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