In the 1990's, what was the fashion like in developed nations, particularly Australia?

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Every decade tries to set itself apart from ones that came before it, particularly the decade immediately before it. The 1990s was no exception; whereas the 1980s were defined by rather constricted styles and stiffer fabrics, many 1990s styles leaned towards relaxed fittings and softer materials. 

In the 1980s, the “power suit” was the must-have business attire. This was one of the first things to go in the 1990s. Both men and women, in part spurred by the decisions of many corporations to adopt a more casual dress code, dumped the power suit and its dominating dark colors and red “power” ties. Women threw away the once-ubiquitous over-sized shoulder pads and masculine-looking suits.  In their place came cotton khaki pants (“Dockers” were first  introduced in the late 80s and were the rage among men over age 30 just a few years later).  Knit tops were also in demand, and worn by both men and women. 

Businesses took note.  “Casual Fridays” were such a hit that the casual “day” became almost every day by the end of the decade, unless there was a specific need to dress more formally. Outside-the-office factors also seeped into business culture.  A new style of music, which came to be known as “grunge” was one of those influential factors.  “Grunge” style, which began in Seattle and elsewhere in the Pacific Northwest, meant loose-fitting jeans, flannel shirts, and tshirts, either plain or with establishment-busting slogans or band promotions.

“Grunge” style became so widespread that it eventually showed up in haute couture lines.  Not even the highest office in the land was immune. President Bill Clinton (1993-2001) was often photographed in jogging shorts, shorts, and tshirts.

By the mid-1990s, however, the Grunge craze has substantially subsided.  The more causal attitude and attire however, remained. 

One of the emerging trends of by mid-decade was the desire for natural fabrics that mimicked natural colors:  browns, blues, and greens, and some deep reds, dominated.

The mid-to-late 90s also saw that curious fashion phenomenon:  “Everything Old is New Again.”  Making a comeback from the 1930s were bias-cut satin gowns.  Representing the craze of the 60s were A-line dresses. Even bellbottom jeans of the 1970s enjoyed another day in the sun and the brush of the tops of bare feet.

Of course, these old favorites got an updated look.  Donna Karan revamped the Nehru jacket (See image). Gianni Versace brought “chain mail” to the runway and then to higher-end stores  (copied, as successful fashion always is, by more affordable outlets (See image). 

There were also quite a few androgynous trends. Even perfumes, once thought to be exclusively male or female, made the leap. Calvin Klein’s fragrance “One” was marketed to both sexes and was tremendously successful. (See image)

An interesting thing about fashion in the 1990s was its tremendous diversity.  Calvin Klein offered clean lines for both men and women.  Tommy Hilfiger kept a traditional look fresh by adding an “urban flair.”  For the theatrically inclined, Jean-Paul Gaultier created outlandish “Look at me!” fashions.  For everyday wear, many people were content with khakis and polo shits.  Pinstripe suits were popular when business people had to eschew the casual and dress up.

Although casual style seemed to dominate, there was still a call for more elegant looks. Empire-waisted dresses were big sellers, as were long, flowing skirts and 1920s-like “slip dresses.” Men who sought a less casual look might be seen sporting leather or suede sport jackets instead of wool.

Source: American Decades: 1990-1999, ©2000 Gale Cengage. All Rights Reserved

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As with many things, changes in fashion include revisiting styles from classic periods

including elegant, bias-cut satin gowns (1930s), simple A-line shift dresses (1960s), and bell-bottom jeans (1970s).

Australia has long been a sports-mad country and its style reflects this. When Sydney won the bid to host the 2000 Olympics, a sports' culture intensified - after the fitness boom of the 80s. Sports men and women featured on magazines' front-covers and a less-is-more philosophy developed with this informal style popularized by athletes.

The drain pipe jeans from the late '80s continued in popularity as did "stirrup" pants and leggings although they did fade in favor of a more straight-legged jean-type later in the decade.  

The 1990s saw universal changes in attitudes, styles and even architecture. Fashionistas included adapted - but not new - art forms as part of fashion. Tattoos and body piercing became part of the "dress code" for many.

Long, floral skirts and wedge heels were an Australain and British favorite. As the 1990s progressed, the crop-top became popular. Australia has always preferred an informal style and this suited it. Men and women

adopted a more casual stance, making cotton khaki pants and knit tops staples for both home and office attire.

For children, Disney had a huge influence and Disney clothing became a huge phenomenum.

The bright colors that started the 1990s did not continue as "grunge" became popular. Loose-fitting, dark clothing suited the more relaxed style of the 1990s for men and women. "Grunge" was an ecletic mix of punk and "hippie" and originated in the US. Oversized and baggy became the order of the day.

No more power suits and a more relaxed work ethic was reflected in office wear. Working from home also became steadily more popular in the 1990s also reinforcing a casual style and

designers created softer, less constructed clothes.


Australians, trying to be unique, looked to adapt previous styles and became "retro" - even 2nd-hand clothing - now called "vintage" clothing was sought-after and worn with modern accessories or clothing to complete the whole "retro" image.

Due to the globalization of fashion, oriental influences - especially the "mandarin" collar became a popular choice.

The 1990s also had some "fads" - hypercolor clothes - which changed color according to body-heat. Whilst initially very popular in Australia, they did not last as they lost their color -changing abilities if washed in hot water.

Generally, the 1990s saw advancements in technology that made clothes easier to wear, more comfortable and even the  non-iron concept was introduced late in the decade. With the turn of the century looming, it was a case of making a 20th century impact in the 21st century.  


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