Best of C+S 2013: Totally Radical 90s Style

To close out Week One of our “best of” posts, we’d like to remind you that none of us looked cool in the 90s. Sure, those teenage tumblr-ers and youtube-ies will try to tell you that we all looked super stylish. However, they weren’t there, they don’t understand, and for half a decade, all of our butts looked like ice-cream cones.

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90s Fashion Myths vs. Realities

Originally Posted on October 8

Listen, young ladies on tumblr. You’re all into the 90s look, and that’s great, I suppose. I mean, from my perspective it’s the very definition of not great, because it means that I am now old enough to have worn a “vintage” trend the first time around, but bully for you.

Here’s the deal, though. You’re getting it wrong. Your romanticized version of the 90s is super cute, but that’s not how it was. It was awkward, frumpy, and all around unfortunate. Our shirts were too wide and short by a good stretch. Our jeans made us look ice cream cone-shaped. Regardless of season or latitude, everyone was dressed for a Seattle winter. Inspired by our live blog of Hocus Pocus, I present a fashion companion to all you tumblr girls who were born after the early 90s: You Weren’t There, You Wouldn’t Understand

Jeans

Myth:

Everyone wore distressed, slouchy “boyfriend” pants or sleek, high-waisted, taper-legged denim.

Reality:

Yeah. Our waists were high all right. But do you know what lay between the high waist and the tapered ankle? A foot-long butt. While the modern iteration of these pants has a slim fit, there was no “skinny’ in 90s jeans. Rather, there was a ton of fabric, so that your frame would blossom out after your waist, only to end in a vice grip around your ankles. We all looked like gorgeous ice cream cones.

In terms of denim, the acid wash and stone wash we wore had NOTHING in common with today’s distressed denim. It looked almost like the cover of a marble composition notebook. We didn’t do subtlety very well back then. And if you weren’t wearing that – and this never shows up on your tumblrs – you were wearing super-bright, almost indigo blue denim.

Flannel

Myth:

We all wore big, cozy flannel shirts a la Kurt Cobain or – let’s be real – Angela Chase.

Reality:

Well, we did… kind of. I remember being so excited in second grade to get a slouchy flannel for Christmas – so I could look like Cory Matthews. So, I want you to think less Nirvana and more TGIF. Most of us didn’t look like angsty grunge musicians, we looked like honor roll kids from nice families who were trying to stay comfy.

Leggings

Myth:

Underneath our Seattle flannels or stylish tunic tops, we showed off our toned, aerobicized legs in leggings, topped off with Doc Martins.

Reality:

Every kind of pants in the 90s made you look like you were wearing diapers. I think leggings had a little less elastic then, plus most of the ones we had were stirrup leggings. Yeah. In the 90s, stirrups weren’t just for horseback riding and your gyno’s office. So, pants were well secured at the waist and ankles, and kind of saggy and sad in between. On our feet? Keds.

Hair

Myth:

Our hair fell in long, devil-may-care waves and curls, kind of like Lorde.

Reality:

Those big 80s bangs didn’t really die until the mid-90s. We didn’t wear loose waves, we wore spiral perms. If you wanted to look really polished, you probably had The Rachel, and if you wanted to look really professional, you had Princess Diana’s haircut. In the late 90s, we didn’t wear long, subtle side bangs like all of you kids. We had light fringes that we painstakingly curled under with round brushes, so your forehead was under a protective hair-dome. There was a lot of half-up, half-down happening. Lots of claw clips. Scrunchies. Seasonal scrunchies, classy scrunchies, denim scrunchies. One of the first times I remember getting a big laugh in a crowded room, I was about 5 and was making up a commercial for scrunchies at Thanksgiving with my extended fam. “Scrunchies! Because real bracelets are for snobs! Scrunchies! Because you could put it in your hair later, maybe!” (See, the whole thing with scrunchies was that they just ended up on everyone’s wrists).

Businesswear

Myth:

The woman of the 90s wore a lot of power pieces – be it menswear-inspired suspenders, or tiny suits a la Ally McBeal.

Reality:

The woman of the 90s wore a lot of shoulder pads – it wasn’t just the 80s. She’s also responsible for that thing where you wear big, ugly sneakers with business clothes in order to go power walking. 90s women wore a ton of horrible flat-front khakis. The Adult Jumper was going strong, and not just for teachers.

Neon

Myth:

Totally radical!

Reality:

Totally dopey.

Riot Grrl

Myth:

We wore baby doll dresses as a subtle critique of the infatilization of adult women – ditto for those baby barrettes. These were paired with heavy, down-to-business boots. Zines as far as the eye can see.

Reality:

Sure. We all wore baby doll dresses with baby barrettes and boots — because Stephanie Tanner did. I’m sure it was different if you were in high school or college, but if you were a kid in the 90s you probably weren’t wearing these fashions to fight the patriarchy with Kathleen Hanna and Courtney Love. You just wanted to look like people on TV.

Music

Myth:

While we wore our sweet tumblr-y fashions, we listened to the latest indie tunes from mix tapes that we ordered from the back of a zine.

Reality:

Celine Dion. Natalie Merchant. A lot of pseudo-intellectualism: “tell me all your thoughts on God,” e.g. Harmonicas without irony. Actually, everything without irony. That’s what separates real 90s style from the (admittedly better) 2010s revival, and the best thing about the decade: we really, earnestly meant all of this.

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