I remember the ‘90s. It's not just because I became an adult with my own clothing spending money during that decade (graduated from high school in 1993, same year as the gang from the original 90210).  It's because I remember then and I see now that ‘90s fashion is the universal equalizer.

Just like the ‘80s, fashion recently has been about excess. Brand names, logos, luxe fabrics. You can’t play the fashion game unless you can afford the ticket to ride. While some bucked the trend both in the ‘80s and the recent years by going punk or goth or hipster or DIY, in general to be stylish you had to have money. You didn’t want a fake Coca Cola shirt and you didn’t want a fake Chanel bag. And God forbid if you weren’t the right size to fit into the fashion.

The other night a TV commercial came on that was targeted towards parents of back to schoolers. Teens were sitting at desks in a classroom and if it weren’t for the electronic devices you wouldn’t know the the decade it.  You also wouldn't know the income level of the students.  They were dressed in tee shirts, jeans, sneakers, plaid flannel shirts, denim jackets. It made me so damn happy.

beverly-hills-90210-90s-fashion-wardrobe-oxygenI was in high school in the early ‘90s. My family didn’t have a lot of money. I went to a magnet school with kids from all over the county, from all walks of life, and all income levels. I loved that budget-friendly and easily accessible items like Champion sweatshirts, plaid flannel shirts, Dickies overalls, Converse “Chucks,” and thrifted fashion were all on trend. Even beauty trends were budget friendly – it was the color of the lipstick, not the case it came in. Haircolor could be achieved with a box from the local drugstore or with a tub of Jolen Cream Bleach.

early-90s-fashion-trends-wardrobe-oxygenSophomore year of college I joined a sorority.  Suddenly I was surrounded by young women who had far more money than I, yet I never felt poor when it came to fashion. With a baby tee, a pair of overalls, my several-years old Docs, Revlon’s Toast of New York or Coffee Bean and some DIY chunky blonde streaks (thank you Jolen) I was just as stylish as my friends who received cars, diamond studs, and Tiffany bracelets for their high school graduations. I could go to the local Fashion Bug, Rainbow, or 5-7-9 to score a clearance slip dress and some rhinestone barrettes and be considered a fashionista at a formal.  Look at old episodes of Friends and yes, Beverly Hills 90210 or even red carpet shots from the better part of that decade and see how the fashion was so accessible.

With the beginning of the new millennium came the beginning of consumption. I HAD to have a Kate Spade microfiber purse. So many of my friends had fake Prada mini backpacks and Fendi baguettes even if they never heard of Fendi or Prada. Wonderbras, spray tans, French manicures, highlights, MAC makeovers, statement shoes and It bags and fake furs and real leather and ball skirts with cashmere twinsets. Thanks to Carrie Bradshaw we all wanted Manolos and thanks to Paris Hilton we all wanted Juicy tracksuits (which are making a comeback) and UGG boots. Add digital cameras and the internet into the mix and it became a sartorial keeping up with the Joneses.

Trends move quickly, and it wouldn’t surprise me if the ‘90s trend is passé before Thanksgiving. But for now, I enjoy the fact that fashion is a bit more equal to all. Here’s to flannel shirts, cloth choker necklaces, denim without special washes or details, reasonably priced sneakers, Adidas sweatshirts, bomber jackets, Levi’s, and drugstore cosmetic brands killing it with the current trends in high quality formulas. Let’s enjoy it while it lasts!

A woman with curly hair wearing a plaid blazer holds a green fur coat over her shoulder on a city street.

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  1. Hi Alison! Any plans in the works for a post on how to style this season’s iteration of block heel shoes for both work & play? Pretty sure a lot of us would appreciate it; I know I would!
    — Suzanne

  2. I remember 80s fashion a lot more; skirted suits always with a broach and earrings and pumps. I wore a lot of suits to work. After leaving an office job, I donated the lot of them to Dress for Success along with necktie blouses and jewelry. These days I’m happily retired and wearing jeans with sweaters or Ts and ankle boots … kinda sounds like the 90s.

  3. Ahh, Toast of New York! I wore that to death. I still have a bottle of the nail polish in that color, although it’s completely dried out. I keep it to try and match it to something some day. So far, nothing really, believe it or not.

  4. The really nice thing about being in my 40s for this iteration of 90s fashion is that I can afford all the Dr. Martens I want, ha!

    I loved 1990s looks from grunge to the club kid exuberance (that Delia’s knocked off) to the high-low aesthetic Gap pushed to the minimalism that Calvin Klein et al. put forth. And I love how in the 2010s, the so-called gatekeepers of fashion have been pushed to the side by passionate fans and consumers, and we’re living in a time where trends are what you decide they are.

    Viva the 1990s revival! I will be stocking up on all the chunky-heeled shoes and creepers I can, against the day mainstream retailers decide that we need another revival of pointy-toed stilettos.

  5. I went to high school in the late 90s, and even though the grunge trend made mainstream fashion a little bit more accessible (overalls, flannels), it was still tough to be a teenager without a lot of money. Doc Martens are EXPENSIVE, and the late 90s was the heyday of brands like Abercrombie & Fitch, Express, and Gap. If you didn’t have the logo, you weren’t cool. I think that’s just universal in high school, no matter what the decade.

    1. I guess you’re right. Where I lived it was less Docs and more those canvas Mary Janes from Chinatown and Chucks and I was old enough that the fancy brands were American Eagle and Gap and they weren’t deemed cool by the grunge folks. But you’re right, Docs cost a pretty penny!!

  6. I’m currently wearing a pair of “faux” Doc Martens in a dark floral pattern, and the first time I wore them I paired them with a black swing baby doll dress (just straight down in a trapeze style from the neck). I’m almost 40 but I felt like I was 17 again 🙂 Some aspects of the 90’s will never die for me I guess.

  7. I hate 90’s fashion with the fire of a thousand suns, and if this makes me “uppity”, at least my mother in law is right about one thing. Ha! (I’m just kidding with you, although chokers especially make me want to hurl.)

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